In this episode of Mic Dispatch, controversial Republican and Turning Points USA communications director Candace Owens sits down for an interview with Mic co-founder Jake Horowitz about racism, the Trump presidency and the Black Lives Matter movement; anchor Natasha Del Toro breaks down the Candace Owens philosophy with reporter Chauncey Alcorn; and correspondent Jordyn Rolling — in a Mic study in partnership with the Investigative Fund and reporter Torey Van Oot — delves into the world of beauty bloggers and explores the harmful ingredients in the makeup they promote to millions.
Jake Horowitz, co-founder, Mic: You say Black Lives Matter is what?
Candace Owens, communications director, Turning Point USA: Is a political arm for the Democratic Party.
Horowitz: That has been co-opted.
Natasha Del Toro, anchor, Mic Dispatch: On this show, we like to cover different perspectives, so today we want to introduce you to the new “it” girl for conservatives. Candace Owens has become one of the most visible — and most controversial — voices for the right side of the political spectrum. As a woman of color, she represents a unique perspective. She attacks the Black Lives Matter movement, she opposes abortion, she supports the elimination of welfare programs. So she’s definitely provocative, but the question is: Will she be able to sway the black vote? Check out this interview with Mic’s co-founder Jake Horowitz.
Owens: If I had to write a list of 100 things that are harming the black community, police brutality would not even be one of them.
Horowitz: This is Candace Owens.
[Owens, in clip: “Oh my God, Charlottesville, white supremacy is alive and well, run!” Stop.]
Horowitz: Owens got her start making YouTube videos from her bedroom. Now she’s one of the leading voices for young conservatives and the communications director for Turning Point USA.
[Owens, in clip: CNN is trying to sell me my own oppression.]
Horowitz: She’s amassed hundreds of thousands of followers and fans, in part by being incredibly provocative and, to some, downright offensive.
[Owens, in clip: Feminism is for people that think sticking your head into a hat shaped like a vagina deems you an intellectual.]
Horowitz: In some ways, Owens’ ideas are not all that different. She’s one of a growing group of conservative thought leaders like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, who have also built massive followings, by wading into polarizing debates and making incendiary comments, all in the name of challenging “political correctness.” Owens is also far from the first black conservative to get attention for her ideas. But according to Theodore Johnson, a leading expert on race at the Brennan Center for Justice, the way she presents her arguments is what makes her exceptional.
Theodore Johnson, senior fellow, Brennan Center for Justice: Candace plays into a particular strain of black conservatism where it’s a bit opportunistic, where it sort of takes the temperature of the political environment and leans itself in a way that would get the person a little bit more attention and allows their message to travel further.
Horowitz: That personality has earned Owens praise from prominent figures like Kanye West.
[Kanye West, in clip: Candace Owens has facts she’s researched.]
Horowitz: Even President Trump himself. Given her newfound fame, I wanted to understand how real her movement is and how seriously we should take her. So I went to Stanford University — where Owens was invited to speak by the school’s college Republican organization — in order to find out.
[Attendee at Owens’ speaking engagement: White liberals don’t really care about me, bro.]
[Owens: That’s correct.]
[Attendee: I’m off the plantation bro.]
[Owens: Another one off the plantation.]
Horowitz: So I wanted you to just take a little bit of time to explain your background. Who is the real Candace Owens?
Owens: I had no political inclination. I did not care about politics. That changed tremendously for me when Donald Trump began running, and I thought that the conversation was vitriolic, it was hateful. But I think the biggest thing is I thought it was dishonest.
Horowitz: In what way?
Owens: When you start with, “He is not allowed to run because he is a racist, because he is a sexist, because he is a misogynist,” to me, it really challenged all of my views. It made me think that a lot of these words are used to control people, not to protect them.
Horowitz: Owens is on a mission to convince young black voters to leave the Democratic party, just like she did. Here’s her argument in a nutshell: Black people have been failed by Democratic policies and are being brainwashed by the media and by movements like Black Lives Matter.
Owens: So every four years, the Democrats need to get the black vote, and it seems that almost every four years, we start seeing racial tension rise. Every single night, I think, during Trump’s election Black Lives Matter protesters were being displayed on my screen. If you were a black person in America, you would’ve thought that you couldn’t walk out the door, you would’ve thought that the police were hunting us, right? Factually speaking, it’s just not true.
Horowitz: I actually have the statistic. There were 778 African-Americans shot and killed by police officers since 2015.
Horowitz: That’s a lot of people.
Owens: That’s a lot of people, but what your stat is lacking is how many of them were unarmed and didn’t deserve to be shot by the police.
Horowitz: So and I’ll give you that stat: 16, one-six, unarmed black men were shot by police officers in 2016. That represents point .00004% of the black population.
Horowitz (voiceover): There are discrepancies between news outlets that track the numbers due to differing methodologies. According to The Counted, a database by the Guardian, 29 unarmed black men were shot and killed by police in 2016. But, according to the Washington Post’s database, the number is 18. Still, Johnson says just looking at those statistics doesn’t tell you the full story.
Johnson: So even if, relative to violence writ large, or the number of incidents relative to the black population may seem small, when you look at the rate of incidents, and not just violence but harassment, there’s a clear disproportionate disadvantage of being black in a confrontation with law enforcement.
Horowitz: You say Black Lives Matter is what?
Owens: Is a political arm for the Democratic Party.
Horowitz: That has been co-opted.
Johnson: Yeah, I couldn’t disagree more. The ways that Black Lives Matter protested and interrupted Bernie Sanders’ campaign, Hillary Clinton’s campaign goes to show that there’s no deep alliance between the movement and the party.
Horowitz: You often talk a lot about how liberals are quick to cry racism or oppression. How do you define racism?
Owens: That’s a — That’s a…
Horowitz: Or what’s an example of something you find racist?
Owens: That’s a big question. I think Jim Crow laws were racist. That was racist.
Horowitz: And in the modern context?
Owens: In the modern context, I can’t think of a policy that is racist, but, you know, if somebody walks into this room right now and calls me the N-word, that’s a racist term.
Horowitz (voiceover): Owens’ critics say she’s jumped on the Trump bandwagon just to get attention, and that her provocative comments threaten to normalize racism, sexism and transphobia.
[Owens, in clip: I don’t want them to think this is a cat fight between two girls. It’s not. It is a grown man sitting across from a grown woman.]
Horowitz: Indeed, several activists who I contacted refused to comment for this story, so as not to lend their platform to her ideas. But Owens says she genuinely feels that Trump is helping the black community. And what we witnessed at Stanford is that many people agree. She and her counterpart, Charlie Kirk, had the room captivated with several hundred students, who were mostly white, cheering after almost every line. And this was at an elite liberal arts university.
Horowitz, to Owens: You pride yourself on being a free thinker.
Horowitz: What’s an area where you break from or differ from President Trump? Where you are a freethinker as it pertains to his agenda?
Owens: Tons of things.
Horowitz: Name a few.
Owens: There are tons of things that I disagree with President Trump on.
Horowitz: What are some?
Owens: I thought that he responded too quickly to Syria.
Horowitz: What are some others?
Owens: You can give me some policies and I can tell you yes or no.
Horowitz: Anything specifically on the areas that you speak out about — black America?
Horowitz: which is about race, about black Americans,
Owens: No, none.
Horowitz: about social policies,
Horowitz: about social issues.
Owens: No, I’m fully on board with him, and that’s why I go around and I speak positively about him. And I want people to understand that we should be trying something different, and Trump is offering something different.
Horowitz (voiceover): Although Owens is making an effort to peel off black voters from the Democratic Party, there’s little evidence to show that’s actually happening: Almost 90% of black Americans voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and black voters have helped Democrats win in the elections since.
Horowitz, to Owens: When you talk about this surge, this rise of young black conservatism, that were on the verge of something historic happening, how do you know it’s happening?
Owens: We see that every day because we are us, right. I have people that send emails — thousands and thousands of emails and messages via Facebook, via social media, people asking how they can get involved.
Horowitz (voiceover): Johnson says there is growing dissatisfaction in the black community with both parties and a real risk that black voters decide not to vote at all in future elections. But he says it’s unlikely we’ll see an electoral shift.
Johnson: There’s no sleeping giant of black Republicans or black voters, who are suddenly going to support black conservative candidates. I think the biggest trend is that black voters are going to turn out at higher rates in order to defeat Trump-inspired candidates or Trump proxy candidates.
Horowitz, to Owens: What does success look like for you, Candace — next five years, next ten years?
Owens: Success looks like breaking the monolith. It looks like not seeing 94% of black people that vote voting for one party. Success looks to me like people thinking for themselves and thinking freely.
Horowitz (voiceover): With the 2018 midterms and the next presidential election around the corner, we’ll know soon enough whether Owens’ movement has real consequence.
Del Toro: I’m here with Chauncey Alcorn, who covers the intersection of race, politics and culture for Mic and he’s also written about Candace Owens. Welcome, Chauncey.
Chauncey Alcorn, reporter, The Movement: Happy to be here.
Del Toro: So what’s your gut reaction when you hear Candace speak?
Alcorn: The biggest thing is, a lot of the things that she say just don’t seem to be ideologically consistent. She’s supposedly against identity politics, but all she talks about is being African-American and red-pilling black people and being a woman and a black person. She talks about things in very racialized terms, and people — her own fellow conservatives — people like Ben Shapiro, people like Tomi Lahren have called her out. So those things made people question her sincerity.
Del Toro: So when she says that Trump is not racist and that she doesn’t disagree with any of his policies around the black community, what’s your response?
Alcorn: Well as far as Trump being racist or not, I don’t really think black America cares what’s in Donald Trump’s head. What they care about is what he’s doing. When you see the president come out and speak in Long Island and tacitly endorse police brutality, which was a statement that was denounced by law enforcement agencies across the country, when you see people across the country screaming, “Hail Trump” and saying racial epithets all over the country and doing it under the guise that they support Donald Trump and that they believe that he has given them license to come out and say these things publicly and express their sentiment, that is not going to endear anyone to support Donald Trump.
Del Toro: You saw in the video that there’s — she says, “Now he’s off the plantation.” Does that message resonate for black communities?
Alcorn: Black people are disenchanted with politics, and that’s very real. She’s done a good job of bringing that up and pointing that out. But a lot of black people are not voting or are not politically engaged. There was a poll that came out earlier this year from a progressive, black think tank called Black PAC, a political action committee. Research found that black millennials’ support for the Democratic Party was substantially down from the baby boomer generation. So if you’re a black millennial, only 65% of them said that they were going to support the Democrats openly or were excited to support Democrats in the midterm elections. And going in to 2020, for black male millennials, that support was down to 50%. And that is a huge drop in support generationally.
Del Toro: Is she a threat to the Democrats?
Alcorn: Well the biggest threat that I think she poses again is doing a repeat of what happened in 2016, which is having a lack of engagement amongst African-Americans across America. There was a piece I did called “Turning Point USA’s plan to ‘red-pill’ the black community should concern Democrats and here’s why” and it basically outlined what I believe is Candace’s political strategy and orthodoxy, which is understanding, “I don’t have to red pill everybody. I only need to get a few of you to support Trump, and if I can get a lot more of you to not vote, then I’ve done my job.” Black people don’t have to be Democrats. That’s literally Candace’s message in a nutshell: Be a free thinker, think outside the box and, if she can get enough black people to be disenchanted with the Democratic Party, then she will have done her job.
Del Toro: Chauncey, thank you so much for being here. We look forward to more of your reporting.
Alcorn: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
Del Toro: The beauty industry is massive, raking in an estimated $62 billion in the U.S. alone. And so-called beauty influencers — social media stars who provide makeup tips to their millions of followers, many of whom are teenagers — are radically altering this lucrative space. But people might think twice about buying the cosmetics these influencers are recommending if they knew about some of the potentially harmful chemicals in them. In this next story, Mic correspondent Jordyn Rolling teamed up with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute to reveal the ugly truth about some beauty products.
Aicha Sacko, 17-year-old (voiceover): I fill in my eyebrows, then I put my lashes on. I put my foundation on. I start putting my concealer on. I bake my face with the baking powder. It can look nice and glowy. I wear makeup every day. I love makeup. Makeup is my passion. And I love the fact that, you know, every time I wear makeup, I feel pretty. I’ve grown up watching these YouTubers and I learned how to do my makeup through YouTube.
Jordyn Rolling, correspondent (voiceover): Seventeen-year-old Aicha is one of millions of teens who turn to YouTube to learn beauty tips and tricks.
[Clip of NikkieTutorials, beauty blogger: The classic Airspun in “extra coverage.”]
[Clip of KathleenLights, beauty blogger: I’m mixing two foundations today, the first one is the Revlon Colorstay.]
[Clip of NikkieTutorials, beauty blogger: And I make sure I really press the powder in.]
[Clip of AndreasChoice, beauty blogger: I like to just brush on my Milani Brunette Pomade, is that what I want to call it?]
Rolling: These teens may be learning how to contour or create the perfect smokey eye, but what they aren’t learning about is the potentially harmful ingredients inside of the many products they’re using to complete those looks.
Torey Van Oot, reporter, the Investigative Fund: One thing that some researchers and experts are concerned about is the number of products teens are using, the frequency of products and kind of the concentration or the compounding effect of exposure of all of these products.
Rolling (voiceover): Many cosmetics in the U.S. contain controversial ingredients like parabens, BHT, and BHA. These are considered endocrine, or hormone disruptors, that studies have linked to fertility issues and cancer. Then there’s retinyl palmitate, vitamin A commonly used in sunscreens that research suggests can speed up the growth of cancer in the skin.
Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney, Environmental Working Group: Teenagers — they’re not quite children, they’re not quite adults. Their bodies are still developing and a number of chemicals, when they get into your body, they can interfere with that development. These are called hormone disrupting chemicals, or endocrine disruption. And so teenagers are at much higher risk from exposure to those kinds of chemicals.
Rolling: Mic and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute did an analysis of a dozen makeup tutorials posted by YouTube beauty influencers.
Van Oot: We decided to review YouTube beauty tutorial channels that are popular among teens to see what products these YouTubers were promoting to their audience and what was in those products. And what we found was that the YouTubers are promoting a high number of products per video — 14 products on average for a single makeup look. We also found that a majority of those products, upwards of 60%, contained at least one ingredient that has been flagged by experts and research we’ve reviewed as potentially having adverse health effects.
Rolling: It’s possible these YouTubers aren’t aware of the potentially harmful ingredients they’re promoting to teens in their many makeup tutorials that range from back-to-school and prom looks. Yet those with a million followers can make up to six figures from a single video. We reached out to six of the top beauty influencers on YouTube who have promoted these products to teens. They didn’t respond. We also reached out to the cosmetics companies whose products contain these controversial ingredients. Catrice Cosmetics told us, “All of our products undergo a safety assessment before entering the market, which ensures a safe application for the end consumers.” The others did not respond.
Sacko: As I’m watching YouTube tutorials, I’ll see someone use a product and they will have it in the description below like, “OK, this is what I use for my eyes,” and I’ll be like, “Wow, that’s really nice. I need to go buy that right now.”
Rolling: So a lot of the makeup that you’re putting on your skin could potentially harm you. Did you know that?
Sacko: No. I would not expect that at all, ’cause you would think like smoking can cause you cancer or, you know, drinking, but I would never expect that wearing makeup can affect your hormones, affect infertility. I had no idea. I don’t look at labels at all. I just — I look at the prices and I look at, “OK, is this the brand that this specific YouTuber told me to get? OK, so I’m gonna buy it,” or, “Let me try it on my face, see how it looks.” I just want to look pretty and I want to just, you know, have my face glowing.
Rolling, to Benesh: Whose job is it to regulate cosmetics?
Benesh: It’s the Food and Drug Administration’s responsibility to regulate cosmetics. Since 1938, we really haven’t had a significant update, even though every other area of FDA authority: food, drugs, over-the-counter drugs, tobacco, medical devices have all undergone updates in that time. Cosmetics are much more regulated in the European Union than they are in the U.S. Under our limited authority, the FDA has only taken steps to restrict or ban about nine ingredients for safety reasons, 11 overall. And these are sort of the worst of the worst ingredients. The European Union, on the other hand, has taken a look at and placed restrictions on well over a thousand ingredients.
Rolling: Despite the FDA’s underregulation, companies are taking action.
Van Oot: You’re seeing companies make changes based on increasing consumer awareness and demand. You know, you walk through a Sephora or a drug store and you’ll see products being marketed and labeled as free of some of these ingredients, and that’s in response to consumer pressure and greater awareness of what’s in some of these ingredients.
Rolling: Products labeled as “paraben free” are an example of the changes companies are making, but experts say consumers still need to be more aware.
Sacko: I just want the girls to know like as much as we feel insecure and we look up to these YouTubers and beauty bloggers like, “OK, they’re pretty, I want to look like them,” we also need to take care of ourselves — our health, our body, everything.
Del Toro: If you want to find out what’s in your makeup, you can go to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics database. You plug in a brand and it’ll tell you what’s in it and if there are any concerns. In fact, I just checked my mascara that I’ve been wearing forever and I think I’m going to have to get rid of it. Well, that’s it for this edition of Mic Dispatch. Let us know what you think, leave a comment. We’re excited to hear from you. Thanks for watching.
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