On Monday, while making his first remarks as the Trump administration’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, Ben Carson sparked uproar when he compared African slaves who came to the U.S. shackled in cargo ships to immigrants who came to the country in search of better opportunities.
While addressing HUD employees in Washington, Carson described African American slaves captured, sold and transported to the country against their will as people who arrived in the U.S. with hopes of the American Dream, being immigrants who worked “harder for less.”
“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. 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.”
“And do you know of all the nations in the world, this one, the United States of America, is the only one big enough and great enough to allow all those people to realize their dream,” he continued, according to CNN.
His audience did not give any visible reaction to the remarks. A senior HUD official told the Washington Post that the audience interpreted the comments, broadcast live to HUD offices across the country, only as a “heartfelt introduction to the HUD family.”
“He was making a point about people who came to this country for a better life for their kids,” the official said. “Nobody in that room put two and two together and came to five. Only the most cynical interpretation would conflate voluntary immigration to this country with involuntary servitude.”
But the comments sparked immediate outrage on social media.
“OK! Ben Carson….I can’t! Immigrants? In the bottom of slave ship? Muthaf***a, please!” actor Samuel L. Jackson tweeted. “
“I keep wanting to say, ‘Man, Ben Carson really is an idiot,'” a social media user tweeted, “but then I remember the whole brain surgeon thing, and now I’m just.”
“Every time I think you can’t be any more of a sellout, you outdo yourself.”
“Does this look like an immigrant?” another social media user tweeted, adding an image of an African slave being whipped.
Several social media users poked fun at the obvious gaffe.
One Twitter user suggested that Carson needed a brain transplant. Another posted images of shackles and commented sarcastically about the notion that slaves were “immigrants,” wondering whether the shackles were luggage.
Others joked that going by Carson’s reasoning, internment camps could be called “summer retreats” and concentration camps “diet facilities.”
Carson reacted to the controversy on Monday evening. He argued on Twitter that a person could be what he termed an “involuntary immigrant.” He suggested that the term “immigrant” could be used to describe slaves because an immigrant is anyone “who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.”
He then accused the media of deliberately seeking to twist his words to cause a controversy.
But he later appeared to reconsider his definition of slaves as “involuntary immigrants.” He admitted in a Facebook post that immigrants and slaves had “entirely different experiences.”
“Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders,” he wrote. “The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy.”
The former Republican presidential candidate has a history of statements about slavery that detractors consider to betray shockingly poor judgment despite having practiced professionally as a distinguished neurosurgeon.
During an NBC Meet the Press interview in 2015, Carson compared women who have abortions to slave owners who thought they had the right “do whatever they wanted to that slave.”
He also caused a stir in 2015 when he suggested that the Holocaust could have been avoided if Jews were allowed to carry guns.
“I think the likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed.There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.”
Earlier in 2013, he described the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (AKA, ObamaCare) as the “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”
[Featured Image by Susana Walsh/AP Images]