Candace Owens, an African American conservative commentator, claimed Tuesday that Republicans never tried to siphon off white voters in the South by using race as a wedge issue.
Owens, who was invited by Republicans to testify before the House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on the rise of white nationalism, said the well-documented Southern strategy is a myth that “never happened.”
Owens, who tried to diminish the rise of white nationalism as an invention by Democrats to “scare black people,” said there had never been a Republican effort to use racism to the party’s political advantage.
Black conservatives are criticized for having “the audacity to think for themselves and become educated about our history and the myth of things like the Southern switch, the Southern strategy, which never happened,” she told lawmakers.
But the political realignment that began as a result of the civil rights movement in the 1960s is well established. Republicans wooed Southern whites who had long been Democrats, while Democrats embraced policies supportive of African Americans.
In fact, when Ken Mehlman was Republican National Committee chairman, he effectively apologized for that political strategy at the 2005 NAACP national convention. “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,” Mehlman said in prepared remarks.
In a then-anonymous 1981 interview with a political scientist, Lee Atwater, a political adviser in the Reagan White House, explained the evolution of the “Southern strategy,” which he said started as overt racism and evolved into the adoption of fiscal policies wherein “blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
According to Joseph Aistrup’s book “The Southern Strategy Revisted,” President Ronald Reagan spoke about “welfare queens” and dependence on food stamps in veiled references to black people as he campaigned for Southern white votes.
Ava DuVernay, the filmmaker who directed the documentary “13th,” about the African American experience in the United States, shared on Twitter a clip from her movie that plays Atwater’s interview.
DuVernay called Owens’s comments “white nationalist revisionist garbage.”
“And,” she wrote, “the marathon continues.”