If you ever had any doubt Elon Musk was a racist, especially with all he’s been posting over on the platform he massively overpaid for in recent months, there was no longer any denying exactly who he is after a stunt he pulled on September 28, 2023.
On that day, the obnoxious billionaire took a surprising trip to the US-Mexico border as if he was a Republican politician seeking a presidential nomination. Standing alongside the brutal US border guards, he cosplayed a citizen journalist and sneered at the poor, desperate people who’d crossed the border to flee violence fueled by US foreign policy. Musk was using the trip to showcase a new livestreaming feature on Twitter/X — no surprise, it crashed repeatedly — but there was one photo from the visit that captured just who Elon Musk is.
The photo shows a black-clad and oddly proportioned Musk standing alongside Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales. Musk is holding up his phone, presumably livestreaming — or at least trying to livestream — everything he’s seeing. The two men are in front of a red plastic fence, on the other side of which are dozens, if not hundreds, of migrants sitting in rows after having been apprehending by the border force. Musk said he believes the “border needs to be secured” and that the country should build a wall, adding yet another similarity between himself and former president Donald Trump.
But remember that Elon Musk is an immigrant to the United States. He used his blood ties to get into Canada before going south as a student and later heading out to Silicon Valley. He claims to have been broke at the time and that he had to take on over $100,000 in student loan debt as a result, but ultimately he had the privilege of living the American Dream — an old promise that’s increasingly become more of a fantasy. After ascending to the very peak to the socioeconomic pyramid, he not only wants to kick down the ladder, but actively work to stop particular groups — particularly people with darker skin from the Global South — from even reaching for the bottom rung.
Around the same time as he was taking aim at Latin American migrants, he was also targeting those from the Middle East and Africa who have to cross the Mediterranean in dangerous boats to reach Europe. Musk shared a post from an account praising the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party with a video showing people from a German non-governmental organization rescuing migrants from those boats and transporting them to safety in Italy. Clearly incensed to learn about such an empathetic act, Musk asked whether the German public knew what the group was doing, fueling the conspiracy theorists and fascists who he increasingly associates with.
Not long after, the German foreign ministry responded on his platform. “Yes,” the account wrote. “And it’s called saving lives.”
Defending racist practices
I can already hear the objections of some readers: Are you blind, Paris? It’s been very obvious he’s a racist for a long time! Let me just say, I know, but that’s not really the point of this article. I’ve been writing about Elon Musk for years, to such a degree that I’ve been called “the left’s leading Muskologist” (a title I’ll accept, though not without reservations). Musk is absolutely a racist, but for a long time he was able to use dogwhistle terms without being so open about it, and that gave many in the media and political spheres permission to ignore that fact so they could continue praising him for his cars and rockets.
We can go back to the fact that Musk was on an advisory council during the Trump presidency and refused to step down when the administration moved forward with the Muslim ban, but did so later when Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. Or we can talk about how the culture at Tesla’s Fremont factory was found to have been so deeply racist that it was nicknamed “the plantation” and there were swastikas and racist caricatures drawn on the walls. The company lost a case against a Black worker over his treatment at the factory and is now being sued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over the same issue.
It would be easy to claim the workplace racism wasn’t Musk’s fault, but ultimately he set the conditions and created the culture people worked under. (Even beyond the racism, that culture’s known to be a particularly aggressive one.) He can be a micromanager and he knew what was happening. In May 2017, Musk sent an email to all employees after Black workers started asking for the racist abuse to be addressed. Instead of telling workers to stop being racist to their coworkers, he said employees needed to be “thick-skinned” — a message to the Black workers trying to stop the racism they were experiencing.
Advocating eugenic ideas
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Musk has long pushed the idea that population decline and low birth rates are a significant threat to humanity, even more so than the climate crisis. As I’ve written in the past, those fears are rooted in deeply eugenic narratives about population.
Musk has previously said that he believes “smart” people need to be having more children, based on his assumption that low-IQ individuals were having more children than high-IQ individuals because wealthy people have fewer children than poor families. There’s not only a racial element to class, but also to IQ: it was explicitly developed as a racist measure of intelligence designed to show that people of color had lower intelligence than white people. On top of that, Musk’s language about the threat of low birth rates — especially among “smart” people — echoes the racist narratives from prominent twentieth-century eugenicists. He’s just giving it a fresh coat of paint.
Journalist Julia Black reported that these views are not new for Musk. She spoke to a source who knew him when he was much younger and told her Musk’s obsession with Genghis Khan and “populating the world with his offspring” goes as far back as at least 2005. Musk’s advocacy of procreation among the wealthy has helped fuel a “pronatalist” movement among some of the tech elite (and those who aspire to join it), where people experiment with (and invest in) eugenic projects to shape the genetics of their children to try to increase their intelligence or IQ. Their goal is essentially to turn their offspring into superhumans who, theoretically, will always be in control of the commanding heights of the economy.
But the reality is that low birth rates and population decline are not a global threat. Sure, population growth is slowing in the Global North and what growth does happen is often due to immigration, but the global population is poised to reach at least 11 billion from its current high of about 8 billion. Thus, his fears are not about general population decline, but of the decline of populations in the Global North and specifically among the white and wealthy — or “smart” — like himself.
That’s exactly why when Musk sees desperate migrants fleeing their impoverished and war-ravaged countries for the relative security of the United States and Europe, he doesn’t respond with empathy or see them as the solution to the supposed problem of population decline. Instead, like any reactionary white nationalist, he sees invading hordes of sub-humans that need to be stopped — by building a wall or sinking their boats in the Mediterranean. They don’t deserve the same opportunities as the young Musk, stepping off the plane from apartheid South Africa.
Spreading “white genocide” myths
Musk doesn’t talk much about his childhood in South Africa or his experience growing up under apartheid. But he did wade back into South African politics recently, only to fuel a conspiracy theory embraced by the far right and white nationalists in the United States as evidence of the “white genocide” that happens when people of color are allowed to take power.
In July, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party celebrated its tenth anniversary with a rally in Johnannesburg, and leader Julius Malema sang a song called “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer” that has its roots in the anti-apartheid struggle. It was quickly picked up by the US far right. Benny Johnson shared a video of Malema, decrying the actions of “South Africa’s black party” and the effects of the “rotten secular religion of wokeness.” It took less than an hour for Musk to jump in and declare that Malema was “openly pushing for genocide of white people in South Africa.”
But that’s not anywhere near the truth. As Ishaan Tharoor wrote in the Washington Post, the EFF is tapping into frustrations among Black South Africans over the state of the country and the fact that nearly three-quarters of private farmland is still owned by White South Africans, who make up just 7.7% of the population, because true land reform never occurred after apartheid ended. The party is currently polling at around 12% nationally and chipping into the support for the ruling African National Congress.
Tharoor explained that “South African white rights activists” have caught the attention of the US far right with claims that white farmers are being murdered in escalating numbers in South Africa, supposedly showing how threatened they are under Black rule. But the data doesn’t back that up, and even suggests white farmers are safer than the general population. For US white nationalists, that doesn’t matter because, according to Tharoor, the conspiracy theory gives them “a bizarre parable for the fate that may await them in South African Whites’ supposed vulnerability to the predations of hostile Blacks and neglect by a Black-majority government.” And now it’s being echoed by one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
A threat to us all
So, to conclude: Elon Musk is a racist. He’s now much more open about his racist views, whether it’s spreading conspiracy theories about white genocide or targeting powerless migrants from the perch of the platform he paid $44 billion to acquire last year. He even went so far to compare migrants fleeing to Europe through the treacherous seas of the Mediterranean to an “invasion.”
But that racism is not new. Musk has been downplaying racial harassment at Tesla and spreading racist and eugenic ideas about population figures for years — even decades. Yet it was ignored by influential people for far too long because he wasn’t as direct as he is now and they didn’t want to lose their access to an ascendent tech founder.
That it’s taken so long for so many people to realize that the apartheid billionaire might have held onto some racist ideas from his upbringing is yet another example of how the media failed us and allowed Elon Musk to accumulate the power he’s now wielding against migrants, trans people, and many other groups in society. Billionaires like Musk are not just a threat to marginalized people, but to democracy as a whole because of how they can warp the media and political systems to their ends.
Elon Musk needs to fall from grace after being praised for so many years. But we must also ensure there can never be another Great Man of the Tech Industry to follow in his footsteps and command the power he holds.