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Column: Larry Elder says he’s not a face of white supremacy. His fans make it hard to believe

Larry Elder greets supporters in Woodland Hills on Aug. 10
Conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder, who is running for California governor, greets supporters at the Warner Center Marriott in Woodland Hills on Aug. 10.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Larry Elder is not the Black face of white supremacy. Or at least that’s what he keeps telling people.

I had to laugh last week when Elder, the radio talk show host who is leading the race to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom if he gets recalled, complained to Fox News that I had “attacked” him in my last column by pointing out that he supports systemically racist policies that would disproportionately harm Black people.

“I anticipated that would happen,” Elder told host Sean Hannity. “This is why a lot of people don’t go into politics because of the politics of personal destruction.”

“Apparently you can say anything about an African American and it’s fine,” a sympathetic Hannity responded a few minutes later.

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I’m laughing because Hannity has no idea how right he is.

Despite Elder’s insistence during a recent rally in Woodland Hills that he couldn’t possibly be the palatable Black face covering for the ugliness of white supremacy, my social media feeds and inbox tell a different story.

For a solid week, I’ve been getting hundreds of racist messages from Elder’s angry, mostly self-proclaimed white supporters. People who, in their attempts to defend one Black man, seem to have no problem resorting to anti-Black tropes to tear down not just me, but Black people en masse.

That these are Elder’s most ardent fans should give every Californian pause.

Elder’s effort to replace Gavin Newsom feels like an insult to Blackness.

There’s a reader named Christopher, who wrote to me in all lowercase letters: “as a white man, here’s some knowledge. everything you have that makes your life comfortable was built by white men... blacks aren’t oppressed, you have the most privlage [well, “privilege”] to spew hatred everyday. white people have built civilization comfortable. yes certain people have been evil but to talk of supremacy as if blacks aren’t guilty of it themselves. every black country is 3rd world don’t tell me blacks would run anything better.”

(I’m guessing he means except Elder.)

There’s also Richard: “You clearly got to your position from affirmative action!! Not like Larry Elder, any black person who is successful and made something of himself without crying being a victim because of his race.”

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And Berry: “Stop blaming others and take responsibility for the sickening black culture in the inner cities. 95% of black men are killed by black men. 95% illiteracy rate. Teenage pregnancies and living a career off the welfare plantation.”

I know that Elder has supporters of all races who wouldn’t think of stringing together such vile words. Just like I know — and polls have shown — that Elder has intrigued people of all races who are seriously considering a vote to recall Newsom because they are livid over the state of affairs in California.

I get it. I’m also fed up with the explosion of homelessness, driven by an ever-worsening affordability crisis. And it makes me mad to remember the confusing and often contradictory messaging coming out of the Newsom administration during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A group listens to "Yes on Recall" campaign Chairman Carl DeMaio during a rally at the Santa Clarita Activities Center.
A group listens to “Yes on Recall” campaign Chairman Carl DeMaio during a rally at the Santa Clarita Activities Center.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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But watching Elder make campaign stops across California reminds me of watching former President Trump pitch Black voters while he was running for president the first time: “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”

Casting what, for most Democrats, would be a protest vote against Newsom would put Elder in a position to become governor — and open the door to far-right thinking and white supremacist policies supported by people like a Micah, who sent me a screenshot of the Wikipedia entry for the N-word.

And Randall: “I read your article and it seems mostly what I got out of it is the fact you’re upset your reparations might not happen. Never mind you personally have never experienced slavery, your parents were never slaves. Never mind this great nation has afforded you an excellent educational opportunity. Never mind this nation has not held back your opportunity to earn a good standard of living. It seems to me all you want to do is bitch and moan over a whole lot of nothing.”

And Brad: “Terrible journalism on your part but I guess that’s how you got the job, equity hire.”

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Even Dennis: “You are racism promoters. Just like the good liberal DEMS who stay in power by convincing their minority under educated Throngs of DEM voters that their woes are caused by racist white people… THEN EXPLAIN WHY ASIANS ARE SO SUCCESSFUL IN AMERICA.”

What does it say about Elder — the “brother from South Central,” as he recently tweeted — that these are some of the people he inspires most? And what does that suggest about how some of his supporters really see him and is he OK with that?

As for me, I’m seen like most Black people — a supposed “slave” to Democrats because I “love to play the victim.”

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I’m also apparently a racist. But why, I’m still not entirely sure. For agreeing with Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, that Elder is “a Black face on white supremacy”?

A reader named Jesse offered this explanation: “Whenever a black person doesn’t agree with your warped world view and your opinions about the black community, you are always the first ones to start hurling racist insults.”

On Wednesday, Elder’s campaign released a TV ad touting that he once “walked those hard streets” of South-Central L.A. He also asks: “Do I look like a white supremacist?” Skin color and upbringing don’t preclude anyone from being an enabler of white supremacy, though.

Not that Jason is convinced: “You are just another liberal degenerate scumbag that lies to people to persuade to them follow your socialists propaganda.”

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Radio talk show host Larry Elder has emerged as the leading GOP candidate seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in the recall election. Here are some moments from Elder’s past that have received attention.

Then there’s Shawn, who like a lot of readers seemed particularly upset that Black people consistently and overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. Apparently life for Black Californians would be much better under Republican rule. We just need to see the light.

“You want to keep black people on the Democrat plantation. How dare you. Larry Elder will be the emancipation proclamation to finally free the black community from the chains of Democrat rule.”

Yawn.

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Here’s the thing: People who are not Black don’t get to make decisions about what we feel is best for us.

Elder is, of course, a Black man and so he absolutely does get a say — and he has been saying a lot for a lot of years on his conservative radio talk show. That includes his notorious Rush Limbaugh-style attacks on Black people and Black elected officials, the same sort of “politics of personal destruction” that he now denounces.

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in San Francisco on Aug. 13 launching his anti-recall campaign.
(Getty Images)

The problem for Elder is that, for just as many years, he has failed to persuade a majority of Black Californians that what he’s saying is right and so he remains woefully outnumbered by those of us who lean left. That was true long before I started writing this column, and win or lose, that will be true long after the Sept. 14 recall election.

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Underscoring this are the findings from a new poll of Black Americans conducted by the Black to the Future Action Fund. Among the top policy priorities respondents identified, Elder opposes three of them.

Those include raising the minimum wage, which he thinks should be zero, and creating a guaranteed income until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, which Elder, with his libertarian leanings, sees as encouraging government dependency.

The third policy priority, addressing the structural racism of white supremacy, particularly within police departments, is something that Elder doesn’t even think exists.

It’s no wonder then that the poll also found that most — 74% — Black people approve of their Democratic governors, while only about half do of their Republicans governors.

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So, yes, I do believe that a wealthy white man will do less damage to Black Californians than Elder, a Black man who rose from poverty. On Tuesday afternoon, several Black elected officials, led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) held a rally via Zoom to say they believe the same.

The reason is simple. Newsom is at least trying to do what most of us want by addressing the root causes of our problems by dismantling white supremacy, not by embracing as supporters some of the very people who embody it.


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