For Ben Carson to Woo Black Voters, It'll Take More Than a Rap Song - Rolling Stone
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For Ben Carson to Woo Black Voters, It’ll Take More Than a Rap Song

Carson’s using a tactic that hasn’t worked since Bill Clinton took his saxophone on ‘Arsenio Hall’

Ben Carson

Ben Carson's new campaign ad is an attempt to reach black voters.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Ben Carson just released a rap song to help him become the next president of the United States. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking the rap is a joke – perhaps a satirical attempt to mock Carson’s inability to connect with young, black voters. (The fact that the instrumental is reminiscent of the end-credits for Boondocks doesn’t help.) But it was not created in jest, as Carson verifies at the end of the track by announcing he “endorses this message.” Indeed, Carson – a black man from Detroit who’s become famous for rising out of the poverty and violence that surrounded him in his youth to become a world-renown neurosurgeon – is compelled to try and appear “hip” and “in touch” to black youth.

As he fights to maintain his lead in the polls, Carson’s doing what many old and middle-aged politicians have done to appeal to a younger constituency, especially minorities: appear to be “down.” This is the same outdated campaign mentality that made Hillary Clinton go on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and “whip” like she was icing a sprained wrist and “nae nae” like she was waving goodbye to Joe Biden’s potential candidacy. It’s a “seem cool to black voters” tactic that probably hasn’t worked since Bill Clinton took his saxophone on Arsenio Hall.

The other problem with this strategy, in Carson’s case, is that he doesn’t seem to realize that young, black voters care about issues that affect, well, young, black people. 

Take the Black Lives Matter movement: It was founded by Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, all young, black women. Likewise, the organizers of the 2014 Millions March in New York City were Synead Nichols and Umaara Elliott, both young, black women. And many of the other organizations and activists who’ve been leading and participating in the fight against systemic racism, police brutality and the prison industrial complex are young, black men and women.

What Ben Carson should know about the group he’s trying to connect with is that they pay attention to his words more closely than his own base does. When Carson said Obamacare is the worst thing “since slavery,” it was young, black people who heard him. When Carson called the Black Lives Matter movement “sickening,” it was young, black people who heard him. And when he said that the movement should become “All Lives Matter,” young, black people heard him loud and clear. 

What young African-Americans want to hear from a brilliant black neurosurgeon raised in the inner city of Detroit is that he understands their fears, their qualms with the political process and their legitimate mistrust of many people and organizations. They want to hear him acknowledge the hurdles they face, and that he knows, first-hand, how to overcome them. They want to trust that he has their best interests at heart.

But he has consistently proven that he cares far more about toeing the Tea Party line than relating to black voters in any meaningful and honest way.

And there’s not a rap song on earth that can mend that divide.


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