On Monday March 6th, America's Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Ben Carson made this statement: "That's what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity...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."
And every one of us with basic sense responded like this:
Carson's entire statement is an alternative fact. You know when something is so stupid it makes your head hurt? Well this is that. I was genuinely confused and unable to digest the inaccuracy and irresponsibility of this comment. Let's go through just a few of his errors:
1) Immigrants did not come here in the bottom of slave ships. An immigrant is an individual who upon their free will, chooses to take up residency in another country. Yes, many immigrants flee arduous and dangerous situations feeling like they have no other choice; the decision to leave your home with whatever you have is difficult. But, an immigrant is in fact exercising their own agency to move somewhere else. What is a slave? Oxford Dictionary defines a slave as "a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them."
During the transatlantic slave trade, Europeans went to Africa to buy and steal people for slave labor in the Americas. Once again, I want to note that whenever a human being is forcefully kidnapped and bought and sold, this is not immigration. Conditions on these slave ships were so horrid that 2 million of the 12.7 million Africans shipped to the New World died. The new slaves were chained together with metal shackles around their necks, wrists and ankles. The chains cut and bruised the skin so bad, officers on the ship would have to patch up their wounds so that the merchandise (Africans) wouldn't look damaged.
Packed below the ship, slaves had no more than three square feet of space and and were forced to lie flat for more than half of the day without being able to stand. Blood, excrement, sweat, vomit; all these fluids steeping together below the ship. Imagine the stench, disease, sickness, despair, embarrassment, anger, and fear. Many tried to commit suicide during this 13 week voyage. If you made it alive, what awaited you was a lifetime of servitude.
Once the African slaves reached America, they were auctioned off to plantation owners. A slave auction was similar to a used car auction of today. The slaves were stripped and paraded around, examined, poked and prodded like a piece of furniture, then sold to the highest bidder. Humanity, dignity, language, name, family, and identity were all stripped for them.
In contrast, below is a diagram of the Mayflower, the ship the Pilgrims used to reach America in 1620. 5 people did die on the voyage due to illness but no one was taken captive and chained in the bottom of the ship.
2) Slaves did not work harder and longer for less. They worked all the time for free. Slaves toiled the land planting and harvesting cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, rice as well as other cash crops. Slaves who worked in the field endured back breaking work. For up to 16 hours a day, under the hot sun without proper shoes or clothing to protect their bodies, black slaves picked crops until their fingers were raw and bloody. The smallest adult slave was expected to carrying over a hundred pounds of picked goods on their back. Demand for this brutal work led plantation owners to breed the strongest and biggest slaves together. Many of these slaves were worked so hard that they died before the age of 30. But black bodies were disposable parts of labor. Lighter skinned slaves, products of white masters raping black female slaves were allowed to work in the "Big House" cooking, cleaning, breast feeding the masters children, and doing other domestic work.
For abut 250 years slaves worked in factories, shipyards, and textile mills; blacks built railroads, roads, and a lot of this America's infrastructure including the White House. Michelle Obama mentioned this fact in her speech last summer at the Democratic National Convention. Apparently, a lot of Americans were unaware of the fact that black slaves built the house our Presidents have lived in for over 200 years.
Along with working all the time for free until your body, sanity and spirit died, black slaves endured lashes, rape, castration, branding, lynching, tarring, hot boxes, maiming and other sickening forms of punishment as ways of torture and control.
3) Slavery: A dream deferred. It's hard for you to dream of your children and grand children having more opportunities than you if you aren't even considered a complete person. Slaves were legally owned because they were counted as property, not people. But in order for slave holding states to increase their power in the federal government, they needed a way for the black slave population to count towards their electoral vote. So in 1787, during the United States Constitutional Convention, the north and south delegates reached the Three-Fifths Compromise. Yes, in the constitution of the United States of America blacks were acknowledged as three fifths human. Hence the name of this site; 5/5 amended, 5/5 whole, 5/5 one; unity among all people.
Ben Carson's comments are flagrantly incorrect, misleading, disrespectful and hurtful. Millions of black slaves died and deserve for their legacies to be heard and shared. It is imperative that their stories are remembered everyday, not just in February. I am my ancestors wildest dreams and am proud to come from a people who have endured and accomplished so much in spite of our sufferings. In the words of Maya Angelou, "the more you know your history, the more liberated you are". Let's all get free.