One of Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s schticks is his insistence that if nominated and elected, he would be America’s first “real black president.” As opposed to the “fake black” president we have now. This assertion isn’t new, since Herman Cain was saying the same thing during his own failed presidential run, and this meme is being reiterated by white Republicans who are desperate to run a black candidate to make them seem less white and less racist. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s policies, the notion that he is somehow “less black” than Carson or Cain ignores the way in which blackness was and is constructed in the United States.
As I have mentioned before, using the one drop rule as the basis for determining who is black “defines blackness down” to the point where it has no meaning. If you go to Latin America or Europe, black people are considered to be, well, black. Beige, tan, coffee-colored,and copper-colored people are considered to be in a different category altogether, but in the United States all would be considered “black.” Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass both had white fathers, yet no one questions whether they are black.
Perhaps what Carson means is that Obama’s background and personal history differ too much too from that of the “average black person.” To which I would ask: so what? Contrary to what many people would have you believe, there is no single normative black experience. I know a lot of people would consider my own experiences — private secondary schools, private colleges, extensive post-graduate education, socialized mainly among white people, no experience in “the black church” — to not be a normative black experience. There are as many black experiences as there are black people, and each experience is peculiar to that person. It’s particularly ironic, because Obama did everything right according to the conservative life plan (go to elite schools, wait until marriage to have children, got a number of high-paying positions) and actually governs to the right of Nixon, but is considered to be some kind of fire-breathing communist.
I think what is really going on is that conservatives think that black people voted for Obama simply because he’s black, so if they can get a black candidate of their own to field, they can finally get some of those sweet, sweet minority votes. Except if you actually look at the statistics .
As you can see, 88 percent of blacks who voted in the 2004 election voted for Kerry, and 95 percent of blacks who voted in the 2008 elected voted for Obama. Obama may have brought out black voters who might not have voted otherwise, but the 2004 statistics make it clear that black voters were never going to vote for McCain or Romney in large numbers regardless of who the Democratic candidate was.
Carson is the equivalent of that token “black friend” white conservatives bring up to show they aren’t racist. Even the friends of Dylann Roof, the young white man who killed nine at a black church earlier this year, claimed to be shocked by Roof’s act of violence because he had black Facebook friends! I’m actually surprised that “has black Facebook friends” hasn’t become a thing yet. He can also be used as an example of a “good black,” who worked hard, doesn’t complain, and didn’t ask for government help. However, Carson admits in his popular memoir, Gifted Hands, that his single mother relied heavily on food stamps, subsidized housing, and other governments programs to survive, yet he wants to deprive others of the very things that helped him become who he is today.
What Carson actually shows to me is that wingnuttery comes in many colors. Every day he seems to come up with some new ridiculous statement, like the pyramids were built by the Biblical character Joseph to store grain (http://www.timesofisrael.com/carson-pyramids-not-tombs-built-by-joseph-to-store-grain/) or that the Holocaust could have been prevented if the Jews had been armed (http://bluenationreview.com/ben-carson-implies-holocaust-could-have-been-prevented-if-jews-were-armed/). While Carson may be a skilled surgeon, he has no business making public policy. Indeed, I think fellow black atheist Zora Neal Hurston said it best when she said, “All my skinfolk ain’t my kinfolk.”