With help from Ella Creamer, Rishika Dugyala and Teresa Wiltz
What up Recast family! The Jan. 6 select committee subpoenas five House Republicans including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Elon Musk’s plans to buy Twitter are “temporarily on hold” and the Biden administration announces steps to combat infant formula shortages. First though, a chat about race in America with Ben Carson.
Ben Carson has long held the view that self-empowerment is the most expedient path for African Americans to achieve success in America.
Carson grew up in poverty in Detroit during the civil rights era and overcame those odds to become a historic figure and famed pediatric neurosurgeon. For years, he was considered an icon among many African Americans, but that aura began to fade when he entered politics and championed conservative orthodoxy that put him out of lockstep with many Black voters.
During his tenure as Housing and Urban Development secretary during the Trump administration, he was criticized for moving to undo Obama-era policies that required cities to draft blueprints for how they would eradicate segregation in their communities.
He told me that during his four years at HUD he was “ kind of surprised to see how much resistance I got to programs that would create self-sufficiency.”
These days, the U.S.’s troubled racial history is becoming increasingly entrenched in American politics, with little consensus about how to even talk about it. Carson is out with a book with his take on how the discussion should be framed.
In “Created Equal:The Painful Past, Confusing Present, and Hopeful Future of Race in America,” Carson does not shy away from the idea that vestiges of slavery and racist attitudes affect modern-day society. But those who view America as systemically racist are, in his opinion, “ludicrous.”
And while Carson doesn’t talk much about his former boss in his book, Donald Trump’s presence is palpable. Many of the ideas he’s discussing, from critical race theory to racial progress to “cancel culture” are playing out front and center in the national discourse as a result of forces unleashed by Trump.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
THE RECAST:What made you want to write a book about race in America at this time?
CARSON:Well, because it seems like everything is circling back to race these days.
I'm not sure that that's an appropriate thing.
I wanted to make sure that people had something that gave a very accurate history of what's been going on in this country since the 1500s. And the evolution that has occurred over the course of time, and how things are being interpreted – sometimes accurately and sometimes inaccurately – based on inaccurate historical accounts.
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THE RECAST: What are you seeing that's being inaccurately described in discussions about race in America?
CARSON:I think there are many people who say that America is a systemically racist place. A place where people of color are at a great disadvantage, cannot succeed. That we really haven't made any significant progress in this country.
When some Black person came on television when I was a kid, and they were in a non-servile role, it was a big deal. You called everybody into the living room: “Hey come see this.”
Now you have Black admirals and generals, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, heads of foundations and presidents and universities, you’ve had a Black president of the United States, elected twice, we have a Black vice president. I mean, the list goes on and on.
To say that we haven’t made any progress is ludicrous.
Have we reached nirvana? Of course not. Should we still be striving to improve the situation? Of course we should. But to say that we haven't made a lot of progress, that's like being an ostrich and sticking one’s head in the sand.
THE RECAST:I want to pause here and get your take on the Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests Roe will be overturned later this year. Obviously, this is going to have momentous effects on society and on politics. What are your thoughts on how this is going to impact politics?
CARSON:Well, first of all, I think we should all be horrified that it happened – that we would be leaking such sensitive documents from an esteemed system like the Supreme Court.
Why would someone do something like that? Obviously, they feel that they're righteous, and they are marching in a righteous cause. And anything they do is justified because of their righteousness. Basically, the same mentality that the jihadists have.
So we need to recognize that that is a severe problem, because now it's going to cause significant distrust in one of the major branches of our government.
Having said that, it seems to me like our system was designed so that the people would be in charge.
If we're making life-and-death decisions by people who have lifetime appointments, and really don't have to answer to the people, it would seem to me like the appropriate place would be at the level where the people have an input and their representatives have an input. So I actually would be glad to see that happen. I'm not quite sure why anybody would be disappointed with that, if they're truly interested in abiding by the will of people.
THE RECAST: Folks are going to be taken aback hearing you compare the unveiling of the initial draft opinion to the work of jihadists. That seems to be quite hyperbolic.
CARSON:No, what I said was it was the same mentality – the mentality that one is righteous and because of the righteousness of the cause, anything is excusable.
THE RECAST: When you were running for president, it was unclear where you stood on the abortion issue. On one hand, you said you were personally against abortion, but on the other hand, as a doctor, you referred women to doctors who perform abortions. Can you straddle both sides on this issue? Because in the past you’ve said federal abortion protections should be struck down.
CARSON:What I actually said is that there was a time when I was pro-choice.
The reason I changed is because I was thinking about slavery, and how slave owners thought that they actually owned the slaves, and therefore could do anything they wanted to them: beat them, rape them, kill them, because they were their property.
I started thinking: What if the abolitionists had said, “Well, I personally don't believe in slavery, but you believe in it, you do what you want to do.”
Where would we be?
THE RECAST:Turning back to the book, you use terms like “woke left” and address critical race theory and how that’s permeating our politics. How do you feel this is impacting how Americans talk to one another about race and about where this nation is headed?
CARSON:I tend to be a big picture person. And you recognize that the United States of America is a stabilizing force in the world. It's very powerful, too powerful to be brought down by China, or Russia, or Iran or North Korea.
But it can easily be brought down from within. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus said it first, Abraham Lincoln echoed it, and it's absolutely true.
So things that we do that create division are not helpful, not only to us, but to the world, for us as a stabilizing force. And teaching white children that they are oppressors, that their ancestors, and their relatives are oppressors and teaching Black children that they are victims, what is the long term good of doing that?
THE RECAST:So the pushback here is critical race theory is a legal framework that is not really taught at the elementary school level. What may be taught in school is a reframing of history with historical context – some of which you point out in your book – that American history is not all rosy. Isn’t it better for all Americans to get a full and robust teaching of American history?
CARSON: Well, as you can see, I advocate that we not hide anything – that we have a full discussion of our history.
Because our history leads to our identity and our identity leads to our beliefs. But there is a way to present history.
You can focus on all the bad things and make that the central point. Or you can focus on the tremendous victories that put us into a very good, strong position. But you learn from the mistakes. You don't allow the mistakes to define you.
THE RECAST: In another passage you write: “Cancel culture and Jim Crow racism have much in common. The aim of both is to disenfranchise and control the targeted group.” You go on to say: “Neither should be acceptable in the land of the free.”
Cancel culture is not the same as systemic laws that were put in place to keep Black folks in their place. Oftentimes Jim Crow laws were used to kill and to intimidate Black folks. How can you compare the two?
CARSON:Cancel culture is there exactly to attempt to intimidate people to keep people from being who they are, for saying what they believe, for acting in certain ways. It is antithetical to the whole concept of freedom.
THE RECAST:What are the biggest misperceptions about who Ben Carson is?
CARSON:If you're a student of history, there has always been an attempt to keep the Black community divided.
Started in places like Mississippi and Alabama, where there were more slaves than [there] were owners. They were very concerned about the power of the slaves. So they would tell the slaves that were in the house, “You're better than the ones in the yard.” They will tell the ones in the yard, “You're better than the ones in the field,” keeping that tension there.
After slavery ended, [people would say to] the light-skinned ones, “You're better than the dark-skinned ones.” And these things have continued.
Today, they want to make sure that the majority of Blacks feel hatred for conservative Blacks. And because you don't want all of that power together, focused on the real problems in the community. So I've seen this going on … and my efforts have always been toward empowering people.
That's why we put reading rooms all over the country, particularly in Title I schools. Because if you can get a child reading at grade level, by third grade, it completely changes the trajectory of their lives.
Even as [HUD] secretary, I was kind of surprised to see how much resistance I got to programs that would create self-sufficiency, that would allow people to climb out of poverty. That's the kind of thing that I'm worried about.
But of course, I realized that there are others who will always try to present exactly the opposite picture, because they don't want people to actually listen and to be influenced in an appropriate way.
THE RECAST: Who are these forces you are speaking about?
CARSON:Forces of hatred and division that exist in our country. I could name names, but I don't think that's constructive. Of people in Congress, who, you know, I would actually go up to them, extend my hand, and they would turn their back. I mean, just that kind of hatred – wouldn't talk to you.
And I think in some cases, the reason that they wouldn't, is because they realized that they would probably have to agree with me on a lot of the things that would be helpful to people.
THE RECAST:Do you feel like you are the most effective messenger on the idea of unifying America?
CARSON:It's not about me. It's about what we need to do, in order to improve the situation for our people. It's about strengthening America. It's about looking at our past, learning from our past and deciding: Do we want to build our future on our failures or successes?
THE RECAST: Final question. Where do things stand for you as far as 2024? A lot of folks write these books in election years and it's really a precursor for some future political ambition.
CARSON:I have no intention of running. But I will always do what God wants me to do. But I sure hope that's not it.
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