It seems that Kanye West is not the only one who loves the way Candace Owens thinks. I and more than 500 other people attended a lecture today put on by the Center Of The American Experiment, a Minneapolis-based think tank. This was a major event, a luncheon that drew a large and energetic crowd at a downtown hotel. The last such event I attended was for a similar topic, also arranged by the Center, when Jason Riley came to discuss his book Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed. Discussing conservatism from the perspective of black Americans and how it offers a superior alternative to liberal thought and policy has long been an interest of mine, but now it seems like it’s becoming somewhat of a mainstream interest just in the last few weeks, thanks mainly to Kanye for bringing it to light, and to Candace for bringing the issue to his attention.
I only became aware of Candace about six weeks ago, when I saw a profile on her from John Stossel shared on Facebook. I was intrigued, I thought that this is a smart, brave young woman, and she seems like a great voice for black people, for youth, and for conservatives in general. I thought “I bet she has a great future,” and immediately put her existence into the back burner of my political thoughts.
Then April happened.
In case you haven’t been on the internet in the last month, Kanye West broke it a couple weeks ago by tweeting a bit of qualified support for Donald Trump. He even dared to follow it up with a criticism of Saint Obama. Worse yet, another famous black rapper made an equally heretical statement that blacks don’t have to vote for Democrats. The left has spent the last two weeks melting down and trying to discredit both Kanye and Candace. To, how shall we say, put them in their place and teach them when to shut up and what they’re allowed to say and believe. Thankfully, neither is the type to do any such thing, and together they seem to be bringing us to what may be a watershed moment in black American politics.
It was with this backdrop that Candace arrived in Minneapolis. Her arrival would have been an “event” in any instance, but considering the absolute perfect timing, it was even more of a sell-out than I believe the Center originally anticipated. I just checked the date of the first invite I received from them about this event, and it was three days before Kanye burned the internet down in April.
Candace started her talk by discussing some of the things that have been said about her recently as she has come into her share of fame and notoriety. Insults about her personality, vile racial slurs, lies about how she grew up etc. She’s been called a white supremacist, a white supremacy apologist, an Uncle Tom, and Alt-Lite, among others. She said that she started to read these stories so that she could learn more about herself, and even made an alert on her phone so she could learn something she didn’t know about herself every day. From the beginning, it was clear that a large part of her charm is that she has a great sense of humor, even about herself. One very salient fact she mentioned is that not a one of these published reporters who smeared her has ever reached out to ask her about her story, and why she believes what she believes.
After starting with the lies people have been telling about her, she dug a bit into the truth of her story and her life. She said that, for example, some people have criticized her as an out of touch rich girl from Connecticut who doesn’t really know the black community. She made it very clear that she came from humble beginnings: “Some people ask me if it’s really true that most of my family was on welfare. It’s not that they were on welfare or have been on welfare, most of my family is on welfare right now.” She estimated that about 80% of her family is on welfare, and said that part of her experience growing up was going to see uncles in prison. She made a point to re-emphasize this, to make it clear that she’s looking at this from the street-level view, and not as an academic or talking head from an ivory tower.
She also discussed her political “awakening,” explaining that when she was younger and less political, she just sort of assumed she was a Democrat, because it was basically the default for her friends, family, and community. Similar to the experience of other black conservatives I’ve listened to and know, and as happened to me personally, when she started to learn more about economics and some of the failed social policies that have contributed to the difficult and impoverished state of much of the black community, she started to lean towards conservatism. She said she’s not even sure if she quite considers herself a Republican, which indicates to me that she’s a deep and serious political thinker, but she at least knows that the principles that appeal to her are conservative. She actually did not spend too much time relating the details of what led her to become conservative, but the general outline was clear.
She continued to relate the story of how she came to be a political commentator. She said that she felt this burning desire to get out there and be part of the conversation when she had her “awakening,” and to, and I love this phrase, “Start a civil war in the black community” in order to empower people individually, to take back black political autonomy so that one party can’t take them for granted, and to generally fight the war of ideas that she so passionately believes must be waged for the sake of black folks. So she quit her job, and decided to start making YouTube videos. Hilarious as always, she prefaced it by saying “I don’t recommend anyone do this, but I quit my job in order to do this full-time.” She said, predictably, that her friends and family thought she was crazy, and even the black Republicans she knew thought she was crazy. Nevertheless, she persisted.
She discussed her rise in popularity in wonderfully vivid and personal terms. She wanted to make short, digestible videos that would capture and hold people’s attention, and learned how to for example make jump cuts to keep the videos interesting. Her first video has become a bit of a modern classic among conservatives (I confess to having heard much about it, but not have watched it until now), but it was one of her posts that soon followed that put her on the map. She said that she posted the video, then took a nap (“I highly recommend taking naps”), and when she woke up it had 20,000 hits. The next day it had 80,000 hits. People were starting to notice her.
Soon thereafter, she was hired by the think tank Turning Point USA, and started to expand her audience and the scope of her videos. She thought it would be a fun idea to got to college campuses and challenge people to change her mind on topics like race and socialism, a la Steven Crowder. As we have seen so much of lately, she encountered a lot of venom and hatred, with white women unironically screaming in her face that she’s a white supremacist, and when she asks why, saying it’s because she supports capitalism. Her group encounters student protests against “white supremacy” when they appear on campus, and generally speaking what she calls “blue-haired white women” try to shame her for being black and conservative. “I don’t know why, but they always have blue hair.”
About half of the talk was about her personal story, and the other half was sort of conservative red meat on race, politics, and economics, discussing her encounters with the left and a lot of the data and history that most of the room was probably pretty familiar with. She discussed the role of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state in financially incentivizing black mothers not to stay with the fathers of their children, the stark jump in fatherless black families in the sixties from just over 20% to over 70% now, the fact that blacks have been voting over 90% Democrat for decades, so that the party no longer has to actually do anything for black people to compete for their votes, and how they can basically show up every four years to fire up black communities over marginal if not imaginary racial issues to bring out the vote, then go home and forget about them until the next election, etc.
Candace Owns is a major voice for our time that is on her way up. She spoke knowledgeably, forcefully, and with great verve and humor. You can’t help but be disarmed by someone who is highly intelligent, funny, and self-deprecating. One thing that I really like about her is that sense of humor, and the way it helps her interact with her critics, both directly and when talking about their criticism of her. This is a major weakness in both mainstream conservative and wonky libertarian personalities and commentary. Typically, commentators on the right come across as stiff, robotic, or needlessly aggressive when dealing with critics in person or discussing criticism in general. Candace has the brains of the best of them, but has the warmth, humor, and personality of an actual human being, something that has been lacking on the right for some time. She is someone who can discuss ideas with a political “opponent,” and still remain friendly and charming to that person, and to the viewer as well. I think she may be the best talent conservatives have in media at the moment, and her freshness and her background only add to her considerable raw talent. I’m looking forward to learning from her for years to come.
I leave you with a photo that brings together the present and the past of poweful black conservative women. Vive la révolution!