On Monday, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson introduced himself to his new agency, calling America "a land of dreams and opportunity" and raising eyebrows with his follow-up point, that "there were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less," and like other immigrants "had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land."
Carson, the only black member of Trump's Cabinet, clarified his point on Facebook Monday night, noting that "the slave narrative and immigrant narrative are two entirely different experiences," and "the two experiences should never be intertwined." He also went on SiriusXM's Urban View, telling host Armstrong Williams that a person "can be an involuntary immigrant," that "slaves came here as involuntary immigrants," and that "people need to actually look up the word 'immigrant.'" That did not stop the mockery of Carson's original speech — on Tuesday's Daily Show, for example, Trevor Noah took Carson up on his invitation to look up "immigrant":
Well, it turns out Carson wasn't the first prominent African-American to compare slaves to immigrants. During a December 2015 naturalization ceremony at the National Archives, President Barack Obama gave a speech about the immigrant experience. "After all, unless your family is Native American, one of the first Americans, our families — all of our families — come from someplace else," he said, running through some travails faced by the pilgrims, Germans, Irish, Italians, Chinese, and other waves of immigrants. Then he alluded to African slaves:
Life in America was not always easy. It wasn't always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn't easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves. There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more. [Obama, National Archives]
"From the start, Africans were brought here in chains against their will, and then toiled under the whip," Obama added later. "They also built America."