Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Is Candace Owens for real?

Candace Owens. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Villains are essential for stories because they push the hero to be their best self. Real-life villains serve no higher purpose. They’re just horrible. They do not make us better, they do whatever’s best for themselves even if it makes life worse for others. Real-life villains do not have lairs or tragic backstories, but they do have podcasts and platforms and power. This week, I want to talk about three modern Black villains. First, Candace Owens.

I spent years working in political media and getting to know people throughout that world, and one thing I have come to believe is that a lot of right-wing media stars do not truly believe the things they say. They are political performance artists. They’re entertainers but instead of singing songs or telling jokes, they’re talking politics. For the modern right wing that means playing to white victimhood and white anger. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson are performers who stoke the white outrage machine and feed their audiences news and opinion that are constructed to make the audience feel both superior and angry. This is at the heart of “angertainment.” Owens is one of the icons of modern angertainment. 

Owens always looks either enraged or superior. I am genuinely struggling to recall what a real smile from her looks like. I don’t want to link to her but she’s got several platforms—her show her podcast, her evil mirror—and when she comes on, her audience isn’t relaxed. They can’t be. She’s not a host who soothes her crowd. I imagine her audience sees her and starts grinding their teeth like an animal preparing for battle because she’s about to tell them where to channel their anger. She’s attacked BLM. She’s asserted that George Floyd died of a drug overdose and not murder. She’s complained about having to see people in wheelchairs. Of course, she’s attacked trans folks and she’s anti-vaccination. She says Meghan Markle is “despicably racist.” She said Hitler was OK at first. She’s everything the right needs and more. She’s so much it’s almost like a caricature of a famous Black female right-wing media star. Maybe she is.

Owens has a very special role in the right-wing media ecosphere. She’s the most famous Black member of a political movement that’s overtly racist. A movement that caters to white voters by casting Black people, immigrants and LGBT folks as their enemies. A movement that prizes white victimhood. In that movement, Owens is someone who’ll say racist things and thus give white people the freedom to think those same things without feeling racist. She also implied that racism is over because she’d never been a slave. In 2019, she testified in front of a House of Representatives subcommittee on white supremacy and said, “Based on the hierarchy of what’s impacting minority Americans, if I had to make a list of 100 things, white nationalism would not make the list. White supremacy and white nationalism are not a problem that is harming Black America.” A Black person telling Congress that white supremacy is not a big deal is an enemy of Black people and a friend of white supremacy.

Candace Owens anti-Black,
Candace Owens is seen on set of “Candace” on March 29, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

After George Floyd was murdered, I was triggered and infuriated to watch Owens post a video on social media saying Floyd was not a hero and not even a good person. She was gaslighting the world, but hearing her say that cemented two ideas in my mind: 1) Owens is a stone-cold soldier for white supremacy. As Black people everywhere were mourning this death and feeling trauma from the video of it, Owens leaped up to talk about his criminal record and say “Did you know he was a terrible person???” It was like she was deployed to attempt to disperse the crowd by destroying Floyd’s reputation. It was a despicable tactic, but really it was a message to white people — you don’t have to support Floyd; he was the sort of Black person you’d be right to be afraid of. She was there to liberate them from feeling like they had to care about him. She was there to pressure the media to help her destroy his name. She was there to stop the movement by any means necessary.

Owens is a perfect example of how Black people can be racist. Being racist is not really about having power; it’s about operating in a way that aids white supremacy. Owens’ job is to help white supremacy and she does it with joy. She’s what Stephen from “Django Unchained” would be like if he were living today. She’s what self-hatred would sound like if it could talk. 

The other idea that was cemented in my mind watching Owens verbally attack George Floyd after his death was this: 2) Her intended audience was never Black people. Even when she’s pretending to speak to Black people, she’s actually speaking to white people. In 2020, she ran the ridiculous Blexit campaign that was supposed to urge Black people to leave the Democratic Party, but the real point was to have white people see a Black woman telling Black people that they should join the GOP. That led to Blexit collecting over $7 million in donations from which Owens pulled down a roughly $250,000 a year salary. That money came primarily from white donors who thought they could help Owens lead more Blacks away from the Democratic Party. She was pretending to help us in order to separate white people from their money. It could be brilliant except she’s a traitor. 

Her work, which is about politics and race and speaking to white people, makes her the embodiment of whitecentrism. She does things for the white gaze in order to soothe white feelings. The left calls the right racist and Owens is there to say no they’re the real racists, which mollifies white people. People don’t want to be thought of as racist so having someone like Owens on their side is incredibly valuable because she helps them feel like they’re not racist. Owens is the right’s professional Black friend in that she absolves them of the potential of racism just from her proximity. Gross. 

Candace Owens is so perfect for the modern right, that if she did not exist they would have to invent her. But since I don’t believe that she actually believes anything she says, perhaps we could say she was invented, albeit by herself. I mean, do you really think Owens truly believes what she says? I don’t. As Emily Jane Fox wrote in her recent Vanity Fair profile of Owens, “It’s hard to know whether [Owens] believes the things she says or simply believes in herself. Every person I asked for this story agreed it was the latter. ‘Truly charismatic people,’ one person close to her told me, ‘are able to talk themselves into anything. Outsized talents can do that, and Owens, she is an outsized talent.’”


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.

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