In the country’s raging debate about immigration, and moments after the White House issued its second travel ban on Monday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson referred to slaves as “immigrants” in a speech to department employees.
“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,” Carson said Monday. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
The second part of that quote might be true, but Carson’s suggestion that slaves were “immigrants”— even metaphorically speaking — is alarming, experts say.
“This is particularly troubling as how can people proven to be property, by legislature, be considered immigrants? It can’t be both ways,” said Michael Woodward, a Ph.D candidate in the Department of History and Humanities at Clark Atlanta University. “For him to imply this was immigration diminishes the horrible institution of slavery to a palatable period in history that is easily digestible for those in denial or those unknowledgeable of … slavery.”
Twitter and social media had a field day with Carson.
Carson, a gifted neurosurgeon, ran for president in 2016 as part of a large field that lost to eventual GOP nominee Donald Trump.
After dropping out of the race, Carson became one of Trump’s key surrogates and was named secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet.
Black people have been coming to America since 1619, mostly by force. In 1619, the first 20 Africans arrived in Jamestown – in the bottom of a slave ship.
They were forced to work, and their bondage represented the beginning of chattel slavery in the United States.
Between 1619 and 1807 (when the Transatlantic Slave Trade was halted by Congress) 388,000 Africans made their way to America — all in the bottom of slave ships.
When they arrived, they were all forced to work as slaves — generally for the sons and daughters of immigrants.
“The nearly 400,000 Africans brought to America prior to the 1808 Slave Trade Act were not immigrants,” said historian Karcheik Sims-Alvarado, the author of “Atlanta and the Civil Rights Movement.” “They were kidnapped and enslaved in a foreign nation. Let’s not be confused about that fact. “