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“What Ben Carson Doesn’t Get”: If Obama Wasn’t ‘Black’ Before, He Certainly Is Now

Today’s column is for the benefit of one Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson.

He shouldn’t need what follows, but obviously does. No other conclusion is possible after his interview with Politico a few days ago.

The subject was Barack Obama and what the Republican presidential contender sees as the inferior quality of the president’s blackness. “He’s an ‘African’ American,” said Carson. “He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up…”

Carson, the son of a struggling single mother who raised him in Detroit, and sometimes relied on food stamps to do so, noted that Obama, by contrast, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. “So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

Lord, have mercy.

Let’s not even get into the fact that the man questioning Obama’s racial bona fides once stood before an audience of white conservatives and proclaimed the Affordable Care Act “the worst thing that has happened in this country since slavery.” Let’s deal instead with Carson’s implicit assertion that to be authentically black requires being fatherless and broke, scrabbling for subsistence in the ‘hood.

If a white man said that, we’d call it racist. And guess what? It’s also racist when a black man says it. Not to mention, self-hating and self-limiting. Carson denies the very depth and breadth of African-American life.

By his “logic,” Kobe Bryant, who grew up in Italy, is not black, Shaquille O’Neal, who spent part of his childhood in Germany, is not black, Miles Davis and Natalie Cole, who grew up in affluent households, were not black and Martin Luther King Jr., child of middle-class comfort and an intact family, was not black. According to him, they were all “raised white.”

Here’s what Carson doesn’t get: What we call “race” is not about neighborhood, class or family status. Though the African hostages upon whose backs this country was built shared certain common approaches to music, faith and art, race ultimately isn’t even about culture. Martin Luther King, for instance, was an opera buff; it’s hard to get further from “black” culture than “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

No, race is something Europeans invented as a tool of subjugation. The people who came here from England, France and Spain did not initially see themselves as “white,” after all. They declared themselves white — that is, a superior species of humanity — to justify in their own consciences the evil things they did to the people they took from Africa. Similarly, those Africans knew nothing about “black.” They saw themselves as Fulani, Mende, Mandinkan or Songhay. “Black” was an identity forced upon them with every bite of the lash and rattle of the chains.

In other words, to be black is not to share a common geography, class or family status, but rather, the common experience of being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white. Want to know if you’re black? Try to rent a house in Miami. Try to hail a cab in Times Square. Try to win an Oscar in Hollywood. You’ll find out real quick.

And there is something spectacularly absurd in the fact of Barack Obama being criticized as “not black” by a Republican. Think about it: In the unlikely event he somehow managed to live the 47 years before his presidency without being insulted, bullied and oppressed by people who think they are white, Obama has sure made up for it since. Members of Carson’s party have called him “boy,” “uppity” and “ape” and have gone to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to block him from doing … anything.

So the good doctor can relax. If Obama wasn’t “black” before, he certainly is now.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald: The National Memo, February 29, 2016

February 29, 2016 Posted by | African Americans, Ben Carson, White Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Nikki Haley Living In Fantasyland”: Comfortably Indoctrinated In A Kind Of Civic Mythology

Nikki Haley’s 44th birthday is this week. You would think her a little old for fairytales.

But a bizarre, little-reported remark the South Carolina governor made last week suggests that, age notwithstanding, Haley lives in Fantasyland, at least insofar as American history is concerned. The comment in question came the day after her Tuesday night speech in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which she cuffed Donald Trump for his strident anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigotry.

Haley told reporters, “When you’ve got immigrants who are coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion.”

Some observers found that an astonishing thing for her to say as chief executive of the first state to secede from the Union in defense of slavery, a state that embraced segregation until forced to change by the federal government. Others observed that any fair reading of Haley’s quote makes it pretty clear she was speaking only in the context of legal immigration.

They’re right. The problem is, even if you concede that point, Haley is still grotesquely wrong. She thinks no immigration laws have been passed “based on race or religion”? What about:

The Naturalization Act of 1790, which extended citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person…”?

Or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, whose title and intent are self-explanatory?

Or the Immigration Act of 1917, which banned immigrants from East Asia and the Pacific?

Or Ozawa v. U.S., the 1922 Supreme Court decision which declared that Japanese immigrants could not be naturalized?

Or U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, the 1923 high court ruling which said people from India — like Haley’s parents — could not become naturalized citizens?

So yes, however you slice it, Haley is wrong and Haley is ignorant. But one wonders if Haley is to blame.

Americans, the historian Ray Arsenault once said, live by “mythic conceptions of what they think happened” in the past. And as school systems, under pressure from conservative school boards, retreat from teaching that which embarrasses the nation’s self-image, as ethnic studies classes are outlawed, as textbooks are scrubbed of painfully inconvenient truths, as standards requiring the teaching of only “positive aspects” of American history are imposed, we find those mythic conceptions encroaching reality to a troubling degree.

Suddenly, slaves become immigrants and settlers. The Civil War has nothing to do with slavery. Martin Luther King becomes a tea party member. And America has never passed laws “based on race and religion.”

Yes, Haley’s ignorance might be willful. There’s surely a lot of that going around. But it might also be that she’s simply part of that generation which has been taught fairytales under the guise of history. Such teaching will leave you comfortably indoctrinated in a kind of civic mythology — and wholly unprepared to interpret or contextualize what’s happening before your eyes.

To wit: What makes Donald Trump’s proposed restrictions on Muslims troubling is not that they represent the coming of something new, but the return of something old, a shameful strain in the American psyche that we have seen too many times before. It is not a deviation from America, but the very stuff of America, an ugly scapegoating that has too often besmirched our character and beguiled us away from our most luminous ideals.

This is something all of us should know, but do not. As a state official, perhaps a candidate for vice president, perhaps eventually a president of the United States, Nikki Haley might someday change history. It would be good if she understood it first.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, January 17, 2016

January 18, 2016 Posted by | American History, Civil War, Nikki Haley | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Not Ever Do That Again”: SC Gov. Nikki Haley; The U.S. Has ‘Never’ Passed Laws Based On Race And Religion — Um…

Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R-SC) decision to speak out against Donald Trump and other anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim forces in the Republican Party is certainly laudable — but her awareness of American history needs a little work.

The Hill reports:

She said Wednesday that Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the country is what compelled her to speak out.

“You know, the one thing that got me I think was when he started saying ban all Muslims,” she said.

“We’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion,” she added. “Let’s not start that now.”

Of course, the state of South Carolina is itself a grand exhibit of America’s history of racially-based laws. It was the state where the Civil War began, as the first state to secede in the South’s effort to preserve and expand the institution of slavery, and it was where the first shots of the war were fired at Fort Sumter.

During the Jim Crow era, the state was also home to Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrat rebellion of 1948, a political mobilization for segregation that rallied against the emerging post-World War II civil rights movement.

To be sure, both South Carolina and the United States as a whole have made progress, climbing upward from these tainted beginnings to build a great country. But it sure does sound odd to hear a political leader say that we’ve “never in the history of this country” passed such odious laws — and, “Let’s not start that now.”

A better thing to say would’ve been: “Let’s not ever do that again.” That sort of myth-busting — against the idea of America as not just a great country, but a perfect one — would, in fact, be the right way to avoid doing it again.

 

By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 14, 2016 Posted by | American History, Nikki Haley, Racism | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Written With The Purpose Of Disenfranchising Blacks”: The State Where Racism Is Enshrined In The Constitution

As the presidential race heats up and the American public becomes consumed with the drama that will inevitably engulf the campaign, we should not forget that democracies are intended to be based on voter enfranchisement, and that in many ways America is still lacking in this regard.

There are many techniques that America could employ to increase voter turnout, but one of our most pressing obstacles is the states that have consistently worked toward disenfranchising large swaths of their electorate. In this election cycle, Alabama may be the most egregious offender. You probably think you know all the reasons for this, but here’s one reason I bet you don’t know: It’s all in the state’s constitution.

To put it mildly, Alabama’s constitution is an absurd document. It is the longest still-operative constitution in the world at more than 310,000 words long. It is 40 times longer than the U.S. Constitution and 12 times longer than the average state constitution. Alabama’s constitution is insanely long because it gives the state legislature the power to administer over most counties directly, and as a result about 90 percent of the constitution consists of nearly 900 amendments. Some of the amendments cover mundane issues such as salary increases for county officials or the regulation of bingo games in Macon and Greene counties. The U.S. Constitution, in comparison, has only 27 amendments.

Alabama’s constitution places the majority of the state’s political power in the hands of a small coterie of officials, leaving counties and municipalities forced to essentially ask permission from the legislature regarding almost any form of self-governing. Alabamans for a long time have railed against the inefficiencies and ridiculousness of this constitution. But the racial undertones and the fact that it disproportionately harms and disenfranchises persons of color should not be overlooked. In fact, it should be the focal point when attempting to understand the constitution that governs Alabama.

The document was ratified in 1901 following a wave of racial terror that engulfed the South after the Civil War and during Reconstruction. Essentially, the constitutions of most Southern states follow a similar pattern. Prior to 1861 they all had their own various constitutions, but at the start of the Civil War they created new constitutions pledging their allegiance to the Confederacy. Following the defeat of the Confederacy these constitutions were no longer valid, and starting in 1868 each state had a new constitution overseen by the federal government that outlawed slavery and ensured black Americans were able to vote, to seek and hold elected offices, and to participate in their governments at the local, state, and national level.

To put it mildly, white Southerners did not embrace this societal change, and rather quickly a wave of terror engulfed the South directed toward freed blacks and Northern carpetbaggers—many of whom were also black—who had moved to the region with the intention of ensuring that the new constitutions and federal regulations were followed. The first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan was formed during this period.

However, the terror inflicted upon blacks during this era was not merely physical and mental, but also political. In addition to the Klan and other terrorist groups such as the White League and the Red Shirts, a political movement called the Redeemers began to steadily grow in popularity in the South. The Redeemers were a white political coalition consisting of primarily conservative and pro-business politicians and leaders. Their political ideology focused on seeking “redemption” by ousting or oppressing the coalition of freedmen—freed persons of color, carpetbaggers, and scalawags (Southern whites who supported Reconstruction). The Redeemers wanted to return their America to an era that favored white life and oppressed all others.

The biggest coup of this era for the Redeemers was the controversial Compromise of 1877 that removed federal troops from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana, decided the 1876 U.S. presidential election, and ended the era of Reconstruction. In the ensuing years, Southern states created constitutions that reversed the progress and enfranchisement of Reconstruction, but without explicitly violating the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution.

Jim Crow laws and segregation became legally mandated during this time, but due to the “separate but equal” doctrine, these policies were not viewed as racially unjust. Additionally, since race could no longer serve as a barrier to vote, wealth, education and more became the new determinants, and poll taxes were instituted in states across the South. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia all created poll taxes in their new constitutions that disenfranchised blacks and poor whites. Poor whites had become the collateral damage in the quest to continue the oppression of black Americans in the South.

However, as time passed most of these states created new constitutions or completely rewrote existing ones so that they would not be trapped and forced to govern based upon the abhorrent and immortal standards of the past. Georgia, for example, ratified its current constitution in 1983.

Yet Alabama remains as one of the states whose constitution (PDF) functions as a continuation of the Redeemers ideology: an ideology that resulted in widespread political corruption as whites worked to sustain white supremacy and remain the governing force in Alabama by any means necessary. During the 1890s, whites in Alabama committed 177 lynchings—more than any other state—and by the end of the decade, Alabama had created a new constitution that placed the state under the control of those who committed and/or endorsed the terror.

During the first election held after the constitution’s 1901 enactment, voter turnout declined by 38 percent as a result of poll taxes, literacy requirements, and other legal voting impediments. In 1900 there were roughly 181,000 registered black voters and by 1903 there were fewer than 5,000. Black voter turnout dropped by a whopping 96 percent, and white turnout also decreased by 19 percent.

In recent years, when Alabama has instituted voter ID laws that disproportionately harm communities of color and have systematically closed DMVs in predominantly black counties, thus preventing African Americans from obtaining voter IDs, no one should be surprised. Alabama has always been a state that has found creative legal was to oppress and disenfranchise black Americans while ensuring that a segment of white elites dominate society.

Alabama’s constitution may not be legally racist or oppressive, but that most certainly is its intent. Preventing Alabamans from voting is its main bedrock principle. And while many Alabamans view their constitution as a shame that blights their society, the oppressive principles and ideology that brought it into existence have unfortunately returned to our national political discourse. Voting restrictions have sprung up across the nation, and government-sponsored racial and religious divisions are again commonplace in our political discourse.

Attempts to forcefully return America to a past that encourages racial division and oppression and places political power within the wealthy elites of society only result in staining the future. Alabama’s constitution and its capacity and consistency of racial oppression and disenfranchising voters is only one example, and sadly there are no signs that it will be repealed anytime soon.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, December 22, 2015

December 25, 2015 Posted by | Alabama Constitution, Alabama State Legislature, Racism, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Very Dim View Of Humankind”: Ben Carson Thinks You’re The Crazy One

Of all the gifts that Ben Carson has given comedy writers and Twitter wags in the past weeks, it’s his stubborn belief that the Biblical prophet Joseph built the pyramids that’s captured the public’s imagination the most. Self-serious pundits, meanwhile, bemoan this spasm of ridicule on a subject properly relegated to strange-smelling occult bookstores and dusty UseNet forums. To be sure, there are other questions about Carson that have a more obvious bearing on his fitness to be president: his non-trivial attachment to the multi-level marketing firm and “glyconutrient” purveyor Mannatech sounds alarms not just about Carson’s medical judgment outside his field, but his willingness to benefit from a predatory business model (the profit of a different sort of pyramid scheme).

Since it hews to the general Judeo-Christian storyline, and it serves their electoral purposes, conservatives have been incredibly deferential to Carson’s theory. “All religious beliefs have some element of fantastical or absurd,” goes the defense. “Besides: ReverendWrightBillAyersBenghazi.”

Here’s the problem: Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t really religious, not in the sense that it is a part of official Seventh Day Adventist church doctrine. Carson appears to have extrapolated from official church doctrine regarding Biblical infallibility and Scripture as an “authentic and historical account” that the grain Joseph collected during the “seven years of plenty” must have been stored somewhere—and at some point he alighted on the same theory that briefly swept the world’s intelligentsia in the sixth century. (As one does.) Indeed, for a certain subsection of voters, Carson’s pyramid theory isn’t proof Adventists’ beliefs are a little strange, but rather have come around to polite society consensus in at least one respect—they’re not as virulently anti-Catholic they used to be. Hence, my personal favorite headline of the cycle: “Ben Carson Agrees With Gregory of Tours.

Carson’s belief is “religious” in that it borrows some characters from the Bible in order tell a story about a historical event. By that measure, the belief that there are no unicorns because they refused to board Noah’s ark is also “religious.” (Obviously, that’s a myth—unicorns appear in the Bible post-flood, so they must have been on board. Their disappearance is, thus, still a mystery that science has yet to provide answers for.)

The grain-storage theory is also “religious” in that it seeks to justify a conviction related to but outside the faith by borrowing the authority of the church. You may recognize this rhetorical strategy from such popular Judeo-Christian hits as “the Bible justifies slavery” and “the Lord commands us to appropriate Native American lands.” It’s only because it’s about the pyramids that it sounds weird.

But the real reason we should go ahead and mock Ben Carson about his pyramid theory is that the belief that anyone but the Egyptians (who told us they built them) built them is not a morally neutral assessment. Those who warn against passing judgment on Carson just because he has a non-traditional belief need to remember that this particular belief contains its own judgments on people —and they’re not particularly favorable.

First of all, let’s remember what Carson’s alternate theory is: aliens. To him, that’s the somewhat-plausible suckers’ bet he feels the need to dismiss. You might be tempted to believe it, he implied, because the pyramids were complex motherfuckers—“many chambers hermetically sealed” built with “special knowledge”—but, he assured the audience: “It doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

The pyramids’ existence solved a riddle that Carson made up for himself: “Joseph’s grain silos were so big, how can they have disappeared?” But Carson clearly sees the pyramids’ greatness as a riddle as well: “The pyramids are so complex, who helped humans build them?”

The thread of racism that runs through pseudo-archeology is well documented. Whether you explain the pyramids as the product of an alien civilization or a miracle from God, the underlying assumption is that it couldn’t have been accomplished by the (usually brown) people who claim to have done it. I don’t think Carson is racist. Carson doesn’t just think that the Egyptians couldn’t build the pyramids without help, I suspect that Carson doesn’t think humans could build the pyramids without help.

The notion that “with God, all things are possible” is supposed to invite ambition to reach beyond oneself; Carson’s apparent frame is, “without God, nothing is possible.”

When I look at humankind’s great achievements, I also see the hand of God, and what astonishes me isn’t that He had to literally and specifically intervene—it’s that He didn’t. The miracle of the pyramids and Machu Picchu and the Mona Lisa isn’t God’s literal presence, but the capacity for genius He instilled in every human being whether or not they asked for it, whether or not they think He exists.

There is an assumption of individualized divine intervention in Carson’s telling of his own life story, in the myths he’s created about himself. The fight with his mother, the knife hitting the belt-buckle: Carson has imposed a radical conversion story onto his trajectory, complete with miracles, because—I can only guess—the more mundane explanation (he was a smart kid who became a brilliant brain surgeon) is not satisfying to him.

You can see the “thug” tale as self-aggrandizing, but to me it is strangely self-denying—on some level, a kind of blasphemy. In making up a story filled with drama, he has failed to credit God for the original and true, if subtle, miracle within Carson: that a soft-spoken, nerdy young man born in inner Detroit did not have to become a thug at some point, that he was wise and respectful of his own potential without needing God to perform a parlor trick.

I believe that God will do for me what I cannot do for myself, but I also know He won’t do for me what I can do for myself—and my daily miracle is the extent to which His original gifts to me allow me to not call upon Him for specific, material intervention in my life.

I think it cheapens the idea of miracles to think that humans needed one to create the pyramids, or that Carson needed one to put his life on the right track. It speaks to a lack of faith in humans—and, in some sense, God. His creation is so much more awe inspiring than Carson seems to realize.

 

By: Ana Marie Cox, The Daily Beast, November 8, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Egyptian Pyramids, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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