Despite the ongoing protests against racial injustice, America is not racist according to Nikki Haley, the country’s former ambassador to the United Nations and former governor of South Carolina. Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, had the opportunity to speak at the Republican National Convention Tuesday as the party’s token brown woman. Amid celebrations of representation with the announcement of Kamala Harris on the Democratic ticket, the Republican Party seems to want to earn the same praise by having Haley highlight her Indian heritage.
While most of Haley’s speech focused on criticizing Democratic candidate Joe Biden, she touched on her experience as a “brown girl in a black-and-white world” (cue the Barbie music) as a way to emphasize that America is not racist. But oddly, in her effort to prove America’s history of acceptance, Haley shared experiences of discrimination.
Did she forget what she was arguing for?
Haley was elected as the first woman and first minority to serve as governor of South Carolina in 2010. “My father wore a turban. My mother wore a sari,” she said. “We faced discrimination and hardship, but my parents never gave into grievance and hate.” She added that on several occasions her Sikh parents dealt with racism in both her personal and political life. “I grew up in a small town where we were the only Indian family, and I was bullied because they didn’t know if I was black or if I was white,” Haley said. “All I knew was I was Indian. I was brown; and I was bullied because I wouldn’t take a side. […] So I told my parents and my parents talked to the teachers, and we ended up educating the class.”
During her campaign for governor in 2010, then-state Sen. Jake Knotts referred to Haley as a “raghead” in a statement in which he referred to former President Barack Obama with the same slur. “We already got one raghead in the White House, we don’t need a raghead in the governor’s mansion,” Knotts said, NBC News reported.
After detailing the hardship and discrimination her parents dealt with in addition to the bullying she faced as a child, Haley went on to say that calling American racist is a trend. “It’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie,” Haley said. “America is not a racist country.”
She then referenced an incident in which a gunman fired in a Black church in Charleston in 2015 at the time she served as governor of the state to illustrate how America should respond to anti-Black rhetoric and racism. “After that horrific tragedy, we didn’t turn against each other. We came together, Black and white, Democrat and Republican,” she said. “What happened then should give us hope now. America isn’t perfect, but the principles we hold dear are perfect.”
She even recalled the decision to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina state’s capitol following this incident, an event during which she called the flag a “divisive symbol”—apparently ignorant of the fact that Donald Trump, who she praised, has repeatedly defended the flag.
Like others who are a part of or were a part of the Trump administration, Haley’s words did not add up. “This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to America and settled in a small southern town,” Haley said. On one hand, she is saying incidents of violence against Black folk impact her personally as a woman of color and on the other, she belittles the movement such incidents created. “America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress, and make America even freer, fairer, and better for everyone. That’s why it’s tragic to see so much of the Democratic Party turn a blind eye toward riots and rage.”
During her speech, she also praised Trump for his work in office and spoke of how he would give each child an opportunity despite their race, adding that “of course we know that every single Black life is valuable.” However, Trump has repeatedly spoken against the Black Lives Matter movement and even threatened to prosecute those protestors who speak about and take part in the demonstrations. In July, he called New York City’s plan to paint “Black Lives Matter” on Fifth Avenue a “symbol of hate.”
While it seems as though Haley is using her identity as a South Asian woman to garner votes from that demographic, this isn’t the first time Haley has openly spoken out as a woman of color. Haley began openly speaking about her Indian heritage while she served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This resulted in global coverage from both Indian American and Indian press on representation. However, despite Haley claiming she was always “proud” to be the daughter of immigrants, she reportedly identified as “white” on a voter registration card in 2001.
Centering her speech around the experiences of her immigrant parents and her upbringing echoes Kamala Harris’ speech in which Harris emphasized her biracial identity. In recent years when the Republican Party has consistently failed to reach out to minorities and people of color, Haley’s speech sounded like an attempt to appeal to such voters. She even urged the party to reach out to minorities, who are a growing group of influential voters in the U.S.
“We have to go to places that Republicans have been uncomfortable to go. We have to start talking to Indian Americans. We have to start talking to African Americans. We have to start talking to Hispanics,” she said. “We have to talk to women in a way that we tell them what we’re about and what we’re for, and not let others define what our party is.”
But again, instead of using her own and her family’s experiences to emphasize why America must do better to eliminate racism and discrimination, Haley used the opportunity to state America is not racist—but at least she said it could be improved. “America is a story that’s a work in progress. Now is the time to build on that progress and make America even freer, fairer and better for everyone.” Haley’s speech was clearly meant to applaud Trump’s leadership and belittle the actions of protestors who support racial justice reform. She is predicted to be a potential candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.