Talk Back

Ben Carson’s Definition of Blackness Fails

Credit: Wikipedia

JET wants you to Talk Back. This is one of the reader submissions that we received and opted to publish. Want to make your voice heard? Submit your commentary, TV show recap, poem, or essay HERE.  Read all the rules so you know how it works.

Ben Carson is at it again, and his latest foolery speaks to the subject of President Barack Obama’s Blackness. The retired neurosurgeon, isn’t that ironic, said that Obama was “raised white” because he was born in Honolulu to a white American mother and a Kenyan father. The 2016 GOP presidential hopeful also stated that many of the president’s formative years were spent in Indonesia, thus making it difficult for him to relate to African Americans.

Dr. Dolittle, excuse me…Dr. Carson’s argument further contends that since he was born in Detroit to two Black parents, he can relate to the “Black experience” more than the president.

In an earlier interview with CNN, Carson said, “Like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when [Obama] was elected, but I also recognize that his experience and my experience are night-and-day different. He didn’t grow up like I grew up by any stretch of the imagination, not even close.”

Carson’s hood playground loose talk takes me back to a sensitive time in my childhood.

I grew up in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, right off of the famed street of 79th and Ashland. Living in one of the nation’s most heavily concentrated Black urban communities, as a kid I  was constantly reminded of how “white acting” I was. One would think being from the hood alone was enough to gain street cred, but not really.

Carson’s word vomit does have a certain limited 79th street je ne sais negro charm to it. There was nothing I could do that even registered on the radar of what was perceived as Black to my peers. My pants weren’t baggy enough. My school was too private. My subject-verb agreement was too damn much. And my family was “uppity” because they “went college and s***,” according to some people from my neighborhood. I was the kid getting it to some Chemical Brothers while the other kids on my block were blasting Mace or Puff Daddy. Throw in my asthma condition and I was depleted in Blackness with a surplus of “acting white.”

Carson’s backwards rhetoric is flat out ignorant because it attaches race to actions, which fuels stereotypes. If Obama was “raised white,”  then by definition the opposite of Obama’s experiences are Black. So by this logic, Obama’s Ivy League education, international travel experience as a kid, and multi-cultural family are lifestyle qualities only experienced by white people. Carson is also implying that people who come from multi-racial and/or international families where one of the parents is of European ancestry are just white, which erodes their Black heritage and promotes the white one. That’s edging on white pride.

Socioeconomic status does not denote an authentically Black narrative. There are countless examples of famous Black people being discriminated against, starting with our president. In America, just looking like a Black person dictates how people will perceive, and thus treat you. Carson’s lackluster defense is no different from that same narrow-minded, only hang out on my front porch, thoughtless point of view held by some of the people I grew up with on the South Side.

In a press conference last year, Obama detailed his experiences with racial profiling. In one instance, President Obama was mistaken for a valet driver during an event. He recalled another time when he struggled to catch a cab during his time as a senator. First lady Michelle Obama detailed being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington during a highly publicized trip in 2011. President of Ariel Investments and current Chair of the Board of Directors of Dreamworks Animation Mellody Hobson opened up about her racial profiling incident during her Ted Talks speech. While attending an event, Hobson was mistaken for the wait staff and asked to go to the back. And I’m sure we all remember when Oprah Winfrey herself was mistreated at a high-end store in Paris. Pedigree, wealth, and education does not absolve Black people of racial discrimination, and a lack of wealth, resources, and access does not illustrate an authentic Black experience.

Carson’s rhetoric is socially detrimental because it sustains a fixed Black narrative that is rooted in struggle, being poor, and pretty much anything we saw in The Wire. It’s OK to grow up poor and in the hood, but that’s not the only narrative among Black folks. There a many different types of people with varied interests even in the hood. I couldn’t have been the only one who appreciated Beck despite living on 79th street. Also, let’s not forget, there are White people who live in the hood too. What Carson has confirmed for us all is that while he may have gotten his degree from Yale University, his mentality is still stuck in the hood.

Terrence Chappell surfaced on Chicago’s media scene as UR Chicago Magazine Online’s fashion editor. Since then, he has worked and contributed to various media outlets such as Michigan Ave. Magazine, CS Magazine, and The Men’s Book. Currently, Terrence serves as the editor-at-large for, the city’s largest LGBT entertainment and news website where he writes “Chappell Confidential,” a nightlife and society column. Terrence also heads “Chappell on Community,” the site’s newest editorial monthly series that profiles the LGBT community’s most innovative leaders.