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Ben Carson: unlike me, Barack Obama was "raised white"

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dr. Ben Carson is questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama's connection to the black community, arguing that it's "a bit of a stretch" for Obama to claim he identifies with black Americans, because he was raised by a white mother.

"He’s an 'African' American. He was, you know, raised white," the Republican presidential candidate said of Obama in an interview with Politico's Glenn Thrush published on Tuesday.

Carson added: "I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when [Obama] was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up. … Many of his formative years were spent in Indonesia. So, for him to, you know, claim that, you know, he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch."

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, rose to prominence among conservatives after criticizing Obama in a 2013 National Prayer Breakfast, with the president sitting only a few feet away. However, Carson's current presidential campaign has all but failed, and his candidacy has been more recently associated with questions about why he remains in the race and his odd musings about health care for bear attack victims in early America.

Race, Carson, and Obama

Before entering the political arena, Carson was widely lauded for turning a hardscrabble upbringing in Detroit into a successful career as a neurosurgeon.

"Carson has been a black icon since 1987, when he became the first person to successfully separate twins conjoined at the backs of their heads," the Washington Post said in May 2015. "He was a rare and much-desired role model: a black man who became known for his intellect, not for telling jokes or shooting basketballs."

But as that Washington Post story detailed, Carson's status as a role model in the black community has been increasingly jeopardized by his sharply worded attacks on President Obama — the same attacks that have been largely responsible for his rise in politics. (Carson once said Obamacare was the "worst thing to have happened in this nation since slavery," for instance.)

Carson's recent comments about Obama's racial authenticity are probably not going to help. The president enjoys overwhelming support among African Americans, and Carson's line — judging from the initial reaction on Twitter — is more likely to be met by outrage than anything else.

Then again, Carson himself may have preempted that criticism. In his interview, he noted that conservative African Americans face more vitriol in response to their views than conservatives who are white.

"They assume because you’re black, you have to think a certain way," Carson said in his Politico interview. "And if you don’t think that way, you’re ‘Uncle Tom,’ you’re worthy of every horrible epithet they can come up with; whereas, if I weren’t black, then I would just be a Republican."

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