Ben Carson, the former Republican presidential candidate and now President Trump’s secretary for housing and urban development, has sparked outrage for comparing African slaves brought to the United States to “immigrants”.
Carson was making his first address to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) staff when he made the comparison.
In his opening remarks, Carson who is African-American, praised the contributions of immigrants to American society as well as their work ethic.
“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less,” Carson said of African slaves. “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.”
But rights groups were quick to criticise Carson for this comparison and social media lampooned the new HUD secretary who was confirmed by the US Senate last week.
Here’s Ben Carson confusing immigrants with slaves. Has he accidentally performed a lobotomy on himself? Djeez… pic.twitter.com/ooikY0zzRy— SeriouslyUS? (
USseriously) <a href="https://twitter.com/USseriously/status/838854981033787392">March 6, 2017</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Since Ben Carson thinks slaves were immigrants then he must think Jews were guests at the Nazi Summer Camp. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SlavesAreNotImmigrants?src=hash">#SlavesAreNotImmigrants</a></p>— Eric Guster, Esq (EricGuster) March 7, 2017
So Ben Carson doesn’t know the slaves from Africa weren’t immigrants??? He must have taken History in alternative-facts charter school.— Nancy Ward Redman (@nastywoman52) March 7, 2017
They have balked at the suggestion Africans pressed into forced servitude and denied basic freedoms for hundreds of years in the United States could be compared to immigrants who, although possibly forced from their home countries due to war, famine, or other reasons including religious or political persecution, still have their freedom of choice and self-determination in seeking better lives.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, an archive of documents and data on the slave trade from Africa to North American destinations, collected since the 1960s and mostly published in 1999, estimates as many as 12.5 million people were enslaved and brought to North America in at least 36,000 voyages.
“This is as offensive a remark as it gets,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also criticized Carson on its Twitter account.
The HUD has come to Carson’s defence. A spokesperson for the federal bureau called the outrage “the most cynical interpretation of the secretary’s remarks to any army of welcoming HUD employees. No one honestly believes he equates voluntary immigration with involuntary servitude.”
According to Reuters, Carson was well received by HUD staff and received a standing ovation after his closing remarks.
After dropping out of the US presidential race, Carson lent his support to Donald Trump, who named him the housing secretary.
As the US’ HUD secretary, Carson will have a vital role to play in revitalising poor neighbourhoods, one of main pillars of President Trump’s election campaign.