Thursday, May 25, 2017

The privilege that Ben Carson and I share

Carson is getting a lot of abuse, I think unfairly,  for saying this [NYT link]:
“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind,” he said, according to a transcript of the interview that was released on Wednesday. “You take somebody that has the right mind-set, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.” 
He added that helping people may not better their lives. 
“You take somebody with the wrong mind-set, you can give them everything in the world — they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom,” Mr. Carson said.
He expressed himself poorly. The expression "state of mind" suggests that poverty is just in people's minds. But the larger context makes it clear that isn't what he meant so, while we might wish he'd picked his words more carefully, those criticizing him are being unfair.

What Carson is actually talking about is a kind of privilege. We might think, for example, that a child born to upper-middle class people with university education is more privileged than someone born to poor, uneducated people who make their living in ways that are sometimes illegal. On average, it would be good bet to say that the former child is more likely to succeed than the latter. But you couldn't say it with certainty. The first set of parents might exploit the cushion their financial and social security to live dissolute lives with a lot of recreational drug use and emotional instability. They could further hamper their child's chances by teaching her that life is unfair and that there is no connection between hard work and discipline on the one hand and success in life on the latter. The child of the second set of parents might decide to break the pattern of her family and live a life of discipline and hard work and succeed. In fact, she did for the profile I give above is my maternal grandmother.

By any objective definition my grandmother was a victim but she refused to see herself that way. And she taught my mother likewise and she then taught me. Ben Carson's mother was like that too.
“If everybody had a mother like mine, nobody would be in poverty,” Mr. Carson said. “She was a person who absolutely would not accept the status of victim.”
I have mixed feelings bout my mother but there is no denying that she refused to let me think of myself as a victim and that has been a huge advantage for me in my life. That is a kind of privilege.

No comments:

Post a Comment