Nikki Haley | 2023 photo by Ruta Smith

Bless her heart. Former S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley is doubling down on the presidential campaign trail that America isn’t racist.

“How far have we come? So far that Barack Obama was elected president,” Haley writes in a pandering, smug June 21 op-ed in the Daily Mail that complained Obama attacked her. 

If Obama’s election twice as president is proof that racism no longer exists, then Haley must still be reading those South Carolina history books that taught White plantation masters were benevolent and slaves were happy.  

So if America isn’t racist, Governor, what happened? History clearly shows America built generational wealth on the backs of millions of enslaved Africans, 40% of whom entered this continent through Charleston. Did something magically occur sometime between Jim Crow, the civil rights movement (a national effort to allow Blacks to have equal rights 100 years after the Civil War) and when you became the first minority to serve as South Carolina’s governor that made decade after decade of violence, lynchings, fear, racism and violence go “poof” in the wind?

This racism that apparently no longer exists is sure to have had nothing to do with people you must have forgotten, such as Walter Scott, shot in the back in 2015 and killed by a North Charleston policeman. Or George Floyd, who struggled to breathe and died in 2000 because a White police officer in Minneapolis had his knee on his neck. Or Dylann Roof, the young White supremacist from South Carolina who was groomed to hate and ended up slaughtering nine worshippers in Charleston in 2015 at Emanuel AME Church.

Remember any of that, Governor? Still want to say racism doesn’t exist? What about the years of cynical Republican political strategies that preyed on race, fear and hate to divide the political parties, from Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy that targeted White conservative voters to S.C. consultant Lee Atwater’s coded language that helped Ronald Reagan appeal to racist sentiments in the then Democratic South. Or the out-in-the-open blatant racist language of Donald Trump, the guy who you served as America’s ambassador to the United Nations? Any of this ring a bell?

The ever-ambitious Haley often points to the removal of the Confederate flag in 2015 while she was governor. If racism didn’t exist, why was that flag on top of the Statehouse and then on the Statehouse grounds for years? Or was removing the flag from a public place the signal to all of the racists out there that it was time to furl their prejudice and for America to become a happy place filled with light and joy?

Haley is right that the America of 2023 is different from the America of 1776 or a few years later when the founding fathers said slaves were worth three-fifths of a White person. The country has made enormous progress. There’s enormous promise.

But to say that America isn’t racist is the modern political equivalent of hippies wearing the rose-colored glasses of unreality. It’s clear what Haley is doing in op-eds and what she is saying on the stump at rallies across the country is trying to seem reasonable as the GOP presidential political environment spins out of control. She’s trying to be viewed as relevant and moderate in a field of crazies who are scared to go after the twice-indicted Trump. She’s focusing on the country’s promise and trying to build inroads.

But conflating history and what’s really happening across America for political purposes is a disservice to the people she wants to serve. And yes, we need a leader who can say that America isn’t a racist country — but that can’t happen until Haley and fellow Republicans truly engage to reduce economic disparities, improve education and include everyone in the conversation, not just people on their side of the aisle. Only when we fix the ills that keep Americans apart and behind can we move toward freedom’s dreams and away from a country that still suffers from racism.

Award-winning columnist Andy Brack is editor and publisher of the Charleston City Paper and Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to:

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