The Conservative Black Hope

For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Dr. Benjamin Carson has special importance.
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My Times column today looks at the phenomenon that is Dr. Benjamin Carson. For kids like me who came up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s, Carson has special importance. Whenever the black folks at our summer camps or schools wanted to have a "Be A Credit To Your Race" moment they brought in Dr. Carson. I saw him speak so many times that I began to have that "This guy again?" feeling. As an adult, knowing how much it takes to speak in front of people, I can recognize that Carson's willingness to talk to black youth (and youth in general) came from a deeply sincere place. There were no cameras at those summer camps and school assemblies. No one had money to pay him. But he showed up. And that was what mattered.

There's nothing about "showing up" that is inconsistent with being conservative. Some of the most committed black people I know -- in some other America -- would be Republicans. But in this America, this conservative movement, has a fairly nasty romance with white racism. There are black conservatives (some Republican, some not) who manage to steer clear of this -- Bill Cosby, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and possibly Tim Scott. And there are others who, to put it bluntly, profit from it. 

It's perfectly respectable to think Obamacare is bad for the country. It's less respectable to claim that Obama isn't an African-American. It's perfectly respectable to believe in a flat tax. It's less respectable to tell a room full of white people that Obama, isn't "a strong black man" or that he has "never been a part of the black experience in America." It's respectable to believe that the Ryan Budget is the key to the future. It's less respectable to believe that equating same-sex marriage with child-rape puts you on Harriet Tubman status.

The corollary of that last metaphor -- the idea of liberalism as a plantation -- is especially noxious and deeply racist. It holds that black people are not really like other adult humans in America -- people capable of discerning their interest and voting accordingly -- but mental slaves too stupid to know what's good for them. 

When Ben Carson uses this language he is promoting himself at the expense of the community from which he hails. More, he is promoting himself at the expense of the community in which I once saw him labor.  That is tragic.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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