Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson has been known to have a verbal gaffe or two since he declared his presidential ambitions in 2015, but now it seems as though the recently confirmed member of President Donald Trump's cabinet may have outdone himself in that arena. During a speech to HUD workers on Monday, the retired neurosurgeon compared immigration and being an immigrant to the millions of Africans who were brought to the U.S. against their will while bound by chains in densely packed slave ships that traveled across the Atlantic Ocean under inhumane conditions.
"That's what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity," Carson told the HUD employees. "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."
With the seemingly lone exception of HUD's spokesperson, the comment incited the wrath of everybody from advocacy groups to celebrities alike, who all appeared to be incredulous that Carson, an African-American, could make such a statement that likened individuals who traveled to the U.S. by choice to those who absolutely did not.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), whose self-described mission "is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination," tweeted one single word to express what came across as disbelief.
Academy Award-nominated actor Samuel L. Jackson went a bit further in his response and seemed to call Carson an Uncle Tom, which has been defined as "a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals)
But those two reactions were just the tip of the racially charged iceberg.
The reason for the collective outrage was mentioned earlier, but Merriam-Webster may say it best in defining the word "immigrant" as "a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence
Compare that definition to that of the word slave — "a person held in servitude as the chattel of another
" — and it may become more apparent why some people felt offended at Carson's characterization of both immigrants and slaves.