Known for being the beloved darling of the Grand Old Party, Dr. Ben Carson has a penchant for pathologizing blackness that dovetailed last week with his blatant misogyny, causing the good doc to blame the extrajudicial killing of African-American boys and men on—wait for it—the “women’s lib movement.”
"Certainly in a lot of our inner cities, in particular the black inner cities, where 73 percent of the young people are born out of wedlock, the majority of them have no father figure in their life,” said Carson in an interview on American Family Radio’s Today’s Issues. “Usually the father figure is where you learn how to respond to authority. So now you become a teenager, you’re out there, you really have no idea how to respond to authority, you eventually run into the police or you run into somebody else in the neighborhood who also doesn’t know how to respond but is badder than you are, and you get killed or you end up in the penal system.”
He also said, “I think a lot of it really got started in the ’60s with the ‘me generation.’ ‘What’s in it for me?’ I hate to say it, but a lot of it had to do with the women’s lib movement. You know, ‘I’ve been taking care of my family, I’ve been doing that, what about me?’ You know, it really should be about us.”
And though Carson attempted to situate “women’s lib” as a generational, racially ambiguous movement, his true intent seems pretty clear. He’s not talking about equal pay, political representation and sexual freedom for all women. In the context of his blanket statements about the black community, Carson is speaking to how he perceives women’s liberation to have manifested in black families and, by extension, black communities. He’s drawing from the “strong, black woman” trope that litters misogynoir dialogue, which serves as a castigation of black feminism. In doing so, he is deliberately placing the blame for failing communities squarely at the feet of black mothers.
For those who aren’t familiar, black feminism holds more nuances than its white counterpart. At times it can be interchanged with womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker to describe a complex and rich identity that is to feminism what “purple is to lavender.”
Black women embodying black feminism do not always identify as such, but in communities ravaged by the prison-industrial complex, drug and gang warfare, domestic violence and poverty, black feminism is in action every day as women feed their families, raise their children, hold down jobs, make love to their partners, and protest in the streets for their sisters and brothers slain by police officers.
This dynamic is not new. But according to Carson, it is selfish and has led to the blood of our children running warm in the street.
Aside from the ignorance of Carson’s trotting out the often used, rarely examined trope that wrongly conflates “out-of-wedlock” with the absence of a “father figure,” the violence of his statement explodes like a bomb. Not only is the timing incredibly horrific as Eric Garner’s mother becomes the latest black woman who receives no justice for the state-sanctioned murder of her son, but it also brutally and heartlessly indicts black mothers struggling to hold communities torn apart by white supremacy—the same politics that Carson traffics in—in a way that a grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson.
And that is unconscionable.
Carson previously said that women needed to be “re-educated” on their role as being defenders of their unborn children, claiming: “You know, there are those of us in this society who have told women that there’s a war on them because that cute little baby inside of them, they may want to get rid of it, and there are people that are keeping you from doing that. And women say, ‘No, no, they’re not doing that to me! No!’ And they get all riled up.
“There is no war on them; the war is on their babies,” Carson insisted. “What we need to do is re-educate the women to understand that they are the defenders of these babies.”
Let’s be clear: We do defend our babies. While the beginning of life has been framed as an interlocking moral, political and scientific debate, there is no question that our children who are struggling to navigate a dangerous world are being defended relentlessly, tirelessly, by their mothers as police officers slay them, media outlets assassinate their character and an unjust judicial system decides that their lives don’t matter.
Perhaps Dr. Carson should just stick to using his “gifted hands” to practice medicine and keep his mouth closed. Not much good ever seems to come from it.