Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Laboror and the Field

Ta-Nehisi Coates post on Dr. Benjamin Carson is heart-breaking because, for whatever reason, I suspecting exactly this about Dr. Carson.
For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up. And that was what mattered.
It's perfectly respectable to think Obamacare is bad for the country. It's less respectable to claim that Obama isn't an African-American. It's perfectly respectable to believe in a flat tax. It's less respectable to tell a room full of white people that Obama, isn't "a strong black man" or that he has "never been a part of the black experience in America." It's respectable to believe that the Ryan Budget is the key to the future. It's less respectable to believe that equating same-sex marriage with child-rape puts you on Harriet Tubman status.

The corollary of that last metaphor -- the idea of liberalism as a plantation -- is especially noxious and deeply racist. It holds that black people are not really like other adult humans in America -- people capable of discerning their interest and voting accordingly -- but mental slaves too stupid to know what's good for them.

When Ben Carson uses this language he is promoting himself at the expense of the community from which he hails. More, he is promoting himself at the expense of the community in which I once saw him labor. That is tragic.
I think an interview session between Coates and Dr. Carson would be fascinating; all the more so because of Coates' experience as a child who saw him as a role model and recognized the sincerity of his labor.

Any Jew knows and respects the value of dissent, but any Jew also can recognize a member of the tribe who simply revels in the role of providing a Jewish voice for what non-Jews love to hear. Their role isn't to persuade Jews, it's to give non-Jews a Jewish facade to justify maintaining their prior beliefs about Jews and ignore any Jew who tells them differently. That role also exists in the Black community, and it was the part Dr. Carson chose to play. It's all the more tragic because as Coates' personal experience with Dr. Carson years ago documents, it wasn't always thus. Dr. Carson once (and for all I know, still does) labor in his own community -- with the cameras off, with the goal of making his people stronger. That I might disagree with some of Dr. Carson's prescriptions on what constitutes strength does not make that endeavor less laudable. But the fact that Dr. Carson has done the right thing does make it hurt more when he does wrong.

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