No, Ben Carson, Those in the 'Bottom of Slave Ships' Were Not Immigrants

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No, Ben Carson, Those in the 'Bottom of Slave Ships' Were Not Immigrants

Newly-installed Housing secretary also likened public assistance programs to playing 'favorite'

"There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less," said Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who added that "they too had a dream." (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less," said Housing Secretary Ben Carson, who added that "they too had a dream." (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Secretary Ben Carson raised more than a few eyebrows on Monday when, during his first remarks to staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), he described slaves as aspiring immigrants who also "had a dream."

The comments, first pointed out by NBC Nightly News senior editor Bradd Jaffy, were part of a rambling address during which Carson tied his work as a neurosurgeon to his new post at the helm of the $47 billion agency tasked with overseeing fair housing practices. He said:

You can't overload the human brain. If you learned one new fact every second it would take you more than 3 million years to challenge the capacity of your brain.  It can't be done. So, we need to concentrate a little less on what we can't do and a little more on what we can do. After all this is America, this used to be known as the "can-do society," not the, "what can you do for me society" but the "can do-society."

That's what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity. 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 in this land.

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For obvious reasons, likening African people who were forcibly removed from their homeland and sold into bondage to hopeful immigrants drew immediate censure (and jokes). Some observers compared Carson's remarks to President Donald Trump's lackluster response to antisemitic violence as well as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' similarly revisionist description of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as an example of school choice.

"No, Secretary Carson. Slaves didn't immigrate to America. They were brought here violently, against their own will, and lived here without freedom." —Steven Goldstein, Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect

"This is as offensive a remark as it gets," said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. "No, Secretary Carson. Slaves didn't immigrate to America. They were brought here violently, against their own will, and lived here without freedom. You do not get a pass because you are African-American, any more than President Trump gets a pass for his delayed and sometimes nonexistent responses to Antisemitism because he has Jewish relatives. Wrong is wrong, Secretary Carson. We condemn your statement, and suggest you try this one instead: Black Lives Matter."

During his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Carson at one time compared slavery to abortion, as The Hill pointed out. Further, while speaking at the 2013 Values Voter Summit he declared the Affordable Care Act (ACA) "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery."

Beyond that statement, the speech seemed to confirm Carson's perspective that public assistance programs, such as federal housing subsidies for low-income Americans, are akin to playing "favorites."

"One of the things you will notice in this department under my leadership is that there will be a very big emphasis on fairness for everybody," Carson told the staff, according to the Washington Post. "Everything that we do, every policy; no favorites for anybody, no extra for anybody, but complete fairness for everybody. Because that is what the founders of this nation had in mind, and if you read the constitution, it becomes very clear that that was the goal."

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