I have long admired Dr. Ben Carson; anybody who comes up out of poverty, goes from a "D" to an "A" student, learns to love to read and to love learning, who also pays forward and gives back, through scholarships to the needy and the deserving, and who is a personal example of moral uprightness, and accepts all people regardless of their skin color -- who, as an expert surgeon, separates twins conjoined at the head -- is my kind of hero. Dr. Ben Carson has a lot to teach and a lot of healing to do yet. But now, as Dr. Ben Carson nears retirement, and is toying with standing fast on the political or media stage -- or both -- he is, distressingly, showing a side of his character that is not so nice and not at all compassionate.
I watched and cringed when I heard Dr. Ben Carson on Sean Hannity's Fox TV show give his reasons for opposing same-sex marriage even as the United States Supreme Court is considering the matter as a civil rights or states' rights issue in their decision. He opined that traditional marriage is something that needs to be upheld by the High Court because, well, because of tradition. Worse, he started descending into unintelligent babble as to how same-sex marriage is as much an abomination as bestiality and pedophilia.
And I wept for Dr. Carson when I heard his first "apology" for his inane analogy -- the "if I offended anyone" offer. Such apologies are hardly ever genuine or accepted. It was even less convincing when he went on TV and demeaned the students -- whom he (mistakenly) counted as only eight in total -- that signed the petition urging that he not be the speaker at the Johns Hopkins University commencement this year. And, I really shook when he lashed out at those who criticized his unvarnished and crude defense of traditional marriage (that as between one man and one woman, and when he simultaneously and hypothetically warned against opening the door to marriage between adults and beasts or between adults and children). He poured oil on the fire he started when he then lambasted "white liberals" as "the most racist people there are" because white liberals, according to the diagnosis of Dr. Ben Carson, "put you in a little category, a box. You have to think this way; how could you dare come off the plantation?" he exclaimed. Doctor, doctor -- that's the kind of racial rhetoric and paranoia one might expect from a hothead, not from a renowned neurosurgeon whose legend, maturity and mastery over a youthful uncontrollable temper are memorialized in the film -- Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story.
Dr. Carson's opposition to the High Court's possibly okaying same-sex marriage is in part because he fears a slippery slope -- he is concerned about what will come next if our Supreme Court sanctions same-sex marriage. He said no group has a right to change the definition of marriage. Really? He is wrong historically and he is wrong constitutionally. Moreover, he's having a panic attack in his smearing of white liberals as "racist" and thinking of homosexuals in the same sentence and same breath as he frets about society, through court decisions, opening the door to bestiality and pedophilia.
Dr. Ben Carson is learned enough to know better. What are we to make of the doctor's words of warning against messing with the traditional definition of marriage, of his conjuring up the imagery of human beings eventually being allowed by the state to marry apes, and to marry their own or others' children? My, my... I haven't heard such stupidity since I studied the warnings to the Supreme Court as the nation was debating and awaiting its decision as to "whether" to overturn the State of Virginia's and other states' bans on interracial marriage. Back then, as long ago as the 1960s, the voices opposed to interracial marriage also warned of a slippery slope, and of backlash against the Court itself, of the people not being ready for an edict of such moment from the High Court as striking down states' anti-miscegenation laws. Impure and crazed fears of bestiality were prevalent back then, too, especially because blacks were regarded in the sickest precincts as beasts, not as human beings entitled to the equal protection of the laws. Whites who married blacks were written out of "the white race," by law.
One would think that Dr. Carson, who is African American and a student of history and race relations, would know all of this, rather than repeat the errant and same old morally bankrupt arguments that were posed against blacks and whites marrying -- against blacks and whites whose only sin was they loved each other and wanted to live as married couples, in peace, in states that prohibited them from doing so -- simply on the grounds that they were supposedly of a different "races." Back then, being "black" and being "white" in Virginia was the equivalent of oil and water -- the two just did not mix.
I will want to schedule an appointment to see Dr. Carson because an intelligent and civil discussion can be had between us, about politics, about the separation of church and state, about culture, about the role of law and the rules of limited government; and because I want to review with him the history and the development of federal civil rights protections and victories over states' incursions on individual liberty. He, the black conservative, and I, the black liberal, will read in advance or together the Loving v. Virginia decision of the Supreme Court -- one of the Supreme Court's greatest triumphs over local options and rancid bigotry, when the High Court put the federal Constitution's equal protection clause on the side of the right of blacks and whites to marry outside their "race." He and I will also read the briefs that set out the defense of anti-miscegenation laws and the briefs that said those laws offended decency and deprived citizens of their rights to dignity and equal protection of the laws. We will re-learn about the period in America when there were similar rants about bestiality and fears of a slippery slope, when the same red flags got waved at the justices -- as some very well-intentioned and also some mean-spirited folks told the court to go slow, and urged the High Court's nine justices to respect the sovereignty of the fifty states.
We civil righters, black and white, and other, liberal and otherwise, said to heck with going slow.
A black and white couple who marries in Washington, D.C. can't be any less married if they move to Virginia. The Court put it in legalese but they answered cogently and plainly the central question at hand: it was wrong, it was indecent, it was beyond the power of the state to put arbitrary and stupid restrictions on any one's fundamental rights. Marriage, said the Court, was a fundamental constitutional right of our citizenry, no matter their skin color. And so, today, virtually the same question is before the High Court: Is a same-sex couple who lives, say, in New York, any less married if they move to South Carolina? Is the same-sex couple who got married in California, when it was legal to do so, any less married today because voters in a referendum repealed same-sex marriage in California? Does the federal government get to pick and choose and ban some marriages on the basis that the couple are same-sex rather than heterosexual? Doesn't -- and when will -- the federal Constitution's full faith and credit clause and its equal protection of the laws clause kick in on the side of expanding personal liberty, human decency, upholding that couple's civil rights, and recognizing rather than clobbering their legal union?
A civil discussion with the good doctor is possible and urgent because he is too smart to side with idiocy, too keen not to observe bigotry when he hears it, and too steeped in recent history of social change to mock the forward movement in law that's liberated all of us from base prejudices and from societal goofballs who raised all kinds of objections to equal rights. But when the good doctor and I talk, I won't be able to talk rationally with a man of learning who rants about liberals' engaging in "plantation politics." I am a sensible liberal, and I eschew all such race talk, from any quarter. The doctor is right to regard such thinking as antebellum and as demeaning and ugly. And it's wrong that any number of thunderheads (including silly compensated pundits on MSNBC) have called Dr. Carson names. But as my mother used to say, "If a name doesn't fit you, if it doesn't describe you or your purposes, don't answer to it." Ignore the calumny, doctor; instead, let's you and I talk -- not about religion per se (we will disagree) but about the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. Neither you (the conservative) nor I (the liberal) has finished our race -- but both of us should by now be tired and disgusted by the polarizing politics of race talk, and with the inane racial posturing that invokes such alarms as returning to "plantations," chains, and slavery.
Michael Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition.