Ben Carson, whose insight on matters of ethnicity can be a little scattershot, doesn’t think President Obama can identify with the experience of black Americans. He said as much during an interview with Politico just before Saturday’s Nevada primary results rolled in, and he’s sticking to his guns. Speaking to Politico’s Glenn Thrush, he said that although he was excited when Obama “broke the color barrier,” he, Ben Carson, understands the plight of African-Americans much better than our current president does. “He didn’t grow up like I grew up, by any stretch of the imagination,” Carson said. “He’s an ‘African’ American. He was raised white. Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia. So for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”
“A lot of things that people classify as racism is classism,” he continued. “There’s a lot of classism in our society, and if people of a certain race happen to fall into a lower class, then they get the brunt of it.” For instance, he suggested that if the Flint water crisis “were going on in an affluent black community, it would have not gone on.” (Obama grew up in Hawaii in relative comfort, whereas Carson was raised in Detroit by a poor single mother who at times received government aid.) Carson is effectively implying that his blackness is valid while Obama’s is not — invalidating the experience of any African-American who grew up middle-class after the 1960s.
He also “flatly denies” he’s experienced any racism at the hands of the Republican Party, even defending Donald Trump; when Thrush asked Carson if Trump is a racist, he said, “I have not witnessed anything that would make me say that about him.” He went on: “[M]aybe I’m very nonobservant,” but “you have to understand that whatever you think is going on is probably what you’re going to see.” In other words, Republicans are only racist if you expect them to be. (He’s spent this afternoon defending his comments.)
Carson, in fact, doesn’t seem to see racism anywhere, except (he says) maybe among progressives who can’t accept a really conservative black man. But regardless of how they treat him, he said, he doesn’t get angry. “If I’m working with a very obnoxious person, I just say, ‘That used to be a cute little baby,’” he said. “I wonder what happened to them.”