Young black people prefer to speak in rap lyrics. At least, that's what Ben Carson seems to believe.
Ben Carson recently put out a radio rap ad called “Freedom” to appeal to black voters in a "language they prefer," choosing to communicate through a stereotype instead of a reasonable summary of his platform.
The rap’s goal, said Carson’s campaign spokesman, Doug Watts, was to attract the “black consciousness” to the election.
Yet this "preferred language" is nothing but a collection of clichés about freedom, since his team probably realized that his actual agenda would repel any would-be supporters.
Because his platform offers blacks virtually nothing, Carson was forced to resort to an ambiguous vision of “freedom” to conceal his disconnect from the “black consciousness.”
If elected, Carson would likely "save" blacks from their disempowering health insurance and ignore the broken criminal justice system, which Carson believes blacks can overcome through hard work alone. And earlier this September, Carson used his trip to Ferguson to condemn the Black Lives Matter movement as “bullying.”
That’s right, Ferguson: the town where a black teenager, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a white officer. Despite Brown’s death, Carson maintains that white-on-black violence is being overemphasized.
But it’s not that Carson doesn’t care about black lives. He just disagrees with how they should be saved.
Whereas Black Lives Matter attacks the racism embedded in America’s social system, Ben Carson’s racial platform hinges on black self-empowerment that operates independent of sociopolitical change.
Rather than go through whites to fix a broken system, Carson believes blacks should succeed in spite of structural racism. He calls for blacks to rise up and take control of their circumstances, just as he did as a teenager with “nothing but a library card.”
Perhaps if Brown had a library card, he wouldn’t have been shot. Such is the misleading romance of Ben Carson’s narrative.
Carson’s faith in the power of the individual is inspiring, but entirely unrealistic.
To give a little background, Carson grew up poor and fatherless in a violent neighborhood in Detroit. In an article for USA Today, he wrote that he "saw bullets, drugs and death in the same places I played tag and ball with my friends."
His mother’s library card was the first step in Carson’s journey to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon.
This is a breathtaking tale that lends itself well to film adaptation. But it can't hope to be repeated on a national level.
Carson’s life is a fairytale, one that he uses as a story of one man’s incredible success to distract from much-needed attention to structural racism.
Rather than providing an actual platform geared toward the “black consciousness” (which “Freedom” so clumsily illustrates), Carson fuels his campaign with a hero-story and lofty clichés.
In his radio ad, Carson’s voice plays over the beat:
I’m very hopeful that I’m not the only one that’s willing to pick up the baton to freedom. Because freedom is not free and we must fight for it every day. Every one of us must fight for us because we are fighting for our children and the next generation.
The message of "Freedom" is inspirational boilerplate, and only vaguely political. If structural racism is a non-issue, then what is Carson freeing blacks from? Also, what the heck is a "baton to freedom?" Another library card?
Carson is black, which makes it all the more bizarre he would exploit the whole "blacks like hip-hop" generalization to win the black vote. But generalizations are all Carson has. Because behind his personal story and his flowery language lies a policy that really isn’t doing him any favors with the black community anyway.
To Carson's credit, perhaps he sought to capture the spirit of his campaign rather than explain the issues in a short rap ad.
Then again, maybe he knew well enough to omit his policy to avoid alienating the very group he’s trying to target. “We’ll take away your health insurance, it’s all up to you now,” doesn’t really lend itself well to an uplifting political anthem.
Presumably, “Freedom” was intended to be an empowering statement to fellow minority members, but it comes off as an awkward olive branch extended from a candidate outside the group.
He gives them an inspirational story. That’s it.
And in light of recent allegations that Carson lied about stabbing his friend during his childhood (which undermines the "rock-bottom" portion of his religious conversion story), even his personal history is crumbling around him.
If Carson wants to sway the black vote, he should advocate for actual police reform and recognize that blacks have been among the most to benefit from the Affordable Care Act, which Carson argued in 2013 remains “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”
He should quit glorifying hard work and start acknowledging the larger problem of institutional racism. Or, at the very least, he should hang up the mic and respect the fact that the key to black consciousness is not 90s hip hip.
If Carson won’t do any of that, he should commission Jars of Clay to write a song that caters to his main contingent: white evangelicals.