The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, who lost out to Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, was talking about the work ethic and dreams of immigrants who arrived in the US through Ellis Island in his first speech at his department on Monday.
“That’s what America is about,” Carson said. “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.”
Actors Samuel L Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg were among those to criticise Carson for his comments.
And others tried to educate the 65-year-old.
Rana Hogarth, a history professor and expert on American slavery at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said comparing slaves with immigrants was “inappropriate and wildly inaccurate.”
She said immigration “suggests a desire of a person to make the journey,” the Associated Press reports.
“I think that he’s either misinformed or made a mistake,” Hogarth said. “His beginning on Ellis Island tells me there’s a major gap in his knowledge of how we talk about different ways people settled the United States and what circumstances they settled in United States.”
Rebecca Scott, a University of Michigan law and history professor, said slavery in the United States was a “dramatically distinct form of migration,” and that slavery made realising the American dream much more difficult for captured Africans.
“That people had aspirations for their children regardless of how they were brought to the United States was certainly true,” Scott said. “Their capacity to see their aspirations realized was starkly limited by slavery.”
The HUD later tweeted: “This is the most cynical interpretation of the Secretary’s remarks to an army of welcoming HUD employees.”
Carson later tried to clarify his comments on his Facebook page.
Carson was also accused of playing into the bigger problem of glossing over the history of African Americans.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, an activist and author, wrote in Monthly Review Zine in 2006: “Misrepresenting the process of European colonization of North America, making everyone an immigrant, serves to preserve the ‘official story’ of a mostly benign and benevolent USA, and to mask the fact that the pre-US independence settlers, were, well, settlers ― colonial settlers, just as they were in Africa and India, or the Spanish in Central and South America...
“So, let’s stop saying ‘this is a nation of immigrants.’”