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We Can't Give Nikki Haley a Pass

Nikki Haley headshot
Nikki Haley's reluctance to acknowledge racism in America disqualifies her from the Presidency.

Nikki Haley has made too many factually incorrect statements about race to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Full stop.

She has refused multiple times to admit that slavery was the key issue in the American Civil War, only to apologize later and acknowledge that, of course, it was. This week’s eye-raising moment saw the Republican presidential hopeful express another patently false assertion that the United States has never been a racist country. She can’t seriously believe this, given that it was once legal to own Black people, can she?


Oh, but she can.


Turn after turn, Ms. Haley spouts woefully ignorant comments regarding race in America that belie reality and history. It’s not just that her facts are wrong. Her facts are absent.

You would think that in nearly 20 years in political office, first as a South Carolina state representative from 2005 – 2011 and then as Governor of the state from 2011 to 2017—becoming the first person of color to hold that office -- she would acknowledge that while America has made progress on race relations, the structural tenants of racism impact people of color in America disproportionally.

Still, she just can’t seem to do it. At least not initially. Her reluctance to speak this truth is problematic at best and disastrous at worst. As a result, we can't give Nikki Haley a pass.


However, I believe there’s an explanation, if not a real reason.


As an Asian American woman in the U.S., Haley falls within a preferential demographic that is considered “white adjacent.” For some in this community, the relative privilege they enjoy because of their education, socio-economic status, and influence can mirror that of White Americans. This does not mean that anti-Asian hate doesn’t exist in America – it certainly does, but the Asian community at large is viewed as a preferred minority community, and that affords a level of protection from the worst of the ails of racism – including over- policing, hiring, pay, and lending discrimination.


Also, being a preferred minority woman in the Deep South political environment is a matchless circumstance that is bound to create some precarious predicaments. How do you reckon with the political and power dynamics inside a system that may view you as an outsider – a double minority, albeit a preferred one?


The easier track to take is not to cause waves – to build consensus and collaboration while leading with communication and achievement. But does that mean you don’t address the challenging issues? That you must avoid controversy with the agile steps of one who refuses to ruffle feathers for fear of being cast as an outsider? A race baiter? A problematic reminder of the mistake of electing a minority woman in the first place?



I’ve argued before that those who benefit from America’s racial caste system are unlikely to dismantle it. One way to ensure that the system remains stacked against Black and Brown people is to deny that there is an existing caste system. To deny its very existence.


Nikki Haley has become very effective at doing that if nothing else. Perhaps it’s because of her preferred minority status. Perhaps it’s simple willful ignorance. Or, maybe it’s more calculated than that.


Why We Can't Give Nikki Haley a Pass

Her refusal to acknowledge slavery as the root cause of the Civil War, as well as the existence of racism in the United States as a continuing and pervasive problem that must be eradicated, belies the reality.

And while we’ve grown accustomed to politicians carefully skirting controversial issues to curry favor with the electorate, America’s increasing racial diversity and racial caste system present two opposing conditions that cannot be ignored. Doing so would be tantamount to ignoring the teapot whistle that tells you the water is hot.

But this is just what Nikki Haley and those who avoid discussion of the complex issues of race in America do – they simply ignore the issue altogether.


Is this presidential material? We can’t simply ignore Haley’s exceptionally tone-deaf responses regarding issues of race, even if some may view her as the best of the top three Republican Presidential candidates on the issue. As a racial minority herself, although a preferred one, she can and should do better to display awareness of and commitment to eliminating racism in America.


But you cannot address what you refuse to acknowledge.






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