Go Home, Ben Carson. You’re Drunk.

I watched this video yesterday of the most adorable 106 year old woman named Virginia McLaurin dancing with the President and First Lady. I got a little teary eyed when she held their hands and told them that she never thought she would see the day when she would be welcomed into the White House to meet a black president. It was a beautiful moment, and reminded me of how important it is that we see ourselves represented in our leadership. It meant something to Ms. McLaurin that she was able to look into the eyes of the President of the United States and see one of her own looking back. It was powerful and wonderful and it made me appreciate the special time in history that I am blessed to be a part of.

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Unfortunately for sweet Ms. McLaurin, a black man isn’t actually in the White House. Yep…she’ll be disappointed to know that Barack Obama is not a “real” black president because, according to this interview from Republican hopeful Ben Carson, Obama was “raised white” and “didn’t grow up like [Ben Carson] did by any stretch of the imagination,” and this somehow disqualifies Obama from being the “real” first black president.

sof say what

With all due respect, Mr. Carson, you need to take all the seats and sit your ass down.

There is a special place in hell for the Ben Carsons of the world who tell the Barack Obamas of the world that their life experiences and biracial background somehow disqualify them from being a true Person of Color. This incident struck a particular nerve with me because, like President Obama, my mother is white. And, also like President Obama, not so long ago I had my Person of Color status questioned by someone who implied that my life experiences and mixed blood somehow disqualified me from being who I say I am.

So, to the Ben Carsons of the world: I say, with all sincerity, eff you. You don’t get to decide whether Barack Obama or anyone else whose experience doesn’t exactly mirror yours is “enough.” You don’t get to validate your experience as a Person of Color as the One True Experience by which all people of color should be weighed and measured, whilst simultaneously whining out of the other side of your mouth, “I think the way that I’m treated, you know, by the left is racism. Because they assume because you’re black, you have to think a certain way. And if you don’t think that way, you’re ‘Uncle Tom,’ you’re worthy of every horrible epithet they can come up with…”

All the nopes in the world to you, Mr. Carson. You don’t get to have it both ways. And you most definitely do not get to decide who is and is not black enough to be black.

 

14 responses to “Go Home, Ben Carson. You’re Drunk.

  1. Well the only problem with this article, ok well there are two things wrong.

    1) Obama WAS raised by white grandparents and a single white mother.
    2) the article from the beginning was pointedly anti Carson, which gave it away that it would be entirely slanted which tainted the experience from the get go.

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    • No one is denying that Obama was raised by his white mom. I was raised by a white mom. Doesn’t make me less Tongan. And I’m not anti-Carson. I’m anti-ignorance. It is ignorant to feel entitled to judge someone else’s brown- or blackness. Carson was ignorant to imply that he somehow has had the experiences of a “real” black man, and President Obama’s experiences are somehow less than or not enough to qualify as a “real” black experience. I’m highly and unapologetically critical of that.

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  2. Great article – great read. There’s a lot of racial debating in America right now and race is at the forefront of virtually everything. But most of the conversations are not the ones we should be having if we’re looking for true equality, representation, and the uplifting we need to move forward.

    Carson’s remark was a part of those conversations that solve nothing. Your article, which stresses the right to your heritage no matter how mutt-like some of us are (including our founders and most of our team on College Mate), is one of those conversations as part of the way forward.

    Being raised by White parents do not change the cultural experiences that individual child will have. Even Angelina Jolie’s kids may have their share of racism at some point in their lives.

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  3. It’s obviously true. Why all the hullabaloo? Barack Obama not only grew up in a white sociocultural environment, but he isn’t even “African-American” in the classical sense. He is, ironically, an African-American in precisely the sense that the children of Irish and Polish and Chinese immigrants call themselves Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans and Chinese-Americans… though it ought to be noted that they tend to refer to a COUNTRY as their family homeland, not a continent! Really, Barack Obama is a Kenyan-American, in precisely that sense, i.e., like Irish-American or Polish-American (no, that’s not a “birther” comment, any more than it is to call JFK an Irish-American). What Obama is not, has never been and never will be is what we classically call “African-American”, i.e., the descendant of enslaved Africans. Barack Obama no more comes from that sociocultural experience than I do. His mother was Irish-American and his father was from Kenya. In the conventionally understood sense of “African-American” (indeed, the sense the phrase was coined to EXPRESS), we have not yet had an African-American president. Ben Carson would be the first if he won, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

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    • I’m really not sure how you can get more “African American” than having a parent literally from Africa. I hear what you’re saying, in terms of enslaved African lineage, but I strongly disagree with your assertion that President Obama’s sociocultural experience excludes him from being an African American. There is no single “right” experience that makes one an African American. African Americans are not a monolith…the term encompasses an extremely diverse array of people, each with a unique story and individual experiences. And maybe once upon a time the term was reserved strictly for people descended from enslaved Africans, but language is fluid and your classic definition is outdated. Frankly, definition notwithstanding, it’s not up to Mr. Carson to decide whether or not President Obama gets to call himself an African American. It’s also not up to you.

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      • What does “excluding” have to do with it? Or even “right”? Or, for that matter, what does anything I wrote have to do with “deciding” who may call themselves African-American or not? (In fact, I CALLED Obama “African-American”, didn’t I!) You are talking all around and over and under what I wrote but, for some reason, you avoid (fear?) addressing what I DID write. I am talking about experiences that shape a person. I know very well that language is fluid; I happen to be a polyglot and well experienced in languages. But there is another side to that: words do still MEAN things, kalani. And whether you prefer one term or another, there is still substance in the things we are denoting WITH our words… unless you want to argue that nothing can be defined at all. In which case, I might as well call myself…oh, I don’t know…a Burmese-American–why not? I like the sound of it, and who’s to say I can’t call myself that? It’s certainly not up to you! We get to a point of absurdity at which language, not merely being “fluid” no longer means ANYTHING. You could try to be more intellectually honest, kalani, and, rather than running all AROUND what I’m saying, try to engage with what I DID say: i.e., what we have classically MEANT by African-American (whether you think the term is outdated is irrelevant here: I am referring to WHAT we have classically meant by the term, and THAT does mean something; find a different term for it if you want, but let’s not strangle discussion about valid things and concepts with the jenune notion that we may not NAME them)–I’ll repeat, what we have classically MEANT by the term “African-American” is not what Barack Obama is. Now, I HOPE you won’t come back again with such a silly line as to say “How can he be more African-American than to have an American mother and African father?”, because if you do, it means you simply don’t want to engage with what I’m SAYING but prefer to just block out what I’m saying and talk about something else. Which you can do, but… then… why even answer me at all? And why would I care, since all you want to do is…deflect? That’s intellectual dishonesty. My first comment was quite clear.
        It’s not up to me? Well, yes, certain things are “up to me” as much as they are up to anybody, simply to observe and comment. It’s “up to me”, as much as it is to you, to observe that Barack Obama’s heritage differs in distinct ways, ethnically, historically, from that of, oh, Oprah Winfrey, Ben Carson, Jesse Jackson, MLK, etc. I don’t care what word-games you want to play with it; the thing I’m observing is there. And Barack Obama’s heritage as an “African-American” is not what, for better or worse, the vast majority of Americans have understood as “African-American” for many decades. That’s simply a fact. Yes, language is fluid, but language is ALSO a convention of agreed-upon concepts, or there is no language there at all. On the one hand, words change in their meaning, but on the other hand, to argue that they never DID mean certain things, or that one is not allowed to REFER to what they meant, or recognize the implications of those meanings (just because you’d prefer they not do so) is simply juvenile.

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  4. Who is the “we” you’re talking about when you say what “we” have classically meant? Because I know of many, many people who would disagree with you when you say that Barack Obama “is not what, for better or worse, the vast majority of Americans have understood as “African-American” for many decades.”

    Again, my point here is that it is not up to Ben Carson — or up to you — to say that Barack Obama’s experiences exclude him from being African-American because they are different from Ben Carson’s. Ben Carson made a direct assault on President Obama’s right to blackness because of his mixed lineage and because of his lived experiences. He basically said that President Obama is not black enough to be considered the first African American president because he did not grow up in inner city Detroit, and, therefore, cannot understand the plight of African Americans. It’s not about classical definitions, it’s about trying to discredit someone on the basis of the fact that they do not fit the stereotypical norm — an issue that, ironically, Carson turns around and wants to complain about because he is a Republican and that goes against cultural norms for African Americans.

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    • I wrote my reply during a rather flurried ten-minute scramble to get out of my office and to a meeting. When one is writing in a “scramble”‘ one tends, ironically, to write more rather than less, to be less concise and organized.

      Not that this will be short, but, I trust, it will be better formulated.

      So, to reiterate: nobody is telling anybody what they may or may not call themselves (I certainly didn’t, as you would see if you read attentively). But we surely may talk about the nature of different experiences (you wouldn’t presume to prohibit that, would you?).

      Language is fluid but also a convention, a set of agreements. We all think roughly of the same thing—something you sit on—when we say “chair”. It doesn’t HAVE to be the sound “chair”. It isn’t in other languages. And if we English-speakers all decided to call it a Bloomph from now on, we’d understand each other…but only because we agreed.
      If, however, you decide one fine morning to start calling it a Bloomph yourself and expect others to understand you, just because “language is fluid”, you will not get far in communicating with people.

      Moreover, if you go beyond the sound we conventionally associate with the thing and begin to discuss the thing itself in terms that are, quite simply, “a different topic”, you will have moved on from mere unintelligibility to Theater of the Absurd: “Yes, this is a Bloomph…and I gargle with it twice a day.”

      And so, I was talking about a particular TOPIC, i.e., the “African-American” experience, as our society/civilization has used that term for many decades, and in fact still does (your trying to suggest that the term is suddenly “outdated”, that nobody thinks anymore of the unique “African-American experience” going back to the ordeal of slavery, is simply not so—that was a desperate, rather silly, argument on your part).

      Whatever WORDS you want to use (I really don’t care!) to define one thing or another (a chair or a bottle of mouthwash), the things themselves are there. If for some reason you want to avoid comparing the things themselves—even to pre-empt, shut down, all such discussion by denying that language can mean anything (“How can we even talk about a Bloomph when the concept is fluid and to one person it’s something you sit on but to another you gargle with it?!”), it indicates that you just don’t want to talk about it for some reason, that’s all. Which is fine, but to suggest you have actually engaged with the topic when all you’ve done is shut it down, or run away from it, is intellectually dishonest and, probably, self-deceiving.

      Barack Obama is (need I say it again?) an African-American, just like I am a European-American. He is a Kenyan-American just like I’m an Irish-American. What he is not is an African-American as are Ben Carson, Oprah Winfrey, Jesse Jackson and the millions of descendants of the enslaved Africans from America’s Slavery era. That is perfectly obvious and clear to anybody. What words you want to apply don’t really matter. These are concrete realities. Call a chair a Bloomph all you want, but you will never make it something you gargle with.

      So why does it bother you so much to hear somebody make this kind of observation? I’m not offended if you say I’m not Burmese-American. Indeed I’m not! Why would it bother you to hear somebody verbalize the obvious fact that Barack Obama springs from a radically different historical-sociocultural milieu—in short, family history—than the millions of Americans who, for many years, have called themselves (with a concrete, culturally understood set of meanings) “African-Americans”? It is puzzling!

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      • “So why does it bother you so much to hear somebody make this kind of observation?”

        Sincere question, Ken: have you ever had anyone use your Irish heritage to disparage your whiteness? Have you ever had another person imply that you are less white, or somehow less deserving to be a part of white America, because of who your parents are or what your lived experiences are? Because without those experiences, I can understand why it would be easy to argue semantics when what I am saying, and have said over and over, is that Ben Carson was not merely saying that President Obama doesn’t fit the traditional definition of “African-American.” I feel like your argument sees the issue from a very superficial level, and that has frustrated me, but as I sat here trying to figure out whether or not you were just being intentionally obtuse, I think you’re not. I think your point is valid, and without the life experiences to support a different outlook, what you’re saying makes total sense.

        However, from my lived experience, your argument feels a lot like someone who is arguing that the Confederate flag is just a flag that historically represents strength and should be left to fly above the South Carolina capitol building. What means one thing to one person can mean something else entirely to another when you factor in the history of each person’s own life. You and I have very different perspectives of what history looks like, based on our lived experiences, and I don’t think we are going to agree about this, and I’m fine with that. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your perspective, even if I disagree with it.

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  5. Who’s to say (see, I can play the “who’s to say” game, too!) what the “cultural norms” are for “African-Americans”—and what in the world does THAT term mean, anyway—I believe you implied it couldn’t be pinned down to mean anything very specific anymore, so how on earth could you define —or dictate?—the “cultural norms” for the amorphous group.? You see, once you start playing the conceptual game you’re playing—which is the avoidance of actual intellectual engagement—your own device turns around on you to make utter nonsense out of whatever you say.
    As for me, I’m not discrediting, denigrating or demeaning ANYBODY by observing, as I quite clearly did above, that Obama’s “African-American experience” is something other than what we have “classically” (as of, oh, about five minutes ago—you pretend, with an entirely unconvincing naïveté, that you have no idea where such a notion came from….”maybe three hundred years ago ‘African-American’ meant that….”)—what we have “classically” meant by “African-Americans”…and what, indeed, you seem to have, tellingly, meant yourself in the last sentence of your last comment. You give yourself away, kalani! 🙂

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    • Ken, I wish I would have seen your comments sooner. I disagree with your definition of African-American. I have never met anyone who has traced my lineage back to slavery before referring to me as African-American, which is a bit outdated and inaccurate. African-American has been used to refer to black people who are understood to be descendants from Africa. It is supposed to capture everyone who cannot directly link themselves back to a specific country in Africa, and it is thus presumed that they must have descended from slaves. People rarely check to see that their ancestors were, in fact, enslaved. Granted, I recognize that most black people whose families have lived in the US for the last 200 years or so are descended from slaves, but it should be noted that that is not true for all.

      Also, although President Obama was raised by white grandparents and a white mother, he was not raised in a white socio-cultural environment. He was raised in Hawaii, which is an environment where whites are the statistical minority and the society is highly diverse.

      Regardless of who his father is or where he spent his childhood, he has spent the majority of his life on the Mainland. He has lived through the discrimination of what it means to be black in America. To me, that is what the black experience really is. It is knowing not to make sudden movements around the police. It’s always keeping your hands out of your pockets, and it’s making sure that white people feel comfortable and not threatened in your presence. It is having the systemic racism and discrimination inherent within our society close doors and limit opportunities for you and your family.

      Perhaps you are arguing that despite those experiences as an adult, it was the fact that his childhood lacked as many displays of overt racism as other Black Americans that gave him an advantage. That may be true. I just watched an entire documentary with that spin. No one can really say for sure because despite how hard Mainland America tries, they do not own the market on racism against black people, or however you want to define his race or ethnicity. No matter where you are in the world, you really can’t escape some level of racism against black people.

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      • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans

        I think this site gives a very balanced treatment to the term “African-American”. Natasha, you are trying to hard to “read in” to what I said (“Perhaps you are arguing…”). No, I’m not. I’m simply saying that there is a difference between what, in America, we have generally used the term “African-American” to connote and what the family history of Barack Obama is. No value judgments, no presuppositions of what kinds or degrees of racism he personally has or hasn’t experienced in this, that or the other place. You and Kalani are both, indeed, trying too hard to persuade me–in a bizarre sort of historico-cultural vacuum– that the term “African-American” has never really connoted anything other than “Americans with origins in Africa”, whether an American whose great-greats were victims of slavery or a native-born, say, Ugandan who just emigrated to America last week. I think the site I linked argues, in a balanced way, that that is just not the case. It is simply disingenuous, and too naive by half, to convey, “Gosh, I don’t know what you’re talking about; I never heard of such a concept being connected with the term ‘African-American’.” The interesting question: why would a term like “African-American” even be necessary to refer, as you said, to an African “whose African origins are uncertain” if, in fact, they are as certain as Barack Obama’s or my hypothetical immigrant’s from Uganda? As I said, Obama is an African-American just as I am a European-American, and he is a Kenyan-American just as I am an Irish-American. That is a value-free, utterly non-judgmental observation of concrete reality. Make of it what you will. But I’m really not interested in reconceptualizing the past forty years of the usage of this term (perhaps you are both too young to have a real inner “take” on the past forty years of American culture). It’s an utter waste of time. All the best to you both!

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      • “Trying too hard”.

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  6. I will never understand why people think they have the right to define who or what other people *are*. He’s black, I’m white, and neither of those points should ever be up for discussion.

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