Candace Owens is spearheading an effort to get Black people out of the Democrat Party – and she’s using celebrities of colour to achieve this goal
Haven’t you heard? Celebrities of colour have started openly flirting with fascism and right-wing politics, and they want us to know all about it.
From Kanye West’s anti-Black fashion show in Paris and anti-semitic rants on social media, to rapper MIA peddling anti-vax conspiracy theories on Twitter and aligning herself with right-wing activists, both artists have been publicly using social media to document their shift to the right and are being guided there by one woman: Candace Owens.
Due to Owens positioning herself beside any artist with a conservative view, here’s an explainer on who she is, her organisation ‘BLEXIT’, and why the hell she’s doing all of this.
WHO IS CANDACE OWENS?
Owens is an African-American conservative activist. She was previously the director of communications at the conservative advocacy group Turning Point USA, and founded the popular website and YouTube channel Red Pill Black, which promotes Black conservatism in the United States.
She gained popularity in 2017 when she started making pro-Trump videos. Her content was well received by white conservatives as she provided them with a shield: as while she espoused racist rhetoric about Black people (specifically targeting the Black Lives Matter Movement), her acceptance into the Republican Party was – and still is – used as a way to protect conservatives from being called racist.
Before 2017, Owens claimed she was apolitical. But in 2015, she founded a marketing agency and anti-conservative blog called Degree180, where various criticisms were made about the Republican Party, Trump, and the size of his penis. Explaining this ‘blip’ in her political life to the conservative political commentator Dave Rubin, on his show The Rubin Report in 2022, Owens said, “I just thought I had to be a democrat and a liberal.” This is an argument frequently used by Owens and West: that because of their skin colour, they were made to believe, by liberals, that they could not be conservative. This encompasses Owens’ general argument against the Democratic Party: that they brainwash Black Americans.
In 2018, Owens was praised publicly by both West and Trump for her intellect and ability to see past the dubiousness of the Democratic Party. Since then, she officially registered as a Republican and continues to criticise the ‘liberal myths’ of structural racism and systemic inequality on her Daily Wire podcast Candace. She has also founded the BLEXIT Foundation.
WHAT IS BLEXIT?
Inspired by Brexit, Owens and Brandon Tatum founded BLEXIT, a non-profit organisation encouraging African Americans to quit the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party in 2018. According to Owens’ 2020 book, Blackout, BLEXIT wants to “redress” how the Democratic Party has hurt rather than helped the African American community.
The foundation found significant success during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, receiving a total of $7,446,352 in donations. During this time, Owens declared that BLEXIT would give back to the Black-owned businesses destroyed in the ‘#BLM riots’. However, according to the Daily Beast, the BLEXIT Foundations tax filings show how their finances have been misused and are currently drying up.
“Last year, the foundation received $2,342,820 in contributions, less than a third of what it raised the previous year,” the Daily Beast reports. “Despite that, the org spent nearly $1 million more than it earned, with its total payments to employees nearly doubling. A sizable payment of $250,000 plus benefits went to Owens.”
In 2021, the BLEXIT Foundation reported giving away just $4,000 in grants and assistance, though the recipients for this are unclear. When the Daily Beast asked how much BLEXIT had given to Black-owned businesses, Owens repeatedly refused to clarify.
WHERE DOES KANYE FIT INTO THIS?
West’s involvement with BLEXIT has been both confirmed and denied over and over again in the media. But his connection to the organisation was first reported in 2018 when West travelled to Uganda with Owens for the Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO). Owens recounts the trip as being inspiring on the far-right media site Breitbart: “That feeling of going back to our homeland, being in Africa – the feeling of family and togetherness that we as a people have moved away from – motivated West and inspired what came to be the BLEXIT merch design.”
The day after Owens’ announcement, West denied being involved in designing the BLEXIT merch in a lengthy Twitter thread due to the backlash he received. He also declared that he wanted to distance himself from politics, and Owen wrote in a now-deleted blog post that she felt that West just wanted to distance himself from her. However, their falling out in 2018 didn’t end their political relationship. When Owen’s book came out in 2020, Kanye tweeted a picture of it. When West went through his divorce from Kim Kardashian, Owens came to his defence online. When Owens premiered her documentary, The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM, West attended. Through thick and thin, they’ve supported each other.
Now that West has been dropped by Adidas, Balenciaga, CAA, Gap, TJ Maxx, The RealReal, Peloton, Foot Locker and many other brands following his antisemitic remarks, will we finally see him openly endorse BLEXIT? It seems likely. Through all the drama and hardship West has endured in his public and private life in the last few years, Owens has been a constant in his life. As West continues to fall from grace, their collaboration seems inevitable. What more does he have to lose?
While MIA’s relationship with Owens is new, it’s not necessarily unsurprising. Whisperings of her alleged anti-Black beliefs have been circulating the internet for years. For example, in an interview with the Evening Standard in 2016, she criticised the BLM Movement for being the only problem spoken about in the US and called out Black artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick for not being vocal about Muslim, Syrian or Pakistani lives. She was then dropped from headlining the Afropunk Festival for reportedly trying to undermine and silence Black people as they fought against police brutality.
Now, MIA appears to be embracing dangerous alt-right beliefs on vaccines and promotes these fringe views on Twitter. In 2020, MIA stated that she would “choose death” over the COVID-19 vaccine and came to the defence of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones who has been ordered to pay $965m to Sandy Hook families for repeatedly claiming that the massacre was a hoax. She even went as far as tweeting “If Alex Jones pays for lying, shouldn’t every celebrity pushing vaccines pay too?”
While MIA came under scrutiny for her harmful beliefs, Owens, a fellow anti-vaxxer, came to her rescue. Though this doesn’t directly link to BLEXIT, it does show us how Owens draws celebrities into her world.
WHY IS ALL OF THIS RELEVANT NOW?
The 2022 midterm elections are in seven days. Taking place halfway through the president’s term, these elections determine the party in power in Congress. This year, these elections will be essential in fighting for abortion rights, determining mask and vaccine mandates, Joe Biden’s future as President, whether Trump will run again, and so much more.
As Owens latches onto troubled celebrities like a parasite, she brings herself and her financially-declining organisation into the spotlight, pushing her BLEXIT agenda ahead of the election. This mirrors Owens’ behaviour before the 2018 midterm elections, where she announced that West designed the merch for BLEXIT, to which he later denied involvement. But in the end, whether West was involved or not, the spectacle put BLEXIT back in the public eye, as all Owens’ actions aim to do.
Arguably, the best course of action is to simply ignore Owens and the BLEXIT movement (if you can even call it that) as a whole. But we can’t repeat the mistakes made in 2018 when Trump was elected. These marginal movements may seem unimportant and silly, but when we ignore the growth of far-right groups, they rise in power. We can actively fight against the harm these groups cause marginalised people by identifying and denouncing their propagation of destructive ideas online. When we act preemptively, we have a better chance of defeating the right; this is vital to remember, especially with the prospect of Trump’s re-election looming.