Dr. Ben Carson, the only black member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, made comments about African slaves and compared them with immigrants during his first speech as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. His speech, especially the part about African slaves, was met with swift outrage online and made HUD respond with a statement: “This is the most cynical interpretation of the secretary’s remarks to an army of welcoming HUD employees. No one honestly believes he equates voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude!”
Carson spoke about the work ethic and dreams of immigrants who came to the United States through Ellis Island in New York. “That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity. There were other immigrants who came here on the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” Carson 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 comparison of slaves and immigrants was first reported by USA Today and quickly drew attention and comments to the social networks. Donna Benson, a professor of history at Winston-Salem State University, said Carson’s statements about slavery were inaccurate. She pointed out the difference between these two categories: “There is a stark contrast between willing immigrants excited about the new world and African people who were captured and enslaved. Slaves — like victims of other forms of human trafficking — were not immigrants.”
Barry Trachtenberg, the Rubin presidential chair of Jewish history at Wake Forest University, said that “even the youngest schoolchildren know African-American slaves ... were brought as captives to the United States for forced labor.” ”To recast slaves as ‘immigrants’ permits the United States to avoid taking moral, legal and economic responsibility for the crime of slavery and its consequences,” he added.
Mr. Carson wrote on Twitter: “You can be an involuntary immigrant. Slaves didn’t just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves.” He continued: “An immigrant is: ‘a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.’”
In his speech, Carson also said the brain “remembers everything you’ve ever seen. Everything you’ve ever heard.” And he found opponents on that front too. Dwayne Godwin, a professor of neurology and anatomy and the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said he disagrees “that the human brain is incapable of forgetting, and that everything we’ve ever seen is somehow stored within our brains.” He explained that the human memory is “very complex interplay between attention and plasticity.” “Unless we attend to things we wish to remember, we are quite likely to forget them — or never store the memory in the first place,” he added.
Photo Credits: Pete Enns