Why Ben Carson is Ahead
by Joshua B. Hoe Before I start, let's get some things out of the way quickly..I am an ex-con (and white), I have done bad things, you can hate me for any number of reasons, but that does not mean what I am about to say is wrong.
Many of you may be wondering, how could someone who thinks that the Pyramids are really grain silos be leading the GOP presidential race?
What I am about to say will be very controversial to some.
I can only say I appreciate our disagreements, value your opinions, and am only expressing my personal opinions.
Ben Carson is Winning Because He Believes America is Colorblind
Ben Carson is ahead, and winning the GOP Base for one overwhelming reason, because he sees himself as post-racial.
Carson said the following on August 4th on the stage at the first televised candidate debate:
(comments about 6:37)
"Well, I think the bully pulpit is a wonderful place to start healing that divide. You know, we have the purveyors of hatred who take every single incident between people of two races and try to make a race war out of it, and drive wedges into people. And this does not need to be done."
"What we need to think about instead--you know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once, why don't I talk about race that often. I said it's because I'm a neurosurgeon. And she thought that was a strange response. And I said, you see, when I take someone to the operating room, I'm actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn't make them who they are. The hair doesn't make them who they are. And it's time for us to move beyond that."
What Does The GOP Base Care About
They say history is written by the winners.
Right now there is a vigorous cultural debate to determine who gets to write history.
The cultural debate happening right now is over the legacy of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream Speech" - the speech that has long been the beacon of hope for racial reconciliation in America.
The debate is about who gets to explain that speech.
There are two sides:
1. Conservatives who believe fundamentally (to their core) that America is a land of opportunity, that everyone has an equal and fair shot, and that with hard work anyone can make it.
Hand in hand with this belief is the notion that we are a colorblind nation and that strong people do not rely on irrelevant factors like "race" to explain success or failure. Blaming failures on race is kind of like, in their minds, hating America.
They will each, to a person, strongly suggest that they do not "see" race.
They will each, to a person, say that they have never been or supported racism.
And they will all embrace an interpretation of MLK's famous speech that suggests that we live in a country where people are not judged "by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
They also seem to build a magical ladder that allows successful blacks to "escape" from race. The best fictional representation of this happened in Spike Lee's classic "Do The Right Thing" when the following discussion happens:
MOOKIE Who's your favorite basketball player? PINO Magic Johnson. MOOKIE And not Larry Bird? Who's your favorite movie star? PINO Eddie Murphy. Mookie is smiling now. MOOKIE Last question: Who's your favorite rock star? Pino doesn't answer, because he sees the trap he's already fallen into. MOOKIE Barry Manilow? Mookie and Vito laugh. MOOKIE Pino, no joke. C'mon, answer. VITO It's Prince. He's a Prince freak. PINO Shut up. The Boss! Bruuucce!!!! MOOKIE Sounds funny to me. As much as you say nigger this and nigger that, all your favorite people are "niggers." PINO It's different. Magic, Eddie, Prince are not niggers, I mean, are not Black. I mean, they're Black but not really Black. They're more than Black. It's different.
I am pretty sure this actually happens in many peoples minds.
2. Black Progressives many of whom associate with activism around a concept called "Black Lives Matter" believe that people are currently judged by the color of their skins first in America (or that America operates on white supremacy).
As evidence, they can point to some of the following (and much more):
- Massive racial disparity in the application of criminal justice
- Massive racial disparity in real estate
- Massive racial disparity in the application of law enforcement and in the use of deadly force
- Massive racial disparity in wealth, hiring, and promotion
- A pretend neutrality in education where the most important factor in the quality of education is tax-base (wealth)
All of these are facts. No serious academic disagrees.
They also see thirty years of a war on drugs that has militarized urban communities (mostly) of color and have seen whole generations raised in domestic war-zones.
Most of this happens outside of view or through the lens of the fear of crime (as in anyone caught up in this probably deserved it - drugs are bad).
They take this to mean that people care more about (white) lives than they do about BLACK lives....Hence, Black Lives Matter (too).
In their version of the speech, we have not reached the post-racial utopia King wishes for, and we cannot pretend that we have.
In their version of the speech - we are not reaching his goal,
"...that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
In their version, America should actually live up to it's promises.
Why Carson Leads
The GOP base LOVES Ben Carson because he embraces the idea that because he worked hard and became a neurosurgeon, he is proof of a post-racial America.
They see President Obama as someone who believes in hand-outs for lazy takers (poor people) and who believes that white people should atone for racism (when any problems are really personal failures).
This is the real reason why Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News) said in a Tweet:
"Ben and Candy Carson terrific. What about a real black President who can properly address the racial divide? And much else."
The Black Progressives see Carson as someone who thinks he is espousing progress, but who is really espousing privilege.
He has become post-racial in the exact same way as Magic Johnson, Eddie Murphy, and Prince have...If they can talk about themselves as beyond race it is because of the magic ladder...not because anyone can climb.
In traditional political-speak this is known as the "bootstrapping" metaphor...If I can make it, anyone can. If I did it, anyone can.
We all see ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, we all think we climbed the toughest mountains, and faced the most tragic choices. We all think the world benefits from our example.
But the truth is, life doesn't work linearly for most people. Many people work harder than I have ever worked and never make it.
Some people are shot by police for flopping around on the ground after being tased (instead of being orderly) and others are choked to death for selling single cigarettes.
Or, more accurately, because they were not privileged.
They were poor, they were mostly powerless without paparazzi or lawyers, and they almost always were black.
The Real MLK + Carson
I think what MLK probably meant, given being a preacher, is that he dreams of a day when all black people actually start on an equal playing field and where they do not face disparities of justice and force every day.
I don't blame or hate Ben Carson, he says a ton of crazy things and he believes some things I think would be a disaster for this country. I could never vote for him. But, I do admire what he has accomplished in his life.
I don't think he is right on race...or even close. His response to Black Lives Matter was disturbing.
How about the police don't shoot unarmed people of color AND we try to get other reforms to. Why in the world does he think this is a binary choice? And why would he think police violence should be moved lower in line?
And why does he assume his experience growing up was the same as everyone else who grew up in similar neighborhoods?
Even with my problems, he has lived his experience, and he has the right to speak of his experiences.
I wish he was winning because he made a success of himself despite all odds.
But, the real reason Carson is winning is he fulfills the fantasy of the colorblind mythology...A black man who refuses to see his own color.
Many want to believe, more than anything, that the system is fair (because that justifies where we stand - our position in the system and relieves the need for messy guilt and - god forbid - reparation).
There is real power in that aspiration, and I certainly do not begrudge him his strongly earned belief.
And I understand, from his perspective, that it was hard won and that it seems natural and real to him.
I cannot, however, accept it as real. It is a myth, I have lived in the ghetto, the penthouse, and the prison.
I have seen how it all works from the inside.
I have seen over 50% of a prison being black knowing the general population is 14% black.
And I met many of those people, I know they are not all terrible people, no matter how much it makes us feel better to believe it.
I have been in courthouses and I have seen working poverty.
I have seen how people and police react to and how they treat "certain" people as opposed to others.
For most people, but not all, the ladder is magical - a fantasy that they have tried and failed to scale.
I only wish that Ben Carson realized that most people don't have access to the ladder he climbed.
Well...I also wish he wasn't kind of nuts.
And that's the triple truth Ruth!
Why do you think Ben Carson is ahead? How badly do you disagree with me? I welcome your comments and value dissent (as long as the dissent is honest)!