• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

Ben Carson: Slaves Were Immigrants

Ben Carson Profile

Ben Carson’s first full week as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development got off to a weird start on Monday after a speech in which he referred to African-Americans brought to the New World as slaves as “immigrants”:

Ben Carson’s first full week as secretary of Housing and Urban Development got off to a rough start on Monday after he described African slaves as “immigrants” during his first speech to hundreds of assembled department employees. The remark, which came as part of a 40-minute address on the theme of America as “a land of dreams and opportunity,” was met with swift outrage online.

Mr. Carson turned his attention to slavery after describing photographs of poor immigrants displayed at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. These new arrivals worked long hours, six or seven days a week, with little pay, he said. And before them, there were slaves.

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” he said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The comparison was first reported by USA Today and quickly drew the ire of social media users who attacked the secretary, who is African-American, for what they saw as racially insensitive comments. On Twitter, the comedian and actress Whoopi Goldberg recommended Mr. Carson watch the 1980s mini-series “Roots.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development was stunned by the uproar and spent part of the afternoon responding to the news media on Twitter. In a statement, it said critics were watching only a short clip from a 30-minute speech and were viewing the remarks in bad faith.

“This is the most cynical interpretation of the secretary’s remarks to an army of welcoming HUD employees,” the department said in a statement. “No one honestly believes he equates voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude!”

A spokesman for the department said Mr. Carson’s speech appeared to cause little upset among the employees who had gathered to hear him speak. Several hundred people attended the event and many lingered afterward to snap selfies with Mr. Carson, who was sworn in last Thursday.

On Monday night, following a radio interview in which he defended his remarks earlier in the day, Mr. Carson also did so on Twitter. “You can be an involuntary immigrant,” he said, adding that “slaves didn’t just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves.” He continued, “An immigrant is: ‘a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.'”

But later that night, on Facebook, Mr. Carson drew a clear distinction between immmigrants and slavery: “The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy.”

This isn’t the first time that Carson has said something bizarre, of course, and it most likely won’t be the last. After all, this is the same many who has equated the Affordable Care Act to the September 11th attacks, made frequent use of Nazi analogies to criticize the President,  and said that “progressives” want to turn the United States into Nazi Germany. He has also compared abortion to human sacrifices by civilizations to abortion. During the course of the 2016 campaign for President, for example, Carson demonstrated ignorance about how government works as well as the details of important domestic public policy issues. In addition to this, of course, he displayed what can only be called an odd relationship with the truth, including many of the details of his personal biography.  Under pressure, Carson resorted to attacking the media even though it is rather obvious that he was not being treated unfairly. Perhaps the thing that is proved fatal to Carson, though, is foreign policy. Starting in a November 2015 Republican debate on Fox News Channel, Carson displayed what can only be called utter incoherence on basic foreign policy matters, something that was effectively confirmed by those brought in to advise him on the issue. Given the prominence that foreign policy took in the race, the fact that voters may be looked elsewhere isn’t surprising, nor is it surprising that it would be Carson who would fade from prominence as quickly as he did in a manner that mimicked the rise and fall of Herman Cain in the 2012 race. This is also the same Ben Carson who said publicly that he wasn’t qualified to head a Cabinet Department before being picked by Trump to head a Cabinet Department and, of course, accepting the nomination.

There’s really no point in addressing the substance of Carson’s initial comments, of course. While the strict definition of the word “immigrant” doesn’t specify that it involves someone who moves from one country to another voluntarily, that is clearly the implication of what the word means and what the concept involves. The idea that people who were taken from the homes, placed into boats where they were chained together in a confined space for a journey that would take a week or more and then sold into lifelong bondage certainly doesn’t imply anything resembling immigration as we understand it. Instead, words such as kidnappingbarbaric and, of course, slavery comes to mind as being far more accurate descriptions of the manner in which most of the ancestors of African-Americans arrived in the United States. Calling it anything else is not only idiotic, but it comes across as a deliberate attempt to quite literally whitewash history. This may not have been Carson’s intent, but that’s certainly how it comes across. More likely this is just another example of Ben Carson being an ignorant fool. And just remember, it’s likely that at some point in the next four years Carson will be the Designated Survivor when President Trump addresses a joint session of Congress.

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Lit3Bolt says:

    Hey conservatives! Some swarthy Arab sheikhs and a squinty-eyed Chinese overlord, along with their Afro-Hispanic gang squads, want to take your wives and daughters on a fun “immigration trip” to Thailand! Soon their lily-white womanly flesh will be taken to a magical land of dreams and opportunity, where they will have to work hard for less, but maybe they can build new lives for themselves and their new families. And maybe one day your great-great-great-great-great-grandchild will be the new Premier of the Greater Asia Prosperity Council!

    This is Ben Carson’s vision of utopia.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  2. gVOR08 says:

    to criticize the President

    I think you meant to say ex President. Perhaps, like myself, you’re still in denial that that idiot is now President.

    People, doctors more than anyone, regard doctors as very smart and knowledgeable. Doctors receive a very narrow education to become the best trained monkeys in the world. Medicine does not stress critical reasoning skills.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  3. Gustopher says:

    Like most immigrants, the involuntary immigrants hoped their children would have a better life than they did. For instance, they would doubtless want their children not to be enslaved…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    If this were the only stupid thing to come out of this administration….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. VisitorEarth says:

    It is really stupid to criticize Ben Carson for doing the same thing Obama did.

    Obama did the same thing 11 times (classifying slaves as immigrants), but Outside the Beltway didn’t object to that, because Obama was a Democrat, rather than an icky Republican:

    http://thefederalist.com/2017/03/07/11-times-barack-obama-compared-slaves-to-immigrants/

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 20

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @VisitorEarth: Had Obama established a narrative of saying stupid things? Did any of Obama’s comments leave any doubt he understood the conditions of slavery? Do you practice a lot or were you simply born without critical reasoning skills?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    It’s officially amateur hour. These nimrods can’t eat a fork full of waffles without coughing up the ball. It’s going to be an entertaining four years.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 2

  8. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:

    I once knew an absolutely brilliant (in his field) Harvard physicist who, when he wrote articles, invented his own locutions (minus glossary) to explain his process and results. I pointed out to him that the whole point of language was to communicate, and if other people didn’t know what you were talking about, you had failed to communicate. He insisted that when he used the term “infact,” it meant something totally different than “in fact.”

    He could never explain to me what “infact” meant. But he knew what it meant, and apparently that was all that counted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. al-Alameda says:

    @VisitorEarth:

    Obama did the same thing 11 times (classifying slaves as immigrants), but Outside the Beltway didn’t object to that, because Obama was a Democrat, rather than an icky Republican.

    Did you read the article you linked us too? Obama’s remarks were not the same as Carson’s. However, all that constant victimization of conservatives aside, as Doug mentioned above with respect to Dr. Carson:

    After all, this is the same many who has equated the Affordable Care Act to the September 11th attacks, made frequent use of Nazi analogies to criticize the President, and said that “progressives” want to turn the United States into Nazi Germany.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  10. Jake says:

    11 times .

    http://thefederalist.com/2017/03/07/11-times-barack-obama-compared-slaves-to-immigrants/

    The left has no agenda beyond moral posturing.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 20

  11. An Interested Party says:

    It’s incredible that a brilliant surgeon is, otherwise, a complete idiot…as for the Obama comparisons, all of Obama’s quotes were in a different, sane context, certainly nothing like, “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less.” Oy…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  12. @VisitorEarth:

    Obama did the same thing 11 times (classifying slaves as immigrants),

    You might want to re-read the article. You will find that only two of the quotes actually use the word “immigrant” and in none of the cases can you find language equivalent to Carson’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  13. Seriously, compare this:

    I want a confident America where, yes, everybody makes sacrifices, but nobody bears all the burden, and we live up to the idea that no matter who we are, no matter what we look like, no matter whether our ancestors landed on Ellis Island or came here on a slave ship or crossed the Rio Grande, we are all connected to one another. We rise and fall together.

    to:

    There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

    The first is acknowledgement of reality (some came here as slaves) and the other is an attempt to put a smiley face on slavery.

    And note: my observation is not about defending Obama, but rather to point out the terrible analytical skills being put on display by the author of that piece.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 32 Thumb down 3

  14. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Didn’t I tell you guys/gals this would happen? Carson is not a dummy when it comes to slavery….he just plays one on TV. Every black associate I have either personal or professional went from talking about Trump and Russia to this clownery….overnight.

    They’ll be more until Sessions in on Page 10 of the news cycle

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  15. The Carson quote (and the defense thereof) is indicative of long-term canard that is often played that states that slavery wasn’t so bad, because ultimately it lead the ancestors of Africans to live in America, and all its prosperity. That is a grotesque attempt to defend the indefensible.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  16. @Jim Brown 32:

    Carson is not a dummy when it comes to slavery….he just plays one on TV.

    I beg to differ. All evidence indicates that this is who he is.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Carson is not a dummy when it comes to slavery….he just plays one on TV.

    Oh please, he appears to be a dummy about quite a few things, and not just on TV, but in the newspaper, on the radio, in the auditorium, at the convention hall…basically, just about anywhere he speaks…he displays a lot of traits of someone with Asperger’s…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  18. Not Jake (or one of his aliases) says:

    @Jake:

    The left has no agenda beyond moral posturing.

    Jake wins the “Me too… Both sides do it!” award.

    So intent to shift blame and focus, he doesn’t read that the link was posted, and was already being debunked.

    Poor Jake.

    Trying to shame liberals for having morals.

    Poor, poor Jake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  19. Jake says:

    “The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.” –

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  20. Slugger says:

    This gives me the opportunity to thank the former German regime that provided my parents and family with occupational training from 1939 to 1945. They learned as did many of the Africans who came to America to do agricultural work that Labor makes (you) Free. They even got to see that inspiring slogan as they entered the special education area.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  21. Paul Hooson says:

    Cotton and tobacco farmers didn’t want to pay wages to local workers, instead bringing in slave labor chained in the hulls of ships, many dying on the trip over. Much of this slave labor was in the Southern states who even waged war killing 2% of the American population or 620,000 persons in their efforts to preserve slavery. Today, many of these states have “right-to-work”laws to limit labor unions and family wages.

    As usual, Dr. Carson is clueless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  22. ptfe says:

    @Slugger: But did they immigrate from Czechoslovakia or were they native Poles?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    @Paul Hooson: You make an excellent point that can’t be stressed enough–that the same places where slavery was championed in the past are now places where the rights of workers are constantly being sliced away…once retrograde, still retrograde…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: No, that’s not fair. Amateurs have a LOT higher levels of skill than these dufuses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Slugger says:

    @ptfe: My ancestors lived in what is now western Poland for several hundred years. My mother did claim blood ties to the creator of the Golem of Prague, but the more cool headed family members thought that the Golem was purely mythological. Little did we know that the Golem would surface as the 45th POTUS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. Argon says:

    Ah, Carson always says crazy things right after he gets woken abruptly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: His family is from rural Tennessee and Georgia. He understands slavery. What he is…is an opportunistic sociopath that will say whatever it takes to maintain his position in his preferred niche. There are a good number of Black “conservatives” like him…to wit Alan West. They’ll say whatever white conservatives want to them to say because a black man that they can use as a proxy mouthpiece is indeed a valuable commodity in conservative circles as opposed to a Michael Steele who will not tap dance around conservative dog whistles. It’s one of the reasons he was run out of the Chairmanship.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  28. DrDaveT says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    as opposed to a Michael Steele who will not tap dance

    I beg to differ. I was in The Music Man with Michael Steele in 1981, and he tap-danced just fine.

    No, really.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Mr. Bluster says:

    @Tap Dancin’ Dave:..No, really.

    Video recording equipment was commercially available in 1981. Let’s see some tape.
    https://img1.etsystatic.com/070/1/6191330/il_340x270.821141747_7fn6.jpg

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. DrDaveT says:

    @Mr. Bluster:
    Sorry, no video that I know of, but some circumstantial evidence is available…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. al-Ameda says:

    @Jake:

    “The press is a gang of cruel faggots ….”

    Can you at least attribute Hunter S. Thompson?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  32. Neil Hudelson says:

    @al-Ameda:

    No. Jake (and all the new concommenters) like to post massive quotes without attributing them to anyone. Usually its meant to pass the quote off as their own. In this instance, pure laziness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  33. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:
  34. Franklin says:

    While I don’t really think Carson *intended* to whitewash history, boy was that a klutzy way of describing it.

    And to the dorks comparing it to some things that Obama said: you are completely focused on the word ‘immigrant’ for some odd reason, rather than reading the whole quote in context. None of Obama’s quotes suggest or even hint that slaves were coming over hopefully to live out their dreams. *That* is what the controversy is about. Dorks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. JohnMcC says:

    @Jake: @VisitorEarth:

    Jake, explain to our visitor what “tu quoque” means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  36. JohnMcC says:

    There is some sense in which Dr Carson’s strange and infuriating remark can be a contribution to the conversation about race in America. The logic goes like this: The low status of the AA population in many social parameters (education, wealth, life expectancy) that shows up in such surveys as Charles Murray writes about in The Bell Curve is conceded. (I know, I know… bear with me.) This relative dysfunction is blamed on the fact that Black Americans both before and after emancipation were locked to the soil as agricultural laborers in the old Confederate states where they could not realistically expect to control and improve their lives or their children’s. Then around the time of WW1 and 2 labor shortages in the industrial north led to a huge movement (the ‘great migration’) to northern cities. It was only then that the ‘immigrant experience’ that reshaped the status of the waves of European immigrants could be lived in the Black community. (Michelle Obama’s family could be cited as an example.)

    Does anyone believe that Dr Carson had this in mind?

    I knock myself out with my own comedy sometimes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  37. JohnMcC says:

    OMG – am I filibustering? Just wanted to add that no one seems to be commenting on Dr Carson appearing out of step with current RWNJ party lines by saying nice things about immigrants. Did he get the memo?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. the Q says:

    So the war between the States was really about involuntary immigration. Lovely.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  39. Monala says:

    @JohnMcC: And somehow those captives chained together in slave ships knew that was possible and dreamed of such a future for their great-great-great grandkids…./snark.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  40. JohnMcC says:

    @Monala: I must have failed to explain the possible contribution to our thinking about race in America from Dr Carson’s silly remark for you to have read that paragraph and then concluded that I was in some way comparing the Slave trade/Middle Passage horror to actual immigration.

    Please read it again. The ‘immigrant experience’ of working one’s butt off with the expectation that one is making a better life for one’s children was forcefully, criminally withheld from African slaves and after emancipation from their children.

    They did gain that experience in the 20th century when the ‘great migration’ occurred. The AA middle class as we know it today is the result of that.

    Or – possibly – just glance and snark.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. Monala says:

    @JohnMcC: Oh no, I got what you were saying, and in no way thought you were comparing the slave trade to immigration. I think the failure to communicate is mine – I was being sarcastic by saying that Africans on slave ships were dreaming of a future of the American dream for their descendants.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. bill says:

    @gVOR08: just because the friendly msm rarely ever called out obama’s flubs doesn’t mean they never happened;

    https://www.thoughtco.com/barack-obama-quotes-and-gaffes-2733986

    in the age of google one should never make assertions like that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  43. An Interested Party says:

    …in the age of google one should never make assertions like that!

    Uh huh…those flubs by Obama still make him look like a genius compared to Carson…nice try, though…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  44. Joe says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I appreciate your Music Man name-dropping. I have been involved in at least 3 productions of The Music Man. There is no tap dancing. There is The Shipoopi. Not a tap. Not remotely. Don’t doubt you were in the show with him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  45. JohnMcC says:

    @Monala: Oops (as someone once said) – thanx for the clarification. When it is impossible to hear a tone of voice, hear the hesitations and see the gestures, sometimes real communication is difficult.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  46. al-Alameda says:

    @bill:

    @gVOR08: just because the friendly msm rarely ever called out obama’s flubs doesn’t mean they never happened;

    It’s amazing, it’s as if the so-called “mainstream media” never covered Obama at all!

    Correct me if I’m wrong, or if there are omissions, it seems that only FoxNews, Breitbart, NewsMax, Drudge, GatewayPundit, and Alex Jones bothered to cover the Obama Administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  47. JKB says:

    So I guess that means that a good portion of the pre-19th century Scots, Irish, Borderers and Cavaliers shipped off to the New World weren’t immigrants either. And this definition also means that Australia is not an immigrant nation as many of the original non-indigenous citizens arrived their in chains.

    And after emancipation, most slaves, both White and Black, did “immigrate” as they did not ,when able, return to their native land.

    This 19th century novel relates a story set in the mid-1th century of two protagonists who arrive in the Virginia Colony in chains against their will and are sold as slaves, not indentured servants. Yet these two are White Englishmen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  48. @JKB: The main problem with the quote is not the usage of the word “immigrant”–it is comparing a specific immigrant experience of leaving one county for another with the hope of a better live to that experiences of slavery.

    Why is it so hard to just admit what slavery was?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  49. Slavery should stand as an utter abomination to the ideals of the “land of the free.”

    Of course, I do realize that fully admitting this means having to face up to the long-term effects on the African-American population, and too many people have no desire to do that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  50. An Interested Party says:

    Why is it so hard to just admit what slavery was?

    Because to do so would also be to admit that racism is this country’s original sin and that sin is still going on…you know how hard it is for some people to actually admit that racism is a real thing that still exists…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  51. @An Interested Party: Indeed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  52. DrDaveT says:

    @Joe:

    I have been involved in at least 3 productions of The Music Man. There is no tap dancing.

    I bow to your expertise. To make the joke, I bent the truth, and now I’m caught. While Mike did dance, none of it could be accurately called “tap”.

    You can talk all you wanna, but it’s different than it was —
    No it ain’t! No it ain’t! But you gotta know the territory!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  53. Solomon Kleinsmith says:

    He did not say what the headline is trying to make it out to.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  54. @Solomon Kleinsmith: He said “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  55. @JKB:

    So I guess that means that a good portion of the pre-19th century Scots, Irish, Borderers and Cavaliers shipped off to the New World weren’t immigrants either.

    The Cavaliers were not the owners of the Scots/Irish/Borderers? I imagine that these not went to America in chains.

    But, in, more in general, I suppose that the word “immigrant” does not apply to the people (free or slave) that went from Britain to America or Australia before independence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  56. Pch101 says:

    @JKB:

    It’s funny that you could post a comment like that, yet you insist that you are not a racist.

    Just another example of how clowns like you do not deserve to be taken seriously.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0