Just in time to close out Black History Month, my dear friend
and GOP nominee Dr. Ben Carson has given me some fun material to play with.
During a podcast on Politico, the good doctor thought it fit to tackle the subject of black authenticity, using President Obama as his subject. In the interview, Carson, the son of a poor and single mother noted:
“He’s an ‘African-American. He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but — he didn’t grow up like I grew up. So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”
Wow. Where to start?
Let’s go right to the elephant in the room. Dr. Carson’s tacit suggestion that being poor and fatherless is unique to the black experience is patently false and…well…stupid. Frankly, it goes beyond mere stupid. It’s self-loathing racism, even if it’s rooted in some kind of scientific truth. After all, there’s no doubt that Obama is genetically bi-racial. But that’s not what Carson was trying to imply. He was suggesting that Obama’s experiences disqualify him from being black, even if most of the black community has indeed embraced him as one of our own.
Here’s what Carson doesn’t get: the concept of “race” is not defined by where a person lives, how poor they are, the makeup of their family structure, or any other superficial descriptors. Simply put, to be black is to be human. And like any other human experience, being black involves a complex combination of attributes. Yes, skin color is one of those attributes. But we are also bound together by our struggles, our triumphs, our disappointments, our celebrations. We have core values passed down to us and values we acquire elsewhere. I get that people tend to generally place blackness in the “urban” category (translation: if you don’t like rap and don’t subscribe to certain stereotypical depictions of black folks, you ain’t being “black enough”). But I don’t think it starts or ends there. Black folks aren’t some monolithic group and we certainly aren’t limited to living/acting/thinking in a specific, universal way. A person can be just as black owning the entire Tom Jones discography as they can owning the whole 50 cent discography. They can be just as black voting for Barack Obama as they are voting for Donald Trump. Being black to me is about facing the struggles of the past, being willing to take on the harsh realities of the present, and finding the strength and resolve to survive for future generations. That cuts across tastes in music, preferences in food, clothes we wear, class status, or any number of other cursory things we erroneously use to define ourselves from a cultural standpoint.
But I’m going to put that aside for a second to point out the obvious: even in the unlikely even that Obama was able to live a full life separated from his “blackness”, the past 8 years have more than made up for it. He’s been heckled during an internationally televised State of the Union address, he’s been called “uppity”, people have joked about watermelon patches growing on the White House lawn, his wife has been compared to an ape, and he has dealt with a Republican Congress hellbent on opposing every single thing he does. I concede that some of the animus Obama has faced has been solely on the basis of policy. But most of us realize the unspoken but highly evident truth: most of it is because he is, despite Carson’s assertions, a black man in America.