One sound byte stuck with me from Dr. Ben Carson’s closing statement. The retired neurosurgeon proudly told the viewers in his final punchy line:
I haven’t said anything about me being the only one to do anything, so let me try that. I am the only one to separate Siamese twins. The only one to operate on babies while they’re still in their mother’s womb. The only one to take out half of a brain, but you would think if you go to Washington, that someone had beat me to it.
The crowd laughed at his quip. To me, it felt like a punch to the gut. Three years ago, I gave birth to two little girls who passed away after 52 minutes. My babies Amelie and Adaline weren’t “Siamese twins,” an antiquated term that conjures up old black and white images of people forced to work in the circus because of the way they looked.
My girls—along with the approximately 200 pairs of twins born each year worldwide—were “conjoined twins.” Carson should have known better than to use “Siamese twins,” especially if he spent any time getting to know the family of the babies he separated.
Fellow mothers in a private Facebook group for families of conjoined twins expressed similar dismay, comparing the terminology to other outdated and offensive language like “retarded.” Several emailed the Republican candidate through the contact info provided on his site, only to receive a form-letter reply with information on how they can support his campaign.
Still disappointed in the remark, I posted a message on my Facebook page over the weekend, hoping to share with my friends how the remark made me feel as a mother and remind them of the proper usuage.
It’s “conjoined twins,” not “Siamese twins,” Dr. Carson. I know you probably slipped up, but you said it from a national platform. I’m sure you’re normally a well-spoken man, but I hope the next time you operate on two babies who share a heart, or lungs, or legs, that you use the right term. Especially in front of the babies’ parents. Because I’m one of those parents. And every time I hear that sound byte, where everybody laughed, and everybody thought you were so clever…my heart cries a little.
But we’ve all seen how a person’s message or photo or video just for her friends and acquaintances can strike a nerve on social media, get shared and passed along through a community. That’s what happened to my post. Just over an hour after it went up, friends began sharing it, including one who tagged Dean Parker, telling him “Talk to Dr. Carson.”
A former classmate of mine from a small Baptist school, Parker, it turns out, is a friend a Carson’s… and a member of his campaign staff. Suddenly, I experienced the powerful force of social media. The listening ear the other moms and I had hoped for but didn’t really expect to get was right there, sending messages to my inbox.
After we connected on Facebook, Dean called from Des Moines, where he was backstage with Carson. We chatted for about five minutes, and I told him about Amelie and Adaline. Dean said that it was the first time he had heard Carson use that term since the campaign began.
When he speculated that Carson might have chosen the term “Siamese” because it was most familiar to the American viewership, I suggested that a doctor and leader should opt to use the correct term all the time, especially on a national platform. Without that consistency, the general public won’t be educated.
After our talk, Dean relayed to me on Facebook that he had spoken to Carson, and “he wanted me to thank you for sharing. He understands your concern. We will make the country better together.” Despite the blandly political and generic statement, it was definitely better than a form email.
Carson wasn’t the first candidate to make a cringe-worthy gaffe in this campaign, and he certainly won’t be the last. Political misspeak has become part of our election process. Rather than be cynical and angry over candidates’ inevitable blunders, we can confidently talk back, in real time on social media. As Christians, we can be gracious and clear about problematic implications of a candidate’s message or remarks.
And—if we’re lucky—the politicians might just hear us out.