When my age was in the single digits, in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Jews were only beginning to become accepted in America. One of the jokes a young Jew like me often heard regarding a Jewish man was: “He’s a great friend of mine…but I wouldn’t want him to marry my daughter. When thinking about Ben Carson’s surging to the lead in the Iowa polling and trying to figure out why, I thought of that hoary joke from my youth.
As the 50’s went on, many young Black comedians adopted that joke, but with a Black protagonist. What that joke was speaking to, was something that you would commonly hear among American White racists, especially those who had interactions with Black people in their daily lives. It was the meme that Black people in general were exactly like the negative racial stereotypes that these racists believed, but that some Blacks weren’t “like the rest of them”. To wit: stupid. lazy, oversexed and shiftless. If you are aware of the history of bigotry in the United States, the same absurd stereotypes were at one time, or another, applied to the Jewish, Irish, Italian, Latino and Asian immigrants that flooded this country in waves throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. When Donald Trump speaks of Mexican immigrants coming here and raping women, he is using this same old, disgusting racist stereotype and as we have seen it meets the approval of a large minority of Americans.
Whatever one thinks of the policies of Barack Obama, anyone with a level of intelligence above the dim, must realize that the vitriol hurled upon him wasn’t about his policy positions alone. Obama has probably been the President most disrespected by a significant portion of our population, since Abraham Lincoln was heaped with opprobrium throughout the traitorous Southern States of our nation. The insane “Birther” movement, lacked the courage to admit that it was a racist movement attempting to de-legitimize a Black man, who had the effrontery to run for and win the American Presidency. I’ve written much about the racist nature of our country, which you can find if you click here and enter “racism” in the search function. You can also find more here at ElephantTail if you click on the search function above. In fact I’m in the process of restoring all of my lost writing on racism, but have yet to complete the task. My purpose in mentioning my writing, is to make it clear that I believe that the amount of bigotry that exists in this country, particularly against people of color, goes beyond overt racism and is intertwined with a sense of “White Privilege”. Given this, I’m sure people would think it hard for me to explain why so many in the racist Republican Party are so excited about Ben Carson and his candidacy? My explanation goes back to the lame joke I started with.
The Civil Rights movement has accomplished much in my lifetime and yet has many miles to travel to really end the cancer of racism that pervades our system and skews it against people of color. A good part of the reason for that is the Republican Party, in the 1968 Presidential election, unveiled a strategy that revived racism and allowed this Party to hold the Presidency for 28, of the last 47 years. This policy was the so-called “Southern Strategy”, that allowed an unlikable candidate like Richard Nixon to win the White House, twice, the second time in a landslide victory. That strategy was of course appealing to the racists, who were stunned by the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, which seemingly ended “Jim Crow”. What the Civil Rights Movement did was to basically make it socially unacceptable to be overtly racist in normal social discourse. What it hadn’t done was eliminate the prejudice that existed in many Americans, or even the sense of “White Privilege” that existed in most of America’s “Whites,” including many liberals. The effects of hundreds of years, with a dominant theme of unequal status to people of color and their exploitation, cannot suddenly be eradicated by the passage of any legislation.
So Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was to appeal to the innate Racism of many in this country by the use of coded language. “Crime” and “drugs” became code words denoting Black people even though percentage wise, just as many “White” people, as “Black” people engaged in both. By using code, Nixon was able to reassure the Southerners, still mourning their loss of “Jim Crow,” that he was on their side. His victory marked the beginning of the Republican landslide in the South, that continues to this day.
Now the elimination of “Jim Crow”, at least as public policy, had some interesting effects, perhaps unforeseen in those who wrote the 1964 Bill. Football in the South, or Southern type States like Texas and Oklahoma, is king. This is particularly true of High School and College Football, because it dovetails with local and regional pride. Ending segregation meant that the Southern College powers needed to recruit Black stars to remain relevant in the national football ratings. How does someone of racist bent, cheer on the hero of their football team if they are Black? They do it by depicting that hero as being “special”, not like those other Blacks who are sub-human. If their hero comes from modest circumstances, they praise his ability to “rise above” his presumably “bad” background and so become “somewhat” White. It becomes the “some of my best friends are…….” syndrome once again. The premise behind it being that even though most Blacks are less human than Whites, a few are able to be like “Whites”, or almost like White’s, enough to be considered roughly equal. Which brings me back to the support of Ben Carson.
One cannot deny the impressive narrative of Dr. Carson’s life. He is clearly an extraordinary Physician and Surgeon. Yet when it comes to areas outside of medicine, I think Dr. Carson leaves something to be desired. Chris Weigart in Huffpost writes about Carson in “Not Exactly Brain Surgery”: “Carson has two go-to comparisons that he’ll deploy on any number of unrelated current issues: either America is going the way of the Nazis, or we’re headed back to slavery. Those are pretty extreme examples to use, but they’re both favorites of Carson, used by him on a routine basis. So far, this has been what the media has chosen to focus on when dissecting Carson’s campaign.
This is a shame, because Carson has a flaw which is even bigger. His over-the-top Nazi and slavery comparisons actually play pretty well with the Republican primary audience, no matter how many times the pundits raise their metaphorical eyebrows over them. But what is harder to explain is the absolute incoherence of pretty much all of Carson’s policy positions. Not unlike Trump, Carson seems satisfied with vague ideas heavy on ideology and sloganeering, but very light on actual details. But unlike Trump, Carson gets pretty flustered whenever anyone asks him about the missing details. Trump just bulls his way through any doubts interviewers have, but Carson can’t really pull off the same trick. What happens instead is that he melts down.”
Actually, what Weigart writes of was what has actually puzzled me since I saw Carson on the Republican debates. Let’s forget for a moment what Carson was actually saying and focus on his facial affect and his manner of saying it. What I saw was someone with a “flat” affect, talking slowly and monotonically, with more than a hint of having to exert tremendous control to keep from falling apart. In short, forgetting his politics, he impressed me a a person who was either mentally unstable, or heavily medicated, or possibly even recovering from a stroke. He is far from an inspirational speaker and his manner shows little that would evoke passion in anyone.
I think Carson has risen in the polls because he exemplifies what many racists believe, which is that a few individual Black people can actually be equal to Whites. His fame as a “Brain Surgeon” ensure his credentials for intelligence and his political leanings ensure their own political leanings are endorsed, nay extolled, by a Black man no less. When he says really stupid things to the effect that had Jews been armed, they would have prevented the Holocaust, he is reinforcing their own reverent beliefs in the use of weaponry to protect themselves. That he, a demonstrably intelligent Black man, is making this ridiculous point, of course begs the question that underlying most of their need for weaponry is their own fear of Black people. That is what makes him so appealing to them. Carson is a Black man, a brain surgeon, who believes as they do that what is holding Black success back in this country is Blacks own lack of effort to succeed. By Carson’s success, he becomes living proof of the laziness and shiftlessness of most Black people. Carson gives succor to those holding up Ben Carson as the exception, proving the rule that people of color are really to blame for their own problems.
Now one could point out that this wasn’t deemed to be true for Barack Obama, about whom the racist venom in the country has been allowed to be spread in public commentary that we haven’t seen since the days of “Jim Crow”. That Obama was a Harvard Law School Graduate and editor of the most prestigious law review in this country, was dismissed as being undeserved. That he was a citizen of the United States was disputed. That he was even a Christian was called into question. The difference between Obama and Carson is clearly that Obama doesn’t believe in what the racists believe in and thus was really one of those Blacks not to be trusted.
In the last Republican primary, there was a Black man Herman Cain carrying the racist standard and for a while he was also a front runner. Ben Carson is this years Republican Herman Cain. Carson will not get the nomination and I doubt that he would be the nominee’s Vice Presidential choice. To paraphrase that hoary old joke: “Some of my favorite candidates are Black…..but I wouldn’t want one running the country.