Candace Owens, an African-American commentator known for pushing conservative identity politics, was invited by GOP lawmakers to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the rise of white nationalism. During her congressional testimony on Tuesday, Owens was allowed to push several lies regarding the state of the country, the most controversial being her assertion that the Southern strategy was a “myth” that “never happened.”
Just a month after she was credited as an influential voice supported by the Christchurch terrorist, the Turning Point USA (TPUSA) communications director used her time to offer lawmakers a revisionist theory on how partisan politics has developed following the civil rights era. The basis of her comments stems from her own believing that white nationalism and white supremacy were “words that once held real meaning, [but] are now nothing more than an election strategy”.
This is ironic given she herself is playing partisan here. During her testimony, Owens continually asserts that leftist voters and their Democrat politicians are using a particular strategy to “scare black people” away from having “the audacity to think for themselves and become educated about our history”, meanwhile, whitewashing similar, historically proven conservative efforts — which she labelled the “myth of things like the Southern switch [and] the Southern strategy” — have simply “never happened”.
It should go without saying that not only is Owens a non-historian, holding no substantive credibility outside of her own opinions, but she’s also a political activist who made a name and fortune for herself as a reactionary figurehead for dogmatic pro-GOP brands. It’s within her own self-interest to play partisan, and who can exactly blame her when you’re making money selling an agenda for TPUSA and host a show for Dennis Prager’s own PragerU? The grifters have gotta grift and in this particular case, securing the money requires a serious degree of revisionist damage control.
It looks bad for Owens and colleagues when there’s a narrative that racist Republicans have historically tried to woo Southern whites into the party-fold through an embracing of a race-war approach to policy —forming a contrast against Democrats who seemingly promote policy intent on improving the lives of African Americans. The implication being support for one group comes at the expense of another. It makes sense to distance one’s self from this narrative. The difference being while Owens denies its existence, honest conservatives have already confirmed (and apologised for) its historical use.
In a notorious 1981 interview with Lee Atwater, a political scientist and former White House adviser to GOP President Ronald Reagan, the party’s goal was to follow the Nixon-era strategy where the federal fiscal policies have “blacks get hurt worse than whites” on average. When the questioner asked if it’s true “Reagan does get to the [George] Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voters by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps,” Atwater asked to remain off the record. The publication, to its credit, showed his statement in full:
“As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry Dent and others put together in 1968,” Atwater begins, “opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now [Reagan] doesn’t have to do that. All you have to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues he’s campaigned on since 1964 […] and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster. Y’all don’t quote me on this, [but] you start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’.”
“By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’,” Atwater continued. “That hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites… what I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger’.”
Throughout the 1980s, Reagan used exactly these methods to abstract away from blatant racial division while maintaining the same effect. This is why during his Neshoba County Fair speech he can be found declaring “I believe in states’ rights” while failing to address what rights he’s talking about. He surely doesn’t mean the right to legalise certain drugs, which would hurt the soul of Nancy “just say no” Reagan, but the right of localised tyranny against minority groups. Even then, the government wasn’t against federal restrictions either. As explained by historian Dan Carter, “Reagan showed that he could use coded language with the best of them, lambasting welfare queens, busing, and affirmative action as the need arose” nation-wide.
This abstraction strategy was cited in another 2005 The Washington Post article where it was condemned by Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, addressing the racism within his own party during that year’s NAACP national convention. “By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out,” Mehlman said in his statement. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
To accept only a one-sided history of politicised racial tensions, exclusively shifting such blame onto the party which doesn’t sign the paychecks, shows the partisan extent Owens will go for the sake of damage control. To deny basic facts about how the voting patterns of southern white racists shifted, at least between the years 1960 to the late 1980s, is quite an accomplishment in either historical illiteracy or willful lies for the sake of personal gains. The falsehood to preserve this personal wealth are apparently so important, it requires lying to Congress under the threat of perjury. But don’t hold your breath on whether the government will seek retractions or punishments.
“The Southern Strategy succeeded in many ways,” countered Ava Duvernay, the Oscar-nominated director behind the documentary 13th, a film focused on the southern strategy. “One was on display today in front of the House Judiciary Committee in the form of a black woman spouting revisionist history about the pain suffered by black people… Let me go ahead and leave this right here for folks confused about the uninformed mess that someone named Candace Owens is trying to pass off as truth,” she continued, linking to Atwater’s interview. “In fact, it’s just white nationalist revisionist garbage. The Southern Strategy goes as follows. And so the marathon continues.”
Thanks for reading! This article was originally published for TrigTent.com, a bipartisan media platform for political and social commentary, truly diverse viewpoints and facts that don’t kowtow to political correctness.
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