Ben Carson On Slavery: Brain Surgeon, Please Heal Thyself
Ben Carson knows very little about slavery. This is how the former secretary of Housing and Urban development once described the grotesque Middle Passage, where Africans were abducted from their homes and transported in chains to America:
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.
Apparently, enslaved people's grand dreams were dashed by liberal federal assistance programs and the Affordable Care Act, which Carson once claimed is worse than slavery. Sunday, during an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he shared some more GOP-approved Black history.
Black families during slavery were often separated and unequal https://t.co/w7G0pVTjHP— Stephen Robinson (@Stephen Robinson) 1626124104.0
When you look at what the Black community has been through, go all the way back to slavery. It was the family, the strong family units and the faith in God that got people through that, that got people through Jim Crow, through severe segregation, through all the difficulties.
But what really had a negative impact was when the government came along said, "There, there, you poor little thing, I'm going to take care of all your needs" and started implementing policies that were destructive to the family formation.
It's painful to watch and even transcribe such foolishness. Carson sits there and tells a delighted white audience that what “really had a negative impact" on Black Americans came after slavery and Jim Crow, and it's federal assistance programs alone, not redlining, overpolicing of our communities, and mass incarceration. He also promotes the fiction that only Black people are on welfare, which is what his former racist boss, Donald Trump, assumed. White people without a college degree, the major MAGA demo, are the biggest beneficiaries of government safety-net programs.
Enslaved people were a commodity in the free market but weren't themselves free. They were kept as human livestock and “provided for" by their captors. This is exactly the nightmare scenario conservatives fear from communism and socialism, where the state provides for your housing and health care, but you no longer have the freedom to die from preventable illnesses like Robber Baron Jesus intended.
Conservative dogma argues that welfare destroyed Black families rather than a biased criminal justice system that often starts in school. Carson seems blissfully ignorant of the reality that “strong family units" during slavery existed solely at the discretion and convenience of white enslavers. The US government prevented enslaved people from legally marrying. In situations where a father was enslaved by different horrible people than his partner and children, he would walk for miles on Wednesday and Sunday evenings to see his family, but his “obligation" to his captors always took precedence over his own personal needs.
Enslaved women were expected to return to work shortly after giving birth. A single enslaved woman was often assigned to feed and look after enslaved children while their parents worked from sun up to sun down. The children in name only were eventually given their own tasks, such as taking care of their enslaver's bratty kids, fanning flies from the enslaver's table (this one was told to my wife and me in sanitized form at a Louisiana plantation), and working in the fields with adults well before they were even 10 years old. Some enslavers did “encourage" Black family units, often as a means of producing more slaves but also because they believed an enslaved Black man was less likely to escape if if it meant abandoning his wife and children. So much for the absent Black father myth.
Carson's right that despite everything, Black people maintained strong family ties — even risking death to rescue relatives from bondage. But they always lived under the threat of Hurricane White, which could strike without warning and wipe away everything they'd built and held dear. Food stamps have never personally lynched a Black man or separated children from their parents.
Of course, Carson can't tell his adoring fans at CPAC that family was shelter from the storm, a respite from their oppressors — the overseers and slave patrollers. Enslaved people could enjoy something close to a human life but only away from the scrutiny of white people. They held parties and prayer meetings far out in the woods, but that itself was an act of rebellion: It was illegal in most states for enslaved people to assemble without the presence of a white person. The First Amendment didn't apply to enslaved people. Fortunately for Carson, he can still freely speak nonsense even if he's only willingly enslaved himself.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."