It’s been a little while since Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson has said something controversial. After previously regaling the press with tales about how the Egyptian pyramids were built to store grain and how slaves from Africa were really our first immigrants, he’s back with a new spicy morsel of information for us plebeians.
In an interview with SiriusXM Radio Wednesday, Ben Carson revealed that poverty is largely a result of a “state of mind.” He explained:
I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody that has the right mindset, 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. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you could give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.
Look, there’s definitely a hint of truth in what Ben’s saying. There are some people that have been able to work their way out of horrible situations through sheer determination and grit … and a hell of a lot of luck. But it’s so rare as to be almost not even worth mentioning. There’s no “large extent” at play here. There are massive, systemic issues that plague the poor in our country, not to mention issues of racism and other inherent biases that could play into somebody’s ability to find jobs and make money. It can’t just be that people living in poverty are there because they’re just too sad to do anything else.
His comments are unhelpful at best, and harmful and degrading at worst. Blaming poor people for their poverty has a long, rich tradition, but it’s time we consider the possibility that maybe there’s more to it than having a can-do attitude and chipper outlook on life.
Fortunately, Carson is at least marginally aware of the role the government can play:
I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful. It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.
Like most things Carson has said, these recent remarks appear to be more the misguided ramblings of a genial—if somewhat senile—grandfather. They aren’t intentionally inflammatory or malicious, but also—please just shut up, already. You’re not adding anything to the conversation.
Watch Carson make the comment in question below.