Literally everyone I told about Ben Carson equating slaves with immigrants made a face like they had bitten on a lemon. The comparison is distasteful at a visceral level, because what we think of as immigration does not include being captured and shipped in chains to a strange land for sale, raping and breeding. Once it was pointed out that Barack Obama, rather than only Trump’s notoriously clueless HUD Secretary ( He believes, for example, that Egypt’s pyramids were built to store grain, not dead pharaohs), also championed this false equivalency, many rushed to defend it. The default argument was that old standby of the desperate, the dictionary, asserting that the most common definition of immigrant, “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country,” applies to those who arrived in slave ships too. It is an intellectually dishonest position. Wikipedia accurately describes what immigrant means in common parlance–and it isn’t slavery:
Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take-up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker
In discussing “push and pull factors,” the article notes:
Push factors refer primarily to the motive for immigration from the country of origin. In the case of economic migration (usually labor migration), differentials in wage rates are common. If the value of wages in the new country surpasses the value of wages in one’s native country, he or she may choose to migrate, as long as the costs are not too high. Particularly in the 19th century, economic expansion of the US increased immigrant flow, and nearly 15% of the population was foreign-born, thus making up a significant amount of the labor force.
How odd, then, that the Africans slaves were pushed to “migrate” to a land where they received no wages at all! Of course, the “costs” were paid for by others, so that was one incentive, I guess…
Non-economic push factors include persecution (religious and otherwise), frequent abuse, bullying, oppression, ethnic cleansing, genocide, risks to civilians during war, and social marginalization..
Wow, those African “immigrants” were strange. They immigrated to get more persecution, terrible abuse, and ultimate social marginalization!
I confess I find the defense of this intentional blurring of material distinctions for cynical demagoguery as annoying as the demagoguery itself.
Fortunately, texagg04 managed to be more restrained, and approaches the issue from a different and interesting perspective. Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Double Standards, Hypocrisy, News Media Bias, “Bias Makes You Stupid” And Cognitive Dissonance—This One Has Them All! Thanks, Ben Carson!”:
The problem with calling African American slaves an immigrant population, even if by some clinical comparison the definition of “immigrant” can match the bare essentials of moving the slaves from Africa to America, what it fails to include is that the slaves and their immediate descendants and arguably several generations of descendants after that never went through an immigrant “experience”.
They never “wanted to come,” and in forced isolation from the greater community they never went through the initial shock of assimilation, and they never began to venture out into the greater community, not for GENERATIONS.
There is no doubt that by the early 1900s, these descendants of slaves were well on their way to beginning a true equivalence of an “immigration experience,” as generations that had never experienced slavery could look around America and say “I want to be here and I want to fit in the greater society.” And you see that, as you see the initial stages of the assimilation shock, with new generations being less ingrained with the “old culture” and with more in common with the “majority culture”.
But of course we know the story. There was a greater hostility towards these “immigrants” than towards those with the more traditional immigrant experiences (though there is always friction towards any immigrant group). We also know that well into the process in the mid-1900s, the assimilation was actually going relatively well, if a bit slower simply due to the already atypical starting conditions of the large population of belatedly free African-Americans. The mid-1900s process was undermined in part by pus back from some elements in the larger community, and also in large part by forces that didn’t necessarily want them fully integrated, seeing political profit in keeping them divided from the larger community.
I wonder: Can the “immigrant experience” can ever be rejuvenated?