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Black conservatives end up on "watch list," Ben Carson jokes

Retired neurosurgeon and political activist Ben Carson said Thursday that some people don't know what to think of black conservatives like him.

"If you're black, and you oppose a progressive agenda, you're crazy," Carson said during his speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland. "And, if you're black and you oppose the progressive agenda, and you're pro-life, and you're pro-family, they don't even know what to call you. I mean you end up on some kind of watch list for extremists. Unbelievable."

Carson's remarks, which drew a rowdy reception from the crowd of conservative activists in the room, came in the context of a broader complaint about how progressives see conservatives.

Potential GOP candidates for 2016 to speak at CPAC

"If you're pro-life, then you're anti-woman," he said. "If you're pro-traditional family, then you're a homophobe. If you're white and you oppose a progressive black person, you're a racist."

Carson has spoken before about his own experience being raised by a single mother who worked hard but occasionally sought public assistance. He took aim in his speech at those who would cite that background to label him a hypocrite for his views on curtailing welfare benefits.

"I hear some people saying, 'You know, Carson, when he was a kid, you know, you know, he benefited from welfare and all that stuff, and now he wants to get rid of it,'" he said. "I'm not interested in getting rid of the safety net, I'm really interested in getting rid of dependency. I want us to find a way to allow people to excel in our society and, as more and more people hear that message, they will recognize who was truly on their side and who was trying to keep them oppressed and cultivate their votes."

Carson has been something of a celebrity in conservative circles ever since his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013, when he criticized Obamacare as President Obama looked on. He's lately drawn some buzz as a possible dark-horse presidential candidate for Republicans in 2016, with some activists even launching an effort to draft him in the race.

Despite his fans among the grassroots, some in the GOP question whether Carson can emerge as a serious contender for the White House.

"I'm not convinced that he and his team are prepared to mount a serious national campaign," Republican operative Rick Wilson told CBS News. "There's a bit of rising concern that Ben Carson is a fundraising effort by a few consultants and not a national campaign."

"Ben Carson has to prove that he deserves more than just a second look," added GOP strategist and pollster Frank Luntz, a CBS News contributor. "He has to prove that someone who's never run before is worthy of a primary or caucus vote when there are so many other more qualified candidates."

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