Ben Carson referred to slaves as immigrants and people are outraged

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Ben Carson, dubbed 'Low Energy' by now-President Donald J Trump in 2015, is the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

He gave a speech on Monday, somewhat of a debut in the role, in which he told agency employees to be can-do and to exercise as much of their brain as possible.

No, seriously.

He said:

You can't overload [the brain]. Have you ever heard people say: 'Don't do that or you'll overload your brain?' 

You can't overload the human brain. If you learned one new fact every second it would take you more than three million years to challenge the capacity of your brain. It can't be done.

So, we need to concentrate a little less on what we can't do and a little more on what we can do. After all this is America, this used to be known as the 'can-do society', not the 'what can you do for me society', but the 'can-do society'.

That's what America is about.

A land of dreams and opportunity.

So far, so good. The brain tangent was a little weird, but he's a neurosurgeon so we'll get over it.

What he said next, however, has left people outraged.

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.

People have reacted angrily to the implication that slaves were remunerated in pay comparable to working conditions in the present, rather than victims of colonialist oppression, and that they were in some way pursuing prosperity, rather than being subjected to tyrannical conditions.

Also, immigrants are people who voluntarily move to a different country.

There was nothing voluntary about the forced trafficking of the slave trade.

Carson also, during his speech, said of the 18th century United States of America...

People could do whatever they wanted as long as what you wanted to do didn’t interfere with me and what I wanted to do.

... Apparently ignoring the experience of black people and Native Americans at this time in history.

Carson later clarified his comments in a statement:

I’m proud of the courage and perseverance of Black Americans and their incomprehensible struggle from slavery to freedom. I’m proud that our ancestors overcame the evil and repression that we know as slavery.

The slave narrative and immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences. Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders.

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.

The two experiences should never be intertwined, nor forgotten, as we demand the necessary progress towards an America that's inclusive and provides access to equal opportunity for all.

We should revel in the fact that although we got here through different routes, we have many things in common now that should unite us in our mission to have a land where there is liberty and justice for all.

Keep reading...Show less
Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)