Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson shared some rather pointed thoughts about the issue of poverty in America in an interview for SiriusXM's Town Hall that aired on Wednesday night. During the interview, Ben Carson called poverty a "state of mind" — but that's not the worst remark he had to make about the 43.1 million people living below poverty line in the United States.
According to CNN, Carson went on to say that poverty is something children learn from their parents, telling host Armstrong Williams, "A lot of it has to do with what we teach children. You have to instill into that child the mindset of a winner." Here's what Ben Carson had to say about this strange "state of mind" that affects 13.5 percent of America:
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.
Carson did not immediately return Romper's request for comment.
Saying that poverty is a state of mind is a pretty bold statement, especially coming from a man who, according to Forbes, has a net worth of $26 million. Carson has been outspoken about his own family's poverty when he grew up in Detroit, Michigan, where his single mother worked several jobs to keep Carson and his younger brother afloat. He has credited his mother's resiliency — and some help from the government — for his rise to success. Carson wrote in his 1992 autobiography Gifted Hands how public assistance played a role in his upbringing — and his mother's aversion to having to rely on it:
I knew [my mother] was trying to keep us off public assistance. By the time I went into ninth grade, Mother had made such strides that she received nothing except food stamps. She couldn’t have provided for us and kept up the house without that subsidy.
The year he released his autobiography, Carson told Fortune that he was "the luckiest man" he's ever met. So, if you're looking at the world through Ben Carson's glasses — supplied by the government when he was a kid, as The Washington Post noted in 2015 — rising out of poverty is as easy as having "the mindset of a winner." Forget the issue of systemic poverty that keeps people poor in America — if you merely think like a winner, the world is your oyster with opportunities waiting at every turn.
According to Carson, all America's poor have to do is "think" their way out of their circumstances. Tell that to nearly 20 percent of American children who live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — or the 20 million children who need free or reduced school lunches, which are on the GOP chopping block. But Carson's assertion that poverty is a state of mind is something that conservatives eat up while falsely equivocating Carson's rags-to-riches success story as THE model that all people in poverty should — and can – follow. The issue of alleviating poverty in America is far more complex and systemic than wishful thinking and bootstrapping oneself out.
New York Rep. Nita Lowey summed it up best in the major backlash against Carson on social media:
Maybe Carson should go back to taking a nap instead of espousing damaging and false rhetoric about America's poor.