Liberal commentator Marc Lamont Hill says “the greatest lie in American history is the myth of the self-made person.”
Hill was debating Ben Carson’s childhood story with radio talk show host Ben Ferguson. The commentator and university professor said:
Absolutely, absolutely, I mean, Ben Carson — the greatest lie in American history is the myth of the self-made person. Nobody makes themselves. We’re all shaped by communities, by people who struggled and sacrificed for us, by governments that offer safety nets. And what Ben Carson is able to do essentially is reject all that stuff and say that I was saved.
Ferguson interrupted and said,”The government didn’t make me, though, Marc.”
Ben Carson is able to say, “I was saved by Jesus and hard work.” That allows him to reject a safety net. That allows him to push back against the expansion of a welfare state. That allows him to resist tax cuts for the middle class and poor and tax hikes for the wealthy. It allows him to create an entire narrative where people say, “Hey, wait a minute, why are you doing this?” Ben Carson can say, “Hey, because I did it myself,” and it makes white voters feel comfortable to say that, “Look, this black guy himself is telling me poor people…(INAUDIBLE)
Breitbart News reached out to Hill for comment. Hill responded by email:
No one, in America or elsewhere, is self-made. All of us are shaped by a range of forces, institutions, networks, and policies. This does not negate the hard work that individuals do. Rather, it places it in context. For example, many of our parents and grandparents worked very hard to move from poverty to prosperity. But many did so against the backdrop of a GI Bill, which helped create the white middle class. I, personally, grew up in a poor neighborhood, where I was surrounded by drugs and violence. Yes, I managed to get out through hard work and personal responsibility. But I also had parents, mentors, religious institutions, coaches, and public policies that helped to reward my efforts. After all, for example, there are surely women in Saudi Arabia or young boys in Mexico who work just as hard as I do but won’t be rewarded because of social and structural barriers. Again, I’m not negating hard work. I’m placing it in context.
When asked by Breitbart News about Carson’s story specifically, Hill said that he, “wouldn’t say that Ben Carson’s self-help message is entirely mythic.” He added:
That would be unfair to him and negate his impressive individual story. My point is not about Carson in particular. It’s about the traditional American “bootstraps” narrative that allows everyone to take full credit for their success and failure without any reasonable appeal to context. The political danger of these stories is that when it comes time to expand or sustain public policy, people appeal to these “self-made” narrative as evidence that we don’t need a social safety net, government investment, etc. People can simply say “Well if Carson could do it, so can you!”
— Jennifer Henderson (@JenHenCNN) November 8, 2015