Ben Carson was confirmed as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development less than a week ago, and he has already screwed up big-time. He was speaking to HUD employees about the human brain, the country's "can-do" past, and people he chose to call "immigrants" — except they weren't at all. Chelsea Clinton corrected Carson's "immigrants" comment, and it doesn't take much explanation to see why. The group of people he's referring to were actually slaves, and as such they were enslaved when they came to America, not immigrating.
Carson opened his HUD talk with comments about the overwhelming power of the human brain, noting that you can't overwhelm it. He said we should take that power and apply it to create a "can-do society" once again — as opposed to a "what can you do for me society."
And then things took a turn for the even worse. Here's what he said:
This can't be real. Slaves were not & are not immigrants. 2017. https://t.co/8CuUvnR2Mf— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) March 6, 2017
That may be the current American dream for immigrants, but it was surely not the thought of the approximately 450,000 people who were stolen from their families, sent on a deadly trans-Atlantic journey, and landed in a new world they never wanted to come to. And Clinton made that very clear with her response. "This can't be real. Slaves were not & are not immigrants. 2017," she wrote on Twitter.
Later Monday it became clear that Carson did understand the difference between the slave and immigrant experiences — although he did seem to insist on using the word "immigrant" for both. Later Monday, on SiriusXM’s "Urban View," he defended his word choice to Armstrong Williams:
The focus on black Americans' perseverance was also present in a Facebook post put up later on his and his wife's page. Carson wrote that he is "proud of the courage and perseverance of Black Americans and their incomprehensible struggle from slavery to freedom." He also acknowledged that the slave and immigrant narratives are "entirely different experiences."
The progression over the day makes it seem like he learned from the negative feedback on his first quote. Whether it was Chelsea Clinton who convinced him, or the many others who tweeted and perhaps reached out personally, who knows. But given the influence slavery continues to have today in American society — everything from incarceration to access to healthcare and education — it's important the HUD secretary understand the difference.