Carson/DeVos Photos: Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0

Ben Carson

Carson/DeVos Photos: Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0

The Coded Racist Language of Betsy DeVos and Ben Carson

It was not mere ignorance when the Education and HUD secretaries referred to HBCUs as pioneers in “school choice” and slaves as “immigrants.” They were deliberately revisioning history.

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This is one hell of a time to be alive, I tell ya. We have a president terrorizing humanity with his administration of Doom. Our intelligence agencies are littering the stratosphere with Russian receipts. Shadow president Bannon is continuing to test the parameters of the Constitution, bombarding us with hate-filled executive orders and seeing just how long they can ruin lives before our federal courts enact checks and balances. WikiLeaks is trolling everybody, and the GOP is still off in the distance pretending like Donald Trump isn’t draining the shit out our tax dollars so he can skip off to Mar-a-Lago every weekend to golf, offering the high-paying guests a glimpse of the makeshift situation-room-on-the-patio, presumably tweet about his wet dreams about Obama, and listen in on guests’ phone calls. This is life in America right now, and for real, with so many things to worry about, it’s almost somehow more infuriating that Betsy DeVos, our grizzly-phobic Secretary of Education, and neurosurgeon turned Secretary of Housing and Urban Development–slash–Uncle Tom Ben Carson are out there, being so aggressively, defiantly ignorant about the history of Black folks in America. They can’t possibly be this clueless. This appears more like a deliberate attempt at revisionist history.

I’m talking about DeVos “honoring” Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by referring to them as the pioneers of some strange imaginary issue that she’s referred to as “school choice,” glossing over one of the many-many-many barbarities of Jim Crow. To her mind there were simply “too many people not having equal access to education”—and now there are more colleges, so everyone gets to go wherever they want forever and that’s all there is to it, the end! (Now, if only Chik-fil-A would start opening their restaurants on Sunday for equal-opportunity chicken for atheists.)

Barely a week later, and Ben Carson got his donkey ass in front of the HUD and said some immigrants came to America in the bottom of slave ships and “worked for less.” Are we being gaslighted here? This was the most nimble of tap dances around white delusion in the ever-pervasive need to pretend as if we’ve completely imagined our own abuse and murder for the past 150 years.

Now, it must be said that neither DeVos nor Carson have expressed anything remotely radical: Their attitudes fall within the paradigm that the best way to fix the Negro Problem is to vehemently ignore it.

Long before DeVos was ever considered for the position as Secretary of Education, states like Texas have long tried to put a spin on the atrocities of slavery by referring to it as “unpaid work” or a simple side issue of the War of Northern Aggression. This is to say nothing of the way U.S. History is taught in so many classrooms across the country—apparently Black folks dropped off the face of the Earth from 1865 to 1955. What were we doing? Sitting around eating watermelon while White folks made America great until Rosa Parks decided she was too lazy to move to her ass to the back of the bus? That’s what we do, according to White America, act divisive when we don’t feel like doing any hard work.

Whether this nation admits it or not, our country lives and dies by the parameter of White savior, the Lazy Negro, and everything in between. It plays out in how we view ourselves as well as how we view one another. Non-Black American POCs measure their success by their proximity to whiteness—just how far can one distance themself from the those gosh-darn Negroes and their yucky African slave blood? It’s how a White person has the audacity to claim their immigrant ancestors have showed strength and resolve that the enslaved ancestors could not because all my Black ancestors had to do was “a little bit of manual labor for a bit” and they couldn’t even do that right.

It is this narrative that allows, and even encourages, the exclusion of Black communities and any group unfortunate enough to fall within its spectrum from American perks. Because it is our insolence and aversion to hard work that states that we do not deserve the opportunities that the land of opportunity offers, and it was this narrative that drove Ben Carson to not only claim enslaved Africans were immigrants, but in the very same speech, to make this simple statement: “We do no favors for anybody. There are no extras for anybody.” 

Americans both consciously and unconsciously digest coded language, and when Carson refers to “extras” and “favors” we inherently understand that he is referring to the mythically plentiful welfare tit from which all Black folks apparently suckle while White people (and some model POCs) do all heavy lifting. “There are no extras for anybody” is code for “Don’t worry Good White Americans, you will not have to help the lazy N*@@3rs buy iPhones and Air Jordans with your taxes.” Carson, furthermore, is the perfect vessel to push this message. He stands as a model minority, a Black face for White supremacy to gesture to as proof that racism does not exist, only a racial work ethic.

In a country that values hard work and elbow grease, the sheer inkling that Black folks refused labor for the sake of it being labor puts them at odds with ideal American values and thus justifies their abuse. Anybody can be rich in America if they work hard. If they don’t like to work hard, they must be poor. Since a disproportionate percentage of Black people are poor, they must not like to work hard—and our filtered history proves that, does it not?

Real U.S. history, tells a different story: It chronicles a history of Africans forced to migrate to the USA and work not for less, but for nothing, all the while suffering physical and mental torment. Real history tells a story of African defiance and ingenuity and work ethic and success in the face of absolute hopelessness, thanklessness, even death—and what’s more American than that? If people like DeVos and Carson spoke our truths, it would be harder for them to uphold institutions that have far too long thrived via exploitation.



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