Check the latest polls and see neurosurgeon-turned-wannabe-president Ben Carson surf on a sudden wave of black support. Not that black people are voting anytime soon in the Republican primary.
But as Theodore R. Johnson III aptly points out on The Root, Carson’s black ratings look better in fictional, general-election matchups than those of his fellow GOP contenders: from a 19 percent black voting bloc against Democrat Hillary Clinton in a recent Quinnipiac poll to a 32 percent combined-minority vote for Carson vs. Clinton in a McClatchy poll. YouGov actually gives him (pdf) a 42 percent “very favorable and somewhat favorable” nod from African Americans, including 23 percent who prefer him as the GOP nominee.
But hold on. While it might hint at something historic, it’s also showing you that an average quarter of black voters for Carson are just as crazy as he is.
From a purely political standpoint, he does look like the biggest Republican thing since Richard Nixon sliced electoral bread. But from a clearly practical “Negro senses” perspective (borrowing from Saturday Night Live’s Michael Che), the more than three-quarters of African Americans who don’t support Carson should frantically stage family, church and barbershop interventions for the quarter who don’t get it.
So, that moment when I told you that a “hypothetical surge” of black voters in the GOP primary could give Ben the juice he needs to reach the nomination top? Yeah … well … forget that. Here are four reasons not to vote for Carson that you can offer confused brothers and sisters while sprinkling them with holy water:
1. Carson blames high wages on black unemployment. It was, arguably, the most outrageous—but unchallenged—thing any one candidate said on Tuesday night’s GOP debate stage: When asked if he’d support a $15 minimum wage, Carson griped that it’s high wages, not several hundred years of systemic racism, causing high black unemployment.
“Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases,” Carson complained before an inexplicably weird tap dance into racial weirdness (go to transcript). “It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job—who are looking for one. You know that. And that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.”
To any sane or reasoned black voter looking to improve his quality of life and paycheck, that statement should be a deal breaker: Don’t vote for Ben Carson.
Of course, the Fox Business moderators didn’t check him on it. Nor did we get any boos, hisses or stunned faces from the very white Republican crowd in Milwaukee. And like-minded GOP candidates, so pressed to play up stereotypes as Carson does in pursuit of nomination gold, didn’t interrupt him, either. Of course, not one mainstream-media outlet mentioned it in post-debate analysis.
The great danger here is that Carson is meticulouslu validating the inherently racist view that “It’s OK, white business owners and corporate giants: You really don’t have to pay black people what they’re worth.” Which is exactly what that particular electorate wants to hear, since it offers more reason to maintain blatantly big racial pay gaps—because, hey, if Ben says it’s cool, then it must be. Yet, there is abundantly deep and nonpartisan research (pdf) completely dismantling Carson’s wild assumptions.
It gets better, though …
2. Carson’s solution: the sharecropping model. No one begrudges hard work. There’s actual appreciation for Carson’s “first job working in a laboratory as a lab assistant and multiple other jobs” as a personal career-initiation point that can actually work when mapped out.
But to have Carson suggest it as a broader national policy fix (in the context of black unemployment) is eerily reminiscent of post-Civil War sharecropping models. That was a time when economically stressed Southern landowners forced former black slaves into free or virtually unpaid do-or-die labor arrangements. We see remnants today in a disproportionately unemployed, underemployed and low-wage black workforce. Carson’s statement that “[he] would not have gotten those jobs if someone had to pay [him] a large amount of money” only perpetuates continued economic mistreatment of African Americans. There’s a statistical chance that Carson was also getting paid much less as a lab assistant than his white peers. Maybe we should fact-check that.
The choice is yours: Do you want the president who encourages equal economic growth for all groups? Or do you want the president who specifically singled out your folks for a barely livable wage?
3. Just because a quarter of black voters are jumping off the Carson cliff doesn’t mean you should, too. Fam, seriously: Don’t read too much into these “remarkable” black polling numbers. For every quarter of the black vote that says it will vote for Ben Carson in the general, I can show you the 27 percent of African Americans in a recent YouGov poll who think—along with 52 percent of whites—that it’s “acceptable” to wear blackface at Halloween. Or the 17 percent of black people who approved (pdf) of rebel-flag vanity plates. Or, in a 2011 Pew Research poll, the 33 percent of blacks who thought it was appropriate for politicians to praise Confederate leaders. Or the 21 percent who think (pdf) that police agencies are doing an “excellent or good job” holding bad-apple cops accountable. Or the 51 percent who said that they supported voter-ID laws. Or the 25 percent who’d pick (pdf) Donald Trump over Bernie Sanders in a general election, despite Trump’s pledge to nix the 14th Amendment, the very amendment that gave formerly enslaved blacks citizenship.
Plus, black voters aren’t just gravitating to Carson in a general election. The YouGov poll showed Marco Rubio second to Carson in black support at 23 percent. A Public Policy Polling North Carolina survey (pdf) shows Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump with 21 percent and 22 percent African-American support, respectively, just a few points behind Carson.
4. Don’t tolerate Carson’s “toy thug” bio. There was an n-word-laden name for kids on the block who fake glamorized themselves as overly aggressive, alpha-male kings of the street. It’s common to find the black male “cool pose” prevalent in pop culture, and many times, it’s viewed as a useful tight-lipped or braggadocious (pick your weapon) defense mechanism against an openly hostile world that attacks your very being at every step.
In defending increasingly gaping holes in his personal bio, Carson has dramatically flipped this into a rather silly, but alarmingly trite, racial boilerplate of blackness: an emergent, ghetto-bred, thuggish “black kid from the streets” theme that conveniently fits long-held white fantasies of black life.
Because he’s the black candidate, and because every black presidential candidate is compared to the first black president, Carson feels compelled to offer his own special anti-Obama ethos. To achieve that, he chisels on the image of Empire’s Hakeem as a contrast to the mellowed Half-Baked Thurgood Jenkins character voters saw in candidate Barack Obama at the time he pushed his biography of youthful indiscretions.
Sure, there are black people living out rap-star realities and many others in desperate Good Times-like conditions, but there are lots of black people who aren't. Blackness is as socioeconomically and psychologically diverse as it is beautifully varied in its hues of yellow, caramel and chocolate. We shouldn’t allow Carson (or anyone, for that matter) to deliberately mangle it for political gain.
Bottom line: Why would a quarter of likely black voters trust the kind of dude who is double downing on feeding us a narrative that he was this angry, knife-wielding, cap-to-the-side-wearing kid who roamed Detroit proper? Much of the black talk-radio discourse in the aftermath of the recent Spring Valley High School beatdown of a young black girl by a beefy white school cop suggested that the girl had no business on her cellphone or acting out. Yet it’s OK for Carson’s campaign to push his fake thug persona as somewhat acceptable just because he’s running for president? That doesn’t smell right.
Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and a contributing editor at The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill, the weekly Washington insider for WDAS-FM in Philadelphia and host of The Ellison Report, a weekly public-affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM Baltimore. Follow him on Twitter.