How Ben Carson Is Even More Racist Than Other GOP Candidates

Ben CarsonI have a particular position on Ben Carson and his appeal in the Republican Party. I’ve had it for a long time — long before he became a front runner. It is all about racism, but not in the way you might think. Everyone is racist to one extent or another. As a species, we are programmed to be afraid of other tribes. And that is really what racism is at its base. So very few people are racists in the way that the people in Mississippi Burning were racists. Very few people think of themselves as racist. Yet their subconscious outs them.

Consider me. I don’t think of myself as a racist. Yet when I took an Implicit Association Test for subconscious bias, my result was, “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for European American compared to African American.” This is not surprising. I’ve lived in a deeply racist society my entire life. I’ve watched the television news where black men are over represented as criminal suspects. I’ve known almost no African Americans in my life and I have no African American friends. It is not surprising that I have an instinctual preference for white people. But knowing this, I try really hard to fight these lower brain impulses with my higher brain.

What bothers me is that I hear people claim that they are not racists. They treat everyone the same. This is especially true of conservatives. Yet when they take the test, they usually deny that it says anything about them. And that brings us to Ben Carson. He flatters conservatives. They know that they aren’t racists. If only African Americans would act more “white” then there wouldn’t be a problem. This is a common belief that racism is about skin color and not what it actually is: a particular group that skin color is used as a signifier.

So Ben Carson goes before our conservative friends and says, “You aren’t racist, because you like me!” But they wouldn’t like Carson if he didn’t tell them that they are just fine. They aren’t doing well because they are white and they have had a huge cultural and monetary advantage that depends up hundreds of years of slavery and then Jim Crow and then redlining. So Ben Carson doubles their pleasure. First, conservatives are voting for a black man, which must mean they aren’t racists. Second, he denies that they are racists by claiming there are very good (non-racist) reasons for wanting to screw poor and middle class African Americans.

Brian Beutler wrote an interesting article along these lines, The Superficiality of the Republican Commitment to Racial Justice. It’s mostly about tokenism. Republicans think that they don’t have a racism problem between, hey, they have African American candidates! But I was especially struck by what he had to say about Carson:

That Carson is black and popular among Republican primary voters is incontrovertible. It’s also largely beside the point. The question of why Carson is popular on the right is complicated, and surely in part related to his aforementioned conservative politics, his religious devotion, and his hypnotically avuncular demeanor. But it is just as surely related to the fact that Carson absolves conservatives of their coarse and patronizing view of black voters and political leaders. Carson attributes his unpopularity with liberals to the notion that he had the temerity to “come off the plantation.”

Needless to say, the fact that Republican voters like a guy who tells them that other black people — the ones who support Democrats — are like plantation slaves doesn’t harm the liberal critique of conservative racial politics at all. Nor does it cancel out or refute the existence of racism.

So yes: Ben Carson is also a racist and would undoubtedly score the same on the Implicit Association Test as I did. But even more than that, the fact that he is black allows him to pander to the racism of Republican voters even more than the white politicians. That’s a nifty trick.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “How Ben Carson Is Even More Racist Than Other GOP Candidates

  1. Normally, I don’t advocate shifting the conversation to a more abstract level, but this is an exception. I don’t think there is much value in discussing and thinking about how racist you are deep in your heart. Let’s just change observable reality, and everyone’s hearts and minds will follow, m’OK?

    ‘You’re a racist’ is a type of paralysis for the left, where people get really concerned with what is going on in people’s heads instead of how to deal with the issues that face us. Meantime others decline to join the anti-racist left, because they are not interested in participating in the weird pubic-confession rituals sometimes required for membership.

    So yeah, I don’t care if Ben Carson or the other candidates are ‘racists’. I care only that the policies and ideas they support are racially biased, to put it mildly.

    • I have thought a lot about how my acceptance of my own racism tends to make the word useless. Just the same, my (our) kind of racism is the most dangerous. But we aren’t going to fix it by tinkering with our lower brain functions. We are going to fix it by fixing society. That means making it more egalitarian and not shoving different groups into ghettos. So I’m with you on that. But I am still deeply bothered by my own subconscious bias. But at least I got a “moderate automatic preference” rather than a “strong automatic preference,” which I might have got a decade ago. I think we can change, at least on the margins.

      • I got moderate, but I thought the test was unfair, because the good/African associations came later in the best, when I was more used to it.

        Behavior precedes attitudes, so let’s work on behaviours first.

        • Indeed. I mostly think these subconscious things should cause us to create social structures that push back against it.

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