Ben Carson and the Dangers of Black Exceptionalism

Dr. Ben Carson made headlines for this week for his comments aligning immigrants and enslaved Africans. This comment produced its intended effect and proved viral, prompting many to attack Carson for his comments.While many condemned Carson’s for his words few commented on how his actions and presence illustrate him as a tool appointed by white supremacists for a strategic reason. Namely, Carson functions to discount the black intellect, existing to illustrate said labeling an oxymoron.

Prior to his affiliation with the Trump administration, Dr. Ben Carson was a revered neurosurgeon and author who inspired many to “think big.”  However, what patently appeared an act to uplift,  was an “exceptional negro” seeking to capitalize from his exceptionalism.

There are two types of black exceptionalism—both equally poisonous. The first type of exceptionalism is the individual who does not feel he or she is exceptional but seeks comments and accolades that suggest they are above other blacks. For example, let’s consider these two comments:

A. They’re n*ggers, but you’re not.

B. You’re black? But you’re beautiful. The black women I see, they’re not beautiful.

I like to refer to this first faction as the “Insult them, not me” faction of black exceptionalism. The “Insult me, not them” faction would see these disturbing words as a compliment because their form of inferiority allows them to smile only when the complimenting source frowns at others. Their festering inferiority allows them to overlook that any comment against the collective is a comment against the individual. This dynamic functions to further black disenfranchisement as these individuals lack the self-determination necessary for advancement.  The white, or non-black source, exploits this inferiority to inflate an inferior mindset into a source of profit, which allows him to benefit from what inevitably proves a black loss.

Conversely, the second type of black exceptionalism is the individual who is already convinced of his or her exceptionalism and feels entitled to compensation via accolades or money. Thus, the provided comments would not be enough for this type of exceptional negro, as they seek compensation, not compliments. So if suffering from this second faction of black exceptionalism, upon hearing comment B, a black woman may seek lucrative modeling contracts, a beauty award, or some means to itemize on what she perceives as superior aesthetics. Furthermore, the words alone would just be a reinforcement of what she already believes to be true.

Carson fits into the second category, a negro whose ability to “beat the odds” breeds feelings of entitlement to the spoils of his exceptionalism.

Yet this exceptionalism proves counterproductive.  To be blunt, Carson garners visibility because of his presumed intellect, but this acquired visibility functions to discount said intellect. Prior to politics, Carson was what many would consider a genius. His aptitude and intelligence afforded him a celebrated career and cause for high self-esteem. Yet, his acquired visibility unveiled Carson as ignorant and bearing a self-esteem so low he seems willing to do and say anything to appease whites.

May Ben Carson’s trajectory prove didactic in illustrating that “exceptionalism” is merely a rope handed to blacks, manifested in what appears to be compliments, money or accolades. Black exceptionalism seduces the black body to stand proudly upon a pedestal that proves to be a chair the western world eventually kicks away, leaving the “exceptional” black body hanging for the world to see, ultimately forgetting why this black body was exceptional at all.