News & Politics

Ben Carson's 'Fall From Grace' Amongst Black Americans

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a rally Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. Carson spoke at a church in Las Vegas earlier in the day before speaking to a crowd at the rally in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Dr. Ben Carson was not a top choice for me in the 2016 GOP primaries. Despite his national profile, I thought that his political aspirations would have been best served by running for U.S. Senate. Carson, who grew up in a single-parent home, managed to climb out of poverty and become a world-renowned neurosurgeon who famously separated twins who had been born conjoined at the head. He’s also conservative.

At the time, America was already paying a terrible price for electing a president who wasn’t qualified. Carson’s life story may be inspirational, and he may be a gifted neurosurgeon, but that didn’t mean he was presidential caliber. Carson eventually failed in his bid to win the GOP nomination, but now serves as Donald Trump’s HUD secretary, and his embrace of Donald Trump has irked the African-American community, which has become convinced that Trump is the epitome of racism. This animus toward Trump has manifested itself in the community he once inspired souring on him.

Yesterday the Associated Press wrote a story on Ben Carson’s “fall from grace” in Baltimore, Maryland.

The portrait used to hang in the hallway, welcoming children and parents to the Archbishop Borders School in Baltimore: A smiling Dr. Ben Carson in surgical scrubs, rubbing together the careful, steady hands that helped him become the nation’s most famous black doctor.

“The person who has the most to do with your success is you,” it reads.

That was before Carson’s presidential bid, before he withdrew from the race and endorsed Donald Trump, before he was tapped to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was before he worked for a president who failed to condemn white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. And before Carson pushed policies critics say walk back civil rights protections for those living in subsidized housing.

“I took it down,” said Principal Alicia Freeman of the portrait she’s since placed out of public view. Although the school, whose student body is majority Hispanic, black and low-income, has a reading room funded by Carson’s foundation, the doctor’s inspirational message now feels hostile, she said. “He was starting to become offensive.”

According to Bishop Frank Reid, a former pastor at Baltimore’s Bethel AME Church, “The Trump virus is weakening Ben Carson’s image.” According to Reid, Carson is still respected, “But he is no longer the hero he once was.”

But, Carson’s “fall from grace” predates both his presidential run and Donald Trump. His status amongst the African-American community first started cracking after his infamous speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast when he publicly rebuked Obamacare and Obama’s spending policies while Obama sat a few feet away. Carson ramped up attacks on Obama and his policies, which saw the erosion of his support amongst urban African-American communities that saw him as a symbol of pride for black America.

The Washington Post noted in May 2015 that Carson’s national profile as a conservative hurt his status as a black role model. As he prepared to announce his presidential campaign, his political base was now “whiter and more rural.”

Carson’s personal accomplishments — and the work he has done to help black communities — still garner respect and pride among African Americans. Yet, while he has been a conservative for as long as he has been famous, many worry that he risks eroding his legacy in their community and transforming himself into a fringe political figure.

Some black pastors who were Carson’s biggest promoters have stopped recommending his book. Members of minority medical organizations that long boasted of their affiliations with him say he is called an “embarrassment” on private online discussion groups.

“Has he lost his sense of who he is?” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, a prominent black pastor in Baltimore, where Carson lived for decades when he was director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “He does not see he is the next Herman Cain.”

While it’s easy to say this is a reaction to Trump, it’s clear the real issue is his conservative politics.  Why is it that so many refuse to accept that his inspiring story is a conservative story, and always has been? Carson’s conservative values are what enabled him to lift himself out of poverty to international acclaim. Why do they refuse to report that the conservative values and policies he espouses are exactly what made him successful and an inspiration in the first place?

Carson may have been a lackluster politician, and he’s arguably been underwhelming as HUD secretary, but it’s unfortunate that so many in the black community who once embraced his conservative message turned their backs on him once they realized that message was conservative.