Ben Carson has made a profitable second career of his redemption story. However, recent investigations suggest that the tale is either substantially fictitious, or significantly embellished. Fortunately for Dr. Carson, the facts of truth vs. fiction will have no bearing on his appeal to his principally white conservative audience. It will have no bearing because Carson's redemption story reinforces their vision of blacks in American society, and their sense of their own cultural place in its driver's seat.
Carson claims that as a youth he had "a horrible temper." He says he tried to hit his mother with a hammer, stab a friend or relative (depending on which version he's telling at the moment), and hit a fellow student in the head with a fist in which he clutched a padlock. Carson wrote, "I had what I only can label a pathological temper--a disease--and this sickness controlled me, making me totally irrational."
Interestingly, those who knew Carson in his formative years paint a different picture. They recall a quiet, studious young man. News outlets have been unable to verify Carson's accounts of youthful violence. CNN spoke to nine friends, classmates and neighbors who knew young Carson, and they recall someone different. One old acquaintance recalled him as, "an obedient child who would not defy his mother's rule against crossing the street, even when she wasn't around to enforce it." Carson has since railed against these investigations into his past and insists he's telling the truth about his former predilection for blunt force trauma.
The Daily Show's Trevor Noah, among others, have noted the irony of a politician growing angry that he's not being depicted as a violent sociopath.
This is particularly telling since Carson's rags-to-riches story of a black man rising from poverty to become a famed neurosurgeon is sufficiently compelling on its own. But Carson insists on gilding the lily. Not only was he poor, he rages, but he was violent to boot. He dabs himself with the racist trope of the black brute as if it were cologne--a spritz of a knifing here, a splash of a head-bashing there... all occurring behind closed doors so that most who knew him never noticed. This scent places him--as the the poor, violent, black youth--squarely within the stereotypical expectations of a white audience raised on images of the violent black savage. By adding thuggishness to his resume, Carson completes a white audience's bias-fueled expectation of him--poor, black, and violent--the stereotype trifecta.
This portrait of irrational brutishness also gives Carson's redemption story some extra oomph. Having shown himself adhering to the principal stereotypes in his white audience's heads, he shows how one of their most cherished beliefs saved him. According to the Pew Research Center, Mormons and white evangelical Protestants lean overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. These are groups that claim Divine inspiration for any number of political and social beliefs, from opposition to gay marriage to hatred of Obamacare. It's fair to say that an Evangelical worldview is practically synonymous with a conservative one. By insisting to his white audience that the religion they claim as their own cured him of his savage ways, Carson doffs his hat to white cultural supremacy. It is, he suggests, the only force--save the criminal justice system which, he insists, he barely avoided--sufficiently profound to cure the black brute of his inbred savagery.
It is odd to see a politician so desirous to paint himself a sociopath, but it makes more sense when you add historical preconceptions and stereotypes of black male violence at the nexus of white evangelical conservatism. By turning himself into his audience's perfect stereotype of a young black brute, Carson strengthens their assurance in their racial preconceptions. Then, with his redemption at the hands of evangelical Protestantism, he assures them that they hold the key to his salvation.
It's been suggested that Carson's run for the Republican presidential nomination is as much a business venture as a political one. If that's the case, it's adhering religiously to the old showbiz adage, "Give the people what they want and they'll fill the theater."