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Conservative commentator blames single moms and “women’s lib” for police violence

As I mentioned yesterday, it was probably only a matter of time before someone found a way to blame feminism for the police violence that’s taken center stage in the national conversation in the last few weeks. Conservative commentator Dr. Ben Carson’s attempt to tie the murders of black men at the hands of the police back to the “women’s lib movement” and the “Me generation” of the ’60s in an interview on American Family Radio’s “Today’s Issues” is truly a sight to behold. 

“Certainly in a lot of our inner cities, particularly in the black inner cities, where 73 percent of the young people are born out of wedlock, the majority of them have no father figure in their life. Usually the father figure is where you learn how to respond to authority. So now you become a teenager, you’re out there, you really have no idea how to respond to authority, you eventually run into the police or you run into somebody else in the neighborhood who also doesn’t know how to respond but is badder than you are, and you get killed or you end up in the penal system.”

He went on to agree with host Lauren Kitchens Steward that a culture of “entitlement” dominates the young generation — and claims we must have learned it from our selfish, feminist baby boomer mothers.

“I think a lot of it really got started in the ’60s with the ‘Me’ generation. ‘What’s in it for me?'” Carson said. “I hate to say it, but a lot of it had to do with the women’s lib movement. You know, ‘I’ve been taking care of my family, I’ve been doing that, what about me?’ You know, it really should be about us.”

Scapegoating single mothers for every social problem under the sun — and blaming the “women’s lib movement” for convincing American women that they didn’t have to stay in unhappy marriages — is, of course, a favorite conservative tactic. It would certainly be convenient for them if this analysis had literally anything to do with reality and wasn’t instead a way of trying to distract from the fact that the very problems single mothers get blamed for — like, for instance, child poverty — were often created and maintained by conservative policies.

It’s no different went it comes to police violence in communities of color. Putting aside the fact that it’s just untrue that the majority of kids “born out of wedlock” lack a father figure — most “single” mothers have partners and most “unwed” dads are a daily presence in their kids’ lives — if we want to talk about absent fathers in low-income, black communities, we should probably talk about where some of those dads are. We should talk about how conservative politicians launched a racist War on Drugs that’s quadrupled our prison population over the last few decades by disproportionately locking up black and brown men for breaking minor drug laws that everyone in the damn country breaks.

And if we’re going to talk about what happens when black kids “run into the police,” we should probably drop the implicit conceit that this is some random occurrence, when, of course, the police come to you, and they come to black folks in Ferguson more than they do to white people — just like they do, on the individual and community levels, across the US. This creates such enormous racial disparities in Americans’ interactions with the police that while the NYPD is making more stop and frisk stops of black men than there are black men in New York City, in my 28 years living as a white woman in large urban centers of this country, I can count the number of times I’ve “run into the police” on one hand. This is not a game of chance — this is the consequence of policies that have embedded structural racism in the policing and criminal legal system.

And, above all, if we’re going to talk about what black kids learn about how to “respond to authority,” we should probably tell the truth — which is exactly the opposite of Carson’s claim. If anyone understands — on a deep, visceral level — how much learning to “respond to authority” matters to their futures — to their very survival — it is young black men. Even before they learn it through their thousands of interactions with “authority” on the streets and in every institution they encounter, they learn from their parents — those parents that Carson demonizes, those parents desperately trying to keep their kids safe in a world stacked against them — that their lives may depend on it.


St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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