Newly sworn-in Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson didn’t wait long to stoke a media controversy.
In his first day in office, he lit up the mainstream media with an infelicitous comment comparing “slaves” to “immigrants.”
— CNN (@CNN) March 7, 2017
A nefarious conflation of the terms or unfortunate malapropism rooted in the lack of clarity surrounding the dictionary definition of the word “immigrant”?
In an interview on “The Armstrong Williams Show,” reported by Mediaite, Carson made the argument that immigrants can be “involuntary.”
“Slaves came here as involuntary immigrants,” Carson said, “but they still had the strength to hold on.”
Here are 11 dictionary definitions that may or may not lead one to give Secretary Carson the benefit of the doubt.
3. The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin)
Perhaps surprisingly, none of the dictionary definitions stipulate “voluntary” or “involuntary,” or specifically rule out slaves. The definitions merely state, with little variation, that an immigrant is “a person who migrates to another country” or a “comes to live in a country from some other country.”
It is a language gap that may or may not be corrected after Dr. Carson raising the issue to national attention. As for the new HUD Secretary, he attempted to clarify the matter and explain that he did not mean to conflate the terms “slaves” and “immigrants” or their historical experiences:
I’m proud of the courage and perseverance of Black Americans and their incomprehensible struggle from slavery to…
This is what Dr. Carson wrote:
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.
Dr. Ben Carson
Secretary of HUD
It looks like dictionary writers — and perhaps, other members of the news media — have some work to do.