US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, has come under fire for refering to slaves as immigrants.
In a speech with agency employees on Monday, Carson talked about the virtues of the “can-do” American society. He said this value system was best exemplified by immigrants who came into America with nothing but small luggages and worked very hard, determined to make it and reap from the opportunities America offered.
“That’s what America is about. A land of dreams and opportunity”, he said.
Then he added: “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.”
The comment did not go down well with many on social media, with many wondering how people who were forcefully taken from Africa in chains and transported in the bottom of ships would be refered to as immigrants.
After severe criticisms from those who listened to the speech, Carson later defended his comments in an interview with Armstrong Williams on SiriusXM’s “Urban View,” arguing that a person “can be an involuntary immigrant.”
“I think people need to actually look up the word ‘immigrant. Whether you are voluntary or involuntary, if you come from outside to the inside, you’re an immigrant. Whether you’re legal or you’re illegal, you come from the outside to the inside, you’re an immigrant. Slaves came here as involuntary immigrants, but they still had the strength to hold on.”
He later wrote on his Facebook page: “I’m proud of the courage and perseverance of Black Americans and their incomprehensible struggle from slavery to freedom. I’m proud that our ancestors overcame the evil and repression that we know as slavery.
“The slave narrative and immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences. Slaves were ripped from their families and their homes and forced against their will after being sold into slavery by slave traders.
“The Immigrants made the choice to come to America. They saw this country as a land of opportunity. In contrast, slaves were forced here against their will and lost all their opportunities. We continue to live with that legacy.
“The two experiences should never be intertwined, nor forgotten, as we demand the necessary progress towards an America that’s inclusive and provides access to equal opportunity for all.
“We should revel in the fact that although we got here through different routes, we have many things in common now that should unite us in our mission to have a land where there is liberty and justice for all.”