I doubt most of the belligerents associated with Turning Point USA, the Daily Wire and Blaze TV would know what to do if they were dropped into a combat situation. If you dropped Candace Owens behind enemy lines, she’d bite the throat out of an Isis fighter and stroll back to civilization without a scratch. Not to say Ms Owens is insightful or honest, or even that she means what she says. She means to succeed, and no one will stop her.
Owens’s new book Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation is far more entertaining than the recent duds from Dave Rubin and Charlie Kirk. That doesn’t mean it’s a good book. Intellectually it is completely incoherent.
‘Leftism,’ Owens announces, is ‘defined as any political philosophy that seeks to infringe upon individual liberties in its demand for a higher moral good’. No, it isn’t. I’m not sure what I can say except that it isn’t. ‘Grass is defined as blue.’ ‘Mountains are defined as small.’ ‘Vodka is defined as a non-alcoholic drink.’ Come on.
Owens later rhapsodizes about ‘Judeo-Christian values’ being what ‘Western civilization was built upon’. Does she think that the adoption of Christian values was entirely voluntary and involved no infringement on individual liberties?
She tiresomely rehashes the fact that the original Ku Klux Klan were Democrats, as if contemporary Democrats would not line up to spit on the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest. She bizarrely asserts that FDR was known for ‘theatrically harping on the struggles of minorities’. Most damaging to Owens’s core thesis — that black Americans have to escape the victim mentality allegedly imposed on them by Democrats — is her continual insistence that black Americans are victims of the Democrats.
Joe Biden, Owens says, was ‘a leading crusader and coauthor of the notorious 1994 crime bill, championing harsher sentencing policies that led to defendants’ serving longer prison terms, which disproportionately affected black men’. She does not explore the reasons why they might have been disproportionately affected by a bill targeting violent crime. Black men are victims of Joe Biden: it is as simple as that. What happened to your call to ‘reject…the victim narrative’, Ms Owens?
The prose can also be a headache. ‘I determined this to be odd,’ begins one irrecoverable sentence. Joe Biden’s alleged mistakes are somehow called ‘misgivings’. The very term from which the book takes its title is abused in the following manner:
‘And then I will ask again: what do you have to lose? Because I believe the answer is everything, if we do not blackout from this toxic, illiberal, progressive agenda, which has precipitated little more than helplessness.’
Look, I know she’s not using it in this sense, but ‘blacking out’ already means losing consciousness and enforced darkness. She cannot repurpose it to mean enlightenment, and then use it in ways that evoke its established meanings.
For a book that is extremely autobiographical, there are some curious omissions. There is no mention of the website Social Autopsy, which Ms Owens created in 2016 in order to expose the identities of online trolls, and which expired shortly afterwards when she converted to conservatism. Kanye West is mentioned once in passing as nothing more than a successful musician. But Owens had a brief, intense friendship with West before she alienated him by claiming he had designed the logo for her anti-Democratic political movement ‘Blexit’.
I said this book was better than Rubin and Kirk’s efforts. Yes, it is! First, Owens has more fire. Rubin’s book was full of strained humor and hapless attempts at opinionating. Kirk’s was a slab of granite-dense sycophancy. Owens, despite some clichéd digressions, writes with a scorching vigor. For all her clunky phrases, Blackout is undoubtedly energetic — hurrying the reader through its strange, uneven course at an intense, over-caffeinated pace. You’re not always quite sure of what Owens is trying to say, but it certainly sounds important.
Sometimes, Owens strikes upon a charming turn of phrase. A humdrum passage about how the media obsessed over President Trump’s unhealthy diet while ignoring President Obama’s nicotine addiction is elevated by the comment that the media ‘exercised compassion and understanding for [Obama’s] desire to smoke, as though they were lending the flame to help him light up’. Nice.
Owens is not incapable of making effective arguments. A better editor might have helped filter out the incoherent and redundant passages. There are good points here about people whose support for Black Lives Matter coexists with indifference towards the hundreds of young black men killed every year in gang violence; about an epidemic of fatherlessness; about the Democratic politicians who condescendingly appropriate the tropes of hip hop culture; about the universality of enslavement.
Owens is not wrong that rich, largely white men and women exploit black suffering to virtue-signal and for vicarious cultural thrills, and that they are more interested in the culture war than in the actual conditions of American life. But then you encounter an uproarious claim like ‘Trump represents…a shattering of the status quo not unlike the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt’ and you remember that Blackout is not a work of analysis or even polemic, so much as a work of performance art.
Owens preaches as she trolls and trolls as she preaches — her message, and her status, riding on waves of outrage and incredulity. She is a great American character — imbued with such impregnable self-belief and idle shamelessness that, like her hero President Trump, she would no doubt thrive in professional wrestling.
You may not like what she says or what she does, but you have to admire to some extent the phenomenon. This young lady soared out of nowhere, from making YouTube videos to writing a bestselling book, shaking hands with the President and picking fights with rap stars on social media. That’s the American dream right there. God bless it.