Hate cannot be reasoned with. So why is Black radio hosting ‘conversations’ with Candace Owens? | Radio

As a provocateur, Candace Owens stands alone. The recently fired Daily Wire host built a reputation as one of the few Black voices in rightwing media by tossing Black culture and Black people under the conservative bus. She embraced Donald Trump’s lawlessness while castigating Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Black victims of police brutality as “thugs” and criminals. For Owens, the January 6 insurrection was “virtually nothing”, while the Black Lives Matter movement “is about Black anarchy”. She told a congressional subcommittee that “white supremacy and white nationalism is not a problem that is harming Black America”.

According to her, everything wrong with Black America is caused by Black culture and white liberals, but affirmative action is an affront to whites. Like her former bosses at the rightwing youth organization Turning Point USA, Owens doesn’t believe in systemic racism because she’s “never been a slave in this country”. When it comes to anti-Blackness, she is as remarkably consistent as the angry throngs that spat on third-graders desegregating schools while painting the civil rights movement as “violent”.

To be fair, Owens has no legitimate education, experience or expertise in politics, media, sociology or public policy. She is just a person who says things. Her status as the darling of far-right punditry is solely built on the oxymoron of a Black woman who is unapologetically anti-Black. So when she claimed she was “terrified” by the prospect of DEI airplane pilots, the irony that she might be the most unqualified “diversity hire” in America was lost on her.

In the past month, Owens has appeared on two mainstays of contemporary Black culture: The Joe Budden podcast and The Breakfast Club, where she told hosts that Black people had done better under Donald Trump and that welfare had destroyed the Black family. Talking directly to Black audiences was presented as a bold move for someone who usually presents her anti-Black views from the safe space of rightwing outlets.

Unlike many people, I do not believe that Candace Owens’ politics cancel out her Blackness. Owens is part of the Black community, and all Black stories are valid. Besides, many African Americans subscribe to conservative principles. Everyone knows a Black Republican (you can usually tell by the quality of their edge-up). But, as with everything, there are limits.

While researching my recent book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, I wanted to use contemporaneous firsthand experiences of Black people in America – free and enslaved, liberal and conservative.

The Joe Budden Podcast is recorded live in New York in 2017. Photograph: Johnny Nunez/WireImage

As I sifted through archives of Black-owned newspapers, journals and other institutions built to amplify and preserve Black perspectives, I encountered a recurring phrase that explains why so many Black stories have been erased.

“Burned by a white mob.”

It is a one-sentence obituary that describes the destiny of the 631 Black schools damaged or destroyed between 1864 and 1876. That mob lit the torches that burned Black Wall Street and detonated the bombs that blew 16th Street Baptist church to bits. And, because the truth of the Black existence is preserved through our voices and stories, Black media has historically been the most frequent target of the white mob. White mobs destroyed dozens of Black-owned newspapers, including the Tulsa Star, one of many Black-owned businesses destroyed by the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. The Wilmington race massacre started with a hunt for the owner of the Daily Record, the town’s Black-run newspaper. In many cases, the mob’s success at silencing their foes is noted by an addendum: “No surviving copies exist.”

The attack on Nikole Hannah-Jones was a group project started by a white mob that did not want the 1619 Project, the New York Times’ chronicle of American slavery, to exist. When the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley removed slavery from the story of the civil war, she was echoing the sentiments of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s “lost cause” movement. The UDC was essentially a white mob who did not want textbooks to reflect how the south’s allegiance to race-based human trafficking caused the bloodiest war in American history. Moms for Liberty’s anti-woke agenda is just the latest campaign by a mob that does not want our stories to survive or the truth to exist.

Candace Owens is part of that mob.

Charlamagne Tha God. Photograph: Prince Williams/Getty Images

I’ve heard journalists, hosts and personalities I know and respect explain why they invite people like Candace Owens, Nikki Haley (who repeatedly refused to acknowledge systemic racism during her Breakfast Club appearance), Larry Elder (who bolted from Van Lathan and Rachel Lindsay’s popular Higher Learning podcast) and others on to their platforms. For many, it is a futile attempt to prove their journalistic integrity by presenting “both sides” of the political spectrum. Some rightly want to expose the white supremacist fallacies at the foundation of these arguments. Others simply want to have a compelling conversation and capitalize off the ratings boosts that come with it.

I know some of these hosts personally and don’t believe there is ill intent. But they are wrong. Most of the time, the conversations are not even interesting. They only serve the people who benefit from upholding white supremacy. The people who fund Nikki Haley’s anti-Black agenda undoubtedly saw her Breakfast Club appearance as redemption for her racist historical revisionism. These guests have never had a single thought that hasn’t already been uttered by someone with whiter skin and a brighter tiki torch.

Ironically, a day after she appeared on The Breakfast Club, the Daily Wire announced on X that it had parted ways with Owens. After championing herself as a “free thinker”, Owens finally realized her “freedoms” were ultimately tethered to her willingness to distance herself from Blackness.

Countering the pervasive, almost inescapable bigotry that informs the negative perceptions of African Americans is why Black media exists. For years, radio stations banned “race music” and white-owned media outlets refused to cover Black issues. Black journalists chronicled the lynching epidemic during the Red Summer of 1919 when others wouldn’t. The Los Angeles Times, the Kansas City Star and National Geographic are just a few of the legacy media outlets that have recently apologized for being complicit in racial oppression. Owens and others know they can exploit Black America’s collective willingness to forgive, and they will never have to accept accountability.

This is not a criticism of the contemporary stewards of Black media; it is a criticism of us. I marvel at the platforms Budden, The Breakfast Club’s Charlamagne and others managed to build outside of the mainstream system. But these outlets do not belong to them. The survival and success of Black media platforms are only possible because of the culture, history and communities that Black people collectively built. Individual entrepreneurs may have paid for the microphones and rented the studios, but their only credibility comes from Black audiences who trust these hosts as caretakers of our stories. We are the owners. And we should use our stake as shareholders to demand protection and safety from the mobs that have historically consumed us. At the very least, we should expect one thing in return:

Do not hurt us.

We cannot allow Owens’ and her fellow conservatives’ ideologies to use institutions built from Black people’s labor to gain more favor with the mobsters. To be clear, these ideological adversaries have no real expectation of convincing Black audiences to see the conservative side. They know that every Black person who has set foot on American soil has heard every side of white people’s argument. Through our tax dollars and pocketbooks, Black Americans have financed the anti-Blackness that is embedded in our textbooks, instilled in our police officers and broadcast across our airwaves. We should not tolerate those who influence the mobs that spilled our ancestors’ blood and erase their stories from the history books. At bare minimum, we should not amplify their cause.

There is no logic to white supremacy. Hate cannot be reasoned with. Yet, far too often, these Black hosts wrongly assume that they are equipped to counter these bigoted, time-tested arguments. The white majority has been on the wrong side of every single racial issue in the history of this country, from slavery to police brutality. But because of ego, greed or a genuine desire for meaningful discourse, the custodians of Black media somehow believe a simple conversation will dismantle 400 years of white supremacist indoctrination.

It’s an assumption that bedeviled some of the most fearless souls in Black history. WEB Du Bois, one of the most brilliant Americans who ever lived, realized this. Du Bois planned to write an editorial in the Atlanta Constitution telling white southerners about the injustice of mob brutality. On his way to the newspaper office, he passed a store selling the knuckles of Sam Hose, a lynching victim, and changed his mind. “I made up my mind that knowledge wasn’t enough,” Du Bois wrote. “[E]ven if people were ignorant of essential matters … They had not only to know, but they had to act.”

‘Perhaps before inviting Owens into Black spaces, these hosts should read the words of Ida B Wells.’ Photograph: Sallie E Garrity/Reuters

Perhaps before inviting Owens into Black spaces, these hosts should read the words of the matriarch of the Black press, Ida B Wells, a titan who spent her life fighting the negative narratives about African Americans. Long before she became a founder of the NAACP – which Owens claims “doesn’t exist to eliminate racism” – Wells exposed America’s white mob problem. As a columnist and part owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, she called out judges, Klansmen and even white women’s suffragists. But Wells reserved her ire for conservatives who parroted the bigoted narratives used to support white supremacy.

“They hail with acclaim the man who has made popular the unspoken thought of that part of the North which believes in the inherent inferiority of the Negro,” Wells wrote of Booker T Washington, the most prominent Black conservative of her time. “He knows better than any man before the public to-day, that the prevailing idea of the typical Negro is false.”

To be fair, Budden can’t read most of Wells’ writing. After she wrote a 21 May 1892 article exposing the “old threadbare lie” about Black men’s rapacious criminality, a local newspaper called for the Free Speech and Headlight owners to be tied to a stake in the center of town, branded in the forehead with a hot iron and castrated with a pair of tailor’s shears. Wells had already left town, but the brave citizens of Memphis still tried to erase her voice from history. The Free Speech and Headlight was burned by a white mob. No surviving copies exist.

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