Themes of Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Themes of Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands

This essay will delve into the themes presented in Ben Carson’s autobiography “Gifted Hands,” such as determination, overcoming adversity, and the power of education. On PapersOwl, there’s also a selection of free essay templates associated with Brown V Board Of Education.

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“In the autobiography of the life and times of Ben Carson as a world-renowned neurosurgeon, Gifted Hands records the triumphs of an African American whose determination, coupled with the tough love he receives from his mother ensures he becomes an international figure professionally. The book in its raw form appeals to all medical practitioners and non-medics alike through the sheer forces that Ben went against to become the neurosurgeon that the world celebrated. The struggling kid from the poor suburbs of Detroit was later to surmount racism, discrimination, humiliation, shame, and poverty to become the successful doctor that is now retired from active practice.

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The struggles of the early 1960s were not unique to Detroit, however. Neither was it only experienced among African Americans. It comes more than two decades after the Great Depression whose effects took a toll on the economy proper. Born in the post war era, right before the Civil Rights Movement, Ben Carson’s life was impacted by major state and federal social welfare policies, such as Brown V. Board of Education, “Food Stamp Acts of 1964”, Civil Right Acts, Social Security Amendment Acts, Elementary and Secondary Education Acts. This paper analyzes Gifted Hands with critics of some of above social welfare policies in the context of human rights, social, economic and environmental justice among other aspects.


The main themes of Gifted Hands are education, poverty, unemployment, and inequality associated with racism, discrimination, and social justice. In the period of 1950-1960’s, African Americans were effectively fighting against racial segregation, and social injustice in the United States where the political and social climate were in turbulence (Jansson, 2018).

Education is one of the central themes in Gifted Hands. Ben Carson and his brother Curtis were born and raised by their single mother Sonya who juggled three jobs to keep them in school. Despite her low income, Sonya registered her sons in a white-dominated school to boost their grades and in an apparent attempt to provide the best quality of education that she could afford on her tight budget. She hoped her children would have the same educational opportunities as white children. They worked hard to succeed in school despite the racial discrimination and prejudice they encountered.

Ben Carson’s mother was able to register her children at a predominantly whiThemes of Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands te school because of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas’s ruling, a policy which ended racial segregation in school (Brown v. Board of Educ., 1954). In fact, in 1954, based on the fact that separation of black and white children in school had a detrimental effect on black children and it was proven that the “separate but equal” doctrine violated the Fourteenth Amendments’ equal protection clause, the Supreme Court ruled the doctrine unconstitutional and restored the equality between children of all races (Brown v. Board of Educ., 1954).

However, Carson and his brother were subject to racial discrimination especially institutional racism and prejudice towards African American students, prejudice that caused them to lack confidence in their ability to perform well in school. For example, Ben’s brother’s school counselor would have placed him into a vocational-type curriculum school if their mother did not fiercely oppose it, convinced that the school counselor “was operating from the stereotypical thinking that Blacks were incapable of college work” (Carson, 1990, p.17).

In the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, education is a basic right and all human beings are born free and equal (Melody, 2009). Based on that, there should not be a difference in education. Unfortunately, there are disparities in the United States’ education system where the system favors some neighborhoods and leave others, especially black and minorities neighborhoods’, with failing schools that lack appropriate materials and funds; this situation severely impacts poor children’ academic performance. The discrimination in the education system in the United States, where some children are left behind, especially black children, raised social justice questions. Although Brown v. Board of Education is praiseworthy and fueled the Civil Rights movements, it did not go far enough to end racial segregation in schools. The effort to end segregation did not resolve the real problem of students’ integration on one hand, the equal distribution of schools’ resources on second hand, and finally equal access to those resources. In addition, Brown v. Board of Education only gave people the option to integrate into the school of their choice and therefore, there were not any funds to help implement the law (Brown v. Board of Educ., 1954).

To strengthen the social justice mission, I will include proper funding to ensure equity in the distribution of resources so children from all races could get the same quality of education. Equity in funding and resources means that schools will be funded and resources will be distributed on the basis on students needs, not based on zip code. Second, I will end the district school funding system and put in place a state funding system for all non-federal education resources. This is because with district school funding, predominantly white schools’ districts are the wealthiest and raise more money than their counterpart poor districts, which are predominantly Black (Mcintire, 2015). This will solve the problem of per-pupil funding making the system more equal. Lastly, school uniform, will be mandatory and will be offered to all children along with the same backpack and shoes so all children of all races will feel more comfortable; it will end social class discrimination and lessen bulying in school. For example, Ben Carson was so poor that he barely had enough clothes to wear to school and when he did, they were always bigger than him because his mom always made sure he grown up in the clothes. This lack of appropriate clothing lead to Ben Carson being the laughing stock of his peers (Carson, 1990).

In addition to the theme of education, the theme poverty and parenting challenges in an economy rife with discrimination and economic hardships significantly comes out in Gifted Hands. Sonya had to work three jobs to provide for her sons and pay her bills. Although all the jobs she got could hardly provide the basics for herself and the two children, she pressed on and kept them sheltered in a town full of social challenges that included insecurity which is often a symptom of poverty (Manso, 2016). Despite her three jobs, Sonya Carson couldn’t make enough money to provide for her children. Fortunately, the Johnson administration did not abandon Kennedy’s plan of attack on hunger and poverty (Jansson, 2015). Therefore, under the policy that allow States to obtain federal funding to provide public assistance for poor people and people with disabilities, Ben Carson’s mother received Food Stamps which helped the family to survive. As Ben noted, “She couldn’t have provided for us and kept up the house without that subsidy” (Carson, 1990, p.47).

Food Stamp were a welcome relief for the vast majority of poor Americans at the time and their effects went a long way in enabling poor families to succeed. However, Sonya Carson still could not make a living even with the Food Stamp and ended up renting her house as she and the kids joined her sister in Boston. This raised the problem of fair pay or livable wage, which lead to economic justice. In addition, her lack of education prevented Sonya Carson from getting a well-paying job, which is an economic inequality. Her divorce and lack of child support put her in a precarious situation and despite her effort to keep on working three jobs, she ended up compromising her health while failing to support her family. She was trapped in the cycle of poverty (Payne, 2005) as she did not have any economic or social resources; she had no education, no financial assets and basically no connections to help her break the poverty cycle.

The question is how all this happened during the post-war era where the United States economy was flourishing with low a poverty rate? This is because, the 1950-1960 era had seen a massive sociodemographic internal migration of African Americans from the south to the urban north (Jansson, 2015). African Americans experienced more poverty as they massively fled from the rural south to the urban north due to their lack of education and the lack of government assistance (Jansson, 2015). But from 1950, the United States modernized its state welfare program by amending its Social Security Act and by creating a health-care insurance system for the disabled, poor and elderly. This had a big impact on the social welfare programs for African Americans, and they became the vast proportion of public assistance population (Stern, 2013). Finally, the Social Security Amendments Acts of 1964 with Food Stamps Acts (1964) and health insurance that included assistance to black families constitute a real relief for minorities.

Food Stamp which becomes the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) is a government-based program that offers nutrition assistance to qualified low income families. Funded by the federal government, Food Stamp were administered by each state based on eligibility and were calculated according to the need. While the goal of SNAP is to help individuals and families afford a proper diet, it protects families from hunger, focuses on the poor and lessening the severity of poverty, helps family avoid hardship, support healthy eating and encourage people to work (USDA, 2018). In this sense, Food stamp did help Carson’s family who couldn’t make it without this subsidy (Carson, 1990). Having food to eat is part of basic human rights and the United States government’s food stamp program tends to advance justice in offering food to all citizens in need as well as its legal permanent residents.

However, the implementation of the service in social service practices need some adjustments and changes. To ensure the Food Stamp policy reflects more social justice, I will first remove the eligibility requirement. This is because as a basic right, food should be available to all humans, no matter their citizenship and their status. Second, the working requirement needs to be revised especially when it comes to single mother with child care issues, disabilities, and the elderly.

In addition to that, despite the growing number of people who need Food Stamp, and despite the benefit of it, many people are unwilling to receive it due to the social stigma attached to recipients. People view welfare recipients as poor, lazy or second-class citizens who steal from the tax payer. This embarrassed some recipients who hide their food stamp check or card. For example, Ben Carson was so ashamed and feared his friends would laugh at him if they saw him using a food stamp check that he had to hide in stores and make sure there was no one with the cashier before he could check out (Carson, 1990). Therefore, to improve human rights and justice issues, Food Stamp cards could look like any other credit card in order to dispel the social stigma.

Another change that I will make is to allow recipients to have unlimited purchasing power. This is because, Food Stamps only allow its beneficiaries to buy eligible food such as bread, fruits, vegetables, cereal, milk, cheese, eggs and non-alcohol drinks. However, most families also need non-food items to meet basics need such as soap, hygiene products, clothing which are not covered by the program. In Gifted Hands, Sonya struggled to buy clothes for her sons who were tease by their peers. To respect human rights and social justice, to respect people’s dignity and privacy, the Food Stamp program should consider discretion and should consider people’s freedom of choice by allowing them to buy food they want and use it also with non-food items essentials to meet their basics need. I would then call it Basic Needs Stamp instead of Food Stamp or SNAP. Lastly, I will write that SNAP should allow recipients to use the cards in restaurants especially for homeless who do not have a home to cook their meals.

Both these policies deal with social justice and basic human rights. As a social worker, in order to advocate for such policies and make social justice, I will create a public awareness with peaceful and non-violent strategies. This is because my goal is to touch people’s hearts, to make them change their beliefs, their attitudes, values and behavior. To do that, I will start by meeting with groups of people and organizations who share the same view and who support human rights. The focus will be first to end school discrimination by establishing equity in funding and resource distribution.

The second goal is to provide food and basic needs to all people in need without exception. In addition to the meeting, I will motivate people to sign petitions so we can get the maximum signatures. Predominantly black cities will be our first target and we will include other cities as well by explaining the advantage of education along with the children rights on one hand and educate people on the benefits of having good nutrition on the other hand.

Also, I will write letters to my representative, call his office and ask for an appointment. I will attend this appointment with two or three leaders of my movement so we can fully explain why we need reform on these policies and the advantage for the population. Pickets and strikes will be used as well.

Furthermore, I will also organize public meetings, marches, rallies and demonstration for equality and equity in education and human basics rights. I will also draft some press releases and radio and T.V. advertisements. We will utilize social media to spread the information as well. Educational campaigns will also be helpful. All these strategies lead to moral appeal to injustice. As many people are affected and politicians need people’s vote, I will name the movement, I will make it a social movement and rally the most people as I can. That way, I can use it as a bargain for political candidates to rally to our cause to make it as political campaign for legislative or presidential purpose in exchange for the candidate to embrace my platform.


From Ben Carson’s story emerges issues of family and education history and shows the extremes of poverty in American societies. The periods of the setting also bring out the issues of racial and financial discrimination that sees Ben struggle through school. However, with policy changes and political goodwill, these are societal ills that can be eliminated to change the society forever, at least socially.”

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Themes of Ben Carson's Gifted Hands. (2021, May 27). Retrieved from