Whitewashing minority success

How Ben Carson’s ignorance sheds light on a bigger problem


According to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, President Barack Obama is not black because he didn’t grow up poor. Carson claimed that Obama was “raised white” and therefore cannot relate “with the experience of black Americans.” Let that sink it. Carson, a black man himself, is chastising Obama for not being Black enough because he had too much money growing up.

Let’s ignore the fact that Carson clearly doesn’t understand that attacking the current president isn’t going to get him into the White House any quicker. Let’s also ignore the fact that Obama may not have grown up in poverty, but was not rich by any means. Instead, let’s focus on what Carson’s argument is really saying: being Black is synonymous with being poor and being white is synonymous with being wealthy. Is this true? Absolutely not. But sadly, Carson is far from the only person who buys into this failed logic.

For a long time in American history, class and race went hand in hand. Being white was regarded as automatic acceptance into a higher class than any minority could ever be in, no matter how much wealth they had. Fast-forward to present day, and one would hope this backwards mindset has finally been rejected. For the most part, it has been. However, in a subtle way, wealth and prosperity are still regarded as “white” traits, while the opposite can be said of minorities, especially African-Americans.

Take for example, the case of Grant Hill, the former Duke University basketball player accused by ESPN analyst Jalen Rose of being an “Uncle Tom” for playing at a predominantly rich white school as a wealthy Black man. Even in pop culture, this issue is everywhere. Kanye West touched on how his success has been whitewashed in his album “Late Registration” and stars such as Beyoncé, who spoke out on racial issues in her new song “Formation,” have been accused of not truly understanding these matters because of their status.

It’s easy to see if you’re looking out for it. Think of how often you’ve heard the expression that black people who talk or behave a certain way are simply “acting white.” This notion corresponds directly with Carson’s backwards comment. In his attempt to dismantle Obama’s politics, Carson insinuated that affluence is unachievable as a “true” minority. In an attempt to make a personal gain, he whitewashed all minority success.

Whether or not this was his intent is not actually the point. Throughout his run, Carson has made it abundantly clear that he not only doesn’t think before he speaks, but he lacks a filter as well. The point is this: being successful is not an inherently white ability and lacking success is not an inherently minority problem. If a person finds success, it does not make them less of a minority. Actually, it means that they rose above barriers that white people will never have to face and overcame systematic oppression to be where they are, making their success an almost bigger achievement than any white person could ever have.

It’s unbelievable that this even has to be said in the year 2016, but here it is: class and race are not the same thing. Not even close. If there’s any bright side to this misconception that Carson so carelessly portrayed, it’s that this is further proof that changing the way we see race is an ongoing issue. We must constantly fight against stereotypes and fallacies until statements like Carson’s are unimaginable. Black History Month may be over, but let this be a reminder to always be conscious of the way we view race.