As an African American I am pleased to see another male figure who looks like me possess the opportunity to exercise great influence to change the lives of other people. Dr. Carson stands in a growing choir of African American men who have seized opportunities to improve themselves, their families, and society. He joins a chorus which includes President Barak Obama, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Attorney General Eric Holder, Senator Corey Booker, Mayor Andrew Jackson, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. While this choir of men possess different political voices and octaves, collectively they sing a beautiful song of powerful contribution energizing the uplift of America and a strong voice of African American resolve. These men are reminders we can be triumphant.
In the announcement of Dr. Ben Carson’s selection as the new Secretary of HUD, pending Senate approval, some men and women who share his ethnicity have responded negatively. Social media has been brutal. Consider the following,
“Uncle Tom over the projects”
“Any black person who is excited and willing to work for Trump who surrounds himself with known white supremacists and look the other way when it comes to our oppression is indeed a coon, a sambo, an Uncle Tom.”
“He is Black…Isn’t he?”
“He's black (on the outside anyway) so of course they assume he lived in public housing.”
The above statements represent in my estimation manifests an intense internal conflict in response to an individual who has “stepped out of line.” I choose not to argue the merits of whether Dr. Carson is qualified to run a government agency. How many people have the experience of doing such work until after he or she has done the job? Secondly, we-African Americans- betray ourselves. Many of us just spent the last eight years celebrating President Obama’s leadership as the Chief Executive and now are in a state of lament as he prepares to transition to private life. In a state of schizophrenia, we now dehumanize a man who has conquered similar circumstances and now has an opportunity to influence housing for millions of Americans.
Why do we as African American’s expend such a level of vitriol towards a human being who has chosen to place himself in a position to move persons forward? Specifically, as Secretary of HUD his leadership will impact persons who live in low income housing, develop solutions to address the 549,928 homeless persons in America, and provide funding opportunities to nonprofits to address all types of housing situations. Dr. Carson represents an American and an African American who is living freely, yet the language attached to his person reflects the language of slavery.
House versus Field
What do I mean? Slavery as a former American institution created a situation in which one group of persons primarily benefited socially, economically, religiously, and politically, while another group experienced the deprivation of human dignity. This deprivation of human dignity created a situation in which slaves on plantations would identify as “field slaves” and “house slaves.” Malcom X earlier in his work commented about the house versus field slave dynamic by stating,
“The house Negro usually lived close to his master. He dressed like his master. He wore his master's second-hand clothes. He ate food that his master left on the table. And he lived in his master's house--probably in the basement or the attic--but he still lived in the master's house. But then you had another Negro out in the field. The house Negro was in the minority. The masses--the field Negroes were the masses. They were in the majority. When the master got sick, they prayed that he'd die. [Laughter] If his house caught on fire, they'd pray for a wind to come along and fan the breeze” (Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. 23 January 1963).
Frederick Douglass commented on his field slave experience as an emotional, physical, and spiritual dehumanization. “I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute” (Douglass, 1881). In contrast, a former slave named William Brown reflects on his own experience as a house slave by stating, “I was a house servant - a situation preferable to that of a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing of the bell, but about half an hour after” (Brown, 1847).
The situation of house slave versus field slave inevitably created a situation of division, distrust, and maintained in theory the possibility of slave revolts from occuring. This was not always the case though. In the final analysis, persons who existed in the same tortuous situation learned to despise their fellow brother or sister due to their situation on the plantation.
Fast forward to today and African Americans continue to appropriate similar language, as in the case of Dr. Carson. Per some, Dr. Carson represents the house slave on the plantation of America under the thumb of the slave master President Elect Trump. Men and women rather than celebrating success choose instead to view a representative of their ethnicity as a “Uncle Tom,” “sellout,” and question his blackness.
Stacy Washington who hosts a radio show in St. Louis has experienced similar disparaging and dehumanizing remarks. On multiple occasions this African American woman has had her “blackness” questioned, her legitimacy of marriage to an African American man questioned, as well as the comments of “coon” and other disparaging remarks.
We possess an internal conflict of the soul which manifest in our communities. We desire to see African Americans succeed yet such success depends on political position. It appears Dr. Carson’s, Mrs. Washington, or others like them, their legitimacy depends on political position. If they maintain the status quo with success they are accepted but to have success and communicate a different position delegitimizes success and the label Uncle Tom is applied.
Peace on Earth
In the Gospel of Luke, poor shepherds were tending their flocks with the sky rolled open to reveal a choir of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). The eternal and transcendent reality established by mankind’s Creator merged with our temporal existence to communicate transcendent peace would be realized in the lives of frail persons.
I don’t know how long it will take for us as African Americans to find peace between each other but I do understand it begin with God and then being at peace with our individual selves. Peace offers us the possibility to reflect on ourselves as images of magnificence and infinite possibilities. As we arrive at this loving self-perception we have the capabilities to perceive each other in a similar fashion. Peace will eradicate the self-hate which produces such language as sambo or Uncle Tom replacing it with language of encouragement, celebration, and prayer. This is what Christmas is partly about. Men and women being at peace with each other because God has chosen to bring peace to his creation.