Ben Carson attempted to quell the outrage that erupted online after he referred to African slaves as “immigrants” during a Monday speech on the U.S. as the land of dreams and opportunity.
During his debut speech as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Carson discussed immigrants who entered the U.S. through Ellis Island to pursue a better life, and then he turned his attention to slaves forced to come to the country against their will.
“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” the retired neurosurgeon said. “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 NAACP was among those who were shocked by Carson’s comments.
After immense pushback, Carson appeared on “The Armstrong Williams Show,” which airs on SiriusXM Urban View every weekday evening, in an attempt to “clarify” his controversial comments.
“When you use the term ‘immigrant,’ what you’re saying is that anybody who’s come from a foreign place is an immigrant,” suggested conservative radio host Williams, who advised Carson during his presidential campaign.
“Of course they are,” Carson replied. “And everybody in that auditorium was with me. They knew exactly what I was saying. It’s only those people who are always trying to stir up controversy.”
Carson expressed frustration that the national conversation hasn’t focused on “the good things” about his speech, such as people standing in line for taking pictures or asking intelligent questions.
“They don’t cover that. They say, ‘Ah, he said that slaves were immigrants and that’s a terrible thing to say and he’s out of contact with reality. He’s crazy.’ It’s really kind of sad what the media has degenerated into,” he said.
Carson also defended his comparison through a series of posts on social media:
“You can be an involuntary immigrant.”
“Slaves didn’t just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves!”
”An immigrant is a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”
Late Monday night, however, Carson released a longer statement in which he acknowledged that slaves and immigrants had “two entirely different experiences” that should “never be intertwined.” He did not apologize for his words but expressed pride in the courage and perseverance of African-Americans.
Here is Carson’s complete statement on the controversy:
“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.
Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of HUD”
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