Dear Dr. Carson,
You don’t know me. But you think you do.
You think that I am oppressed and subservient. That my male relatives’ sole purpose in life is to exert the religiously-mandated gender superiority onto me. And that as a result, I am uneducated and fearful, unable to form or articulate my own thoughts.
You think I’m a problem to this country. That I’m not fit to run for public office.
More recently, you’ve gone to great lengths to marginalize people who share my faith, comparing them to rabid dogs and said the country is doing a “poor job” for not already having all of us monitored in a database. In fact, so little do you bother to learn about our issues that you pronounced Hamas the same way you would a Middle Eastern spread.
The current views you espouse are especially jarring to me because when you first appeared on my radar, it wasn’t like this.
I was 13 years old when I had just returned to the United States after living in India for a few years. It was the summer before high school and I was nervous — Would I fit in? Would the kids like me? How would I fare in the American education system after being in the British Indian one for so long?
To distract from my worries, I threw myself into my summer required reading list: Richard Wright’s “Black Boy,” John Howard Griffin’s “Black Like Me” and your biography “Gifted Hands.”
I read your book with perhaps the most vigor. I remember reading your book and eating spinach ravioli for the first time, taking in both the pasta and your words as fast as I could. I was mesmerized by your perseverance in the face of the immense odds stacked against you: A Black man raised by an illiterate single mother in the 1960s who went on to become one of the world’s most renowned neurosurgeons.
I was incredibly inspired by your ascent to the ranks of a John Hopkins’ neurosurgeon, a feat in itself without the immense roadblocks that come with being a person of color.
I felt, dare I say, proud when I read of how you were the first person able to separate a pair of conjoined twins. I felt my gut tighten while reading about how people treated you differently — mostly worse — because of the color of your skin. It’s a feeling not unlike what I feel when people make Islamophobic comments against me, my loved ones, and my community.
I especially enjoyed the chapter recalling your courtship with your future wife Candy. How you both spoke on the phone for eight hours one time when you were in medical school and how your concerns about not being able to pay the subsequent phone bill were assuaged when the phone company dismissed the charge believing it wasn’t humanly possible for anybody to converse that long.
I even remember telling my dad, somewhat gleefully, about the anecdote because even during adolescence, he had told me I would be going to med or law school and there would be no romance in either scenario. I wanted your story to be proof that one could partake in a cheesy romance and still be hugely successful in a professional field.
Based on your current beliefs, I can only surmise that the most unbelievable part of all this to you must be that a Muslim father wanted his daughter to go to medical school.
Having been gone from the U.S. during the formative years of adolescence, I missed the history classes that could have given me a better understanding of the racial history of America. I knew the basics, but didn’t fully understand the ramifications of this history, how my life as a Desi American included some privilege.
Your book, as well as works from other people of color, helped me understand what the Black community had and were still having to go through to survive in a post-racial america. That summer was crucial for me to understand why Black Lives Matter and why we still had a long way to go as a country to achieve even basic racial equality.
Thanks to your book and the others, I do not end up on the opposite side of the street when passing a black man, and with that act, the wrong side of history.
Truthfully, I was unaware of your political aspirations until last summer, when a particularly right-leaning patient expressed his desire to have “That Muslim commie Obama impeached and replaced by Dr. Ben Carson!”
Ben Carson? The Gifted Hands Surgeon Ben Carson? Really?
When I researched your politics, I was not prepared for the disappointment. Your platform consisted of everything that your book, and the subsequent ideas I had formed of you, did not.
All of these groups contain people who have faced immense prejudice and institutional discrimination, yet still manage to endure, much like you did decades ago. The irony doesn’t stop there, as your comments have even been rebuked even by those in your own party.
That this hateful rhetoric at the expense of people like me is giving you gains in the polls and fundraising can only mean that you will continue down this heartbreaking path.
I thank you for your bravery in sharing your struggle and for helping me understand racial politics in America during my formative years. However, I most definitely will not be voting for you, though your actions have made it abundantly clear that you neither seek nor desire a vote from someone like me.
You don’t know me. But you think you do.
Dr. Nishat Fatima
Written by Dr. Nishat Fatima.