Ben Carson’s Appeal

SIMI VALLEY, California, U.S. — Is there a doctor in the building?

Actually, there are two in the Republican Race for the 2016 U.S. Presidency.

Few really know or care that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, an optometrist, is in the race. Instead, the dominant physician front runner is Dr. Ben Carson.

Mr. Carson is not only a neurosurgeon, he is the world leader in his profession and perhaps the most gifted human that the world has ever seen at this craft, which makes people wonder why he would pause such a revered profession to enter the sleaziest ring of them all: politics.

More puzzling than his desire to run for president–because where is the man who doesn’t secretly wish to be the world’s most powerful figure–is his stay atop the polls, racking in just fewer numbers than outspoken reality television businessman (and also non-politician) Donald J. Trump.

It’s worth asking: What draws potential voters to Mr. Carson early on in the campaign trail? Precisely what is Ben Carson’s appeal?

Some might say that his gifted hands hold the allure. He is, after all, the first surgeon to separate craniopagus (conjoined) twins, who were joined at the back of the head. He also refined a procedure for hemispherectomy to control severe pediatric epilepsy, long before any of us could spell hemispherectomy, much less understand its meaning.

Keep in mind that the majority of Americans are jacks-of-one-trade, if they’re lucky, and master of none. Most Americans struggled miserably throughout math and science courses, if not avoided them altogether. The understanding that Mr. Carson must have excelled at both automatically places him in the smart side of the room.

In the CNN Republican presidential debate, Mr. Carson mused that while not all problems can be resolved using muscles, many problems could be solved using intelligence. The reference quietly signaled his background, one that even among a field of highly-degreed men stood most decorated.

Mr. Carson’s achievements also fit snug into the narrative of the American dream. Work hard. Study harder. And you shall achieve great heights.

For Mr. Carson, the glorious horizons of worldly success came into view as he escaped poverty in Detroit to Yale University in the pint-sized town of New Haven, became a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland; arose to the hospital’s youngest major division director in history at age 33; and meanwhile taught as professor of neurosurgery, pediatrics, plastic surgery, and oncology.

To Boot, Mr. Carson was also awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, from the White House and the highest honor for outstanding achievement, the Spingarn Medal, from the NAACP.

All the while, Mr. Carson attributes his success to a doctrine of hard work, resilient Christian faith, and a persistent single mother who motivated him to pursue his talents, in spite of the obstacles.

In all seriousness, what’s not to like about his rags-to-riches biography?

For the most part, Mr. Carson has managed to stay above the fray of mudslinging that is common among political pundits. Nonetheless, he spares no such dirt for his African American brethren.

Perhaps a symptom of being raised by a single mother, Mr. Carson’s telling of his story takes on a brash tough-on-African Americans rhetoric that assumes if he could rise from being a poor kid in Detroit to becoming the world’s premiere neurosurgeon, then all African Americans in the U.S., if only they work as hard, should be able to do the same.

Mr. Carson recalls his mother telling him never to be a victim, an urging which he has committed to dogmatic execution. Though it appears that Mr. Carson need be reminded that African American men and women in the U.S. actually are victims: victims of the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery; victims of Jim Crow segregation; victims of the War on Blacks (Drugs); victims of mass incarceration, housing discrimination, employment discrimination, racism, church shootings, and the like.

The avenue where Mr. Carson’s professional expertise as a neurosurgeon would be most useful in federal legislation is on the matter of marijuana. While the subject came up during the CNN debate, Mr. Carson was the only doctor on stage to fail to weigh in.

Although he was not silent on his professional opinion about vaccinations–he thought medical clinics do, in fact, institute too many at too close intervals–he was completely silent on marijuana.

Mr. Carson did not desire to inform his Republican friends that marijuana is not addictive. Also Mr. Carson did not desire to inform his Republican friends that marijuana is less harmful than beer.

In his book America the Beautiful, Mr. Carson wrote: “I believe it is a very good idea for physicians, scientists, engineers, and others trained to make decisions based on facts and empirical data to get involved in the political arena.”

Yet, in the same breath, the very evasion of facts and empirical data from medical research forms the basis of Mr. Carson’s draconian platform against marijuana.

Through no short measure of irony, a primary facet of Ben Carson’s appeal, his remarkable medical genius, is undermined by his unwillingness to exercise his expertise in the very area where American legal policy currently needs it the most: in the fiery and life-changing debate on the War on Drugs.

Possibly Mr. Carson’s most glaring offense is his firm stance against the legalization, or at the very least decriminalization, of marijuana–an herb that the U.S. government has used for decades to brutalize millions of Black men and women in local, state, and federal prisons and to marginalize them further, if they are able to re-enter society.

To support the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. Carson would have to change his view of all those men and women he grew up with in inner city Detroit, those who were not able to make it out. He would have to remove his label which calls them “failures” and reassign the label which names them “victims” to acknowledge policies that for decades ruthlessly targeted African American communities.

It would be no stretch to suggest that Mr. Carson’s specialty research most likely does not delve into the parts of the brain that control empathy. Though his position on illegal immigration, that they should register as guest workers on an eventual path to citizenship, appears to be more humane than his views that affect the lives of the majority of Black folks.

There is much to like and respect about Dr. Ben Carson. There is also much to dislike.

Republicans and Democrats alike should push Mr. Carson for answers on political issues and especially on medical issues, like marijuana.

And if it turns out the doctor doesn’t have the right answers, we can always get a second opinion.


  1. Ben Carson is a gifted neurosurgeon. Many in Africa have even given him titles like Imhotep II. But I have reservations. Its seems that, unlike Imhotep, Carson lacks a basic understanding of sociological issues, nor does he understand how to politically approach complex social issues like the Race problem in America. I think folks can pump the breaks here. Yes, he will perhaps go down as the most gifted hands since Imhotep but in no way does Ben Carson possess a quarter of Imhotep’s intellect and sense of compassion, composure and decorum.

    I figure his Republican fans love him. He is their African American poster child. He fits into the racist narrative of blaming African Americans for their plight. Ben Carson will do well among his Republican hooligans, but he has no chance to become the president of the United States of America without the endorsement of the African American community from which he hails – whether he likes them or not.

    Ben Carson, is not exactly your Uncle Tom, he is worse. By amassing such credentials as an unparalleled surgeon, he plays God in strengthening white America of their convictions about Black people. I wish him well, but I wish he hadn’t run. In fact, I wish someone like Ben Carson hadn’t be born if this is how he feels about the African American community.

    I continue to remind him that his achievements no matter how laudable would not have been possible without the hard work of dedicated African Americans who fought for justice in Jim Crow America. He says ‘America has learned from its mistakes.’ How? Black people toiled and died for the freedom he so chooses to flaunt.

    He is a good-for-nothing if you were to ask me. He is good for nothing. He can go kick rocks for all I care. The disgrace that he is. A buffoon, an imbecile. I wish him well, but the souls of Black folk will never rest in peace if this idol becomes president of the most racist country the world has ever seen.

    Thanks Nefetiti. This is a complex essay.

    • Who compared this hater of haters to Imhotep. Imhotep is a God. Imhotep loved his people. Imhotep did not hate his skin color. He did not scold his brothers. He loved them. Please, who said Ben Carson is Imhotep II? Please, give me directions. I will make sure that person walks through the door of the coming fourth by day straight to our ancestors. There, he can meet with Imhotep and see for him/herself.

  2. I have heard about the Imhotep comparison. It’s extremely disingenuous to Imhotep. Ben Carson is gifted, but he is fields away from being a polymath. Imhotep was the Chancellor of the King of Egypt, Doctor, First in line after the King of Upper Egypt, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary nobleman, High Priest of Heliopolis, Builder, Chief Carpenter, Chief Sculptor, and Maker of Vases in Chief. I am sure folks are not getting carried away by Ben Carson’s tiny resume!

  3. Are the destitute and disadvantaged supposed to secure the land, build the school, and staff it sufficient to compete with the best private schools?
    When I see a young boy in a single parent family with no work, I see potential. Carson sees himself and sees nothing but personal failure.


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