Back in July, all of the Nikki Haley haters were all twitterpated over a story at FITSNews that the good guv had indicated that her race was white on her voter registration card. The P&C jumped on it and the S.C. Democratic Party head Dick Harpootlian followed suit.
The problem was, as an Indian, Haley is technically white. (In case you didn’t know it, but Indians are caucasians, as are Australian aborigines.) And so I had to do something that I hate doing: defend Nikki Haley.
Well, now I take it all back. Haley isn’t white and she’s not black. She’s a different color. Or so she declared at an August 2011 Center for Women talk. Here’s what she said about the challenges of growing up Indian-American in tiny ole Bamberg, S.C. (The segment begins around the 14:20 mark):
We were noticeably different. My father wore a turban. They didn’t know what to think of him. (microphone problems) It was hard for all of us, but the one thing my parents always said was don’t worry bout the differences. Remind people how you’re similar. So that was really how we dealt with it.
We were on the kickball field and that was the thing we did in third grade — all run around and play kickball. All of a sudden, I went out one day and there were two groups and one was a group of black girls and one was a group of white girls and they stood and I was standing in the middle and they said, we’re not going to play — because I said, are we going to play? — and they said no, we’re not going to play until you pick one.
I said, pick what? They said you have to pick a side. Which are you? Are you black or are you white? And I said, I’m brown. They said no, you have to pick.
And I went and I grabbed the kickball and I ran and they started running after me and before you know it, we were playing kickball again.
So there you have it, folks. Nikki Haley is brown. End of discussion.
Actually, it was a pretty stupid discussion to begin with. Race is actually an artificial construct, genetically speaking.
What I find most interesting about Haley’s anecdote is just how absurd the whole thing is when you think about it.
Now, I’m not saying that something like this didn’t happen. It probably did, but it’s doubtful it did in the way Haley describes. I mean, it’s all just a little too ready for prime time. Or at least the self-help lecture circuit.
Think about it. Nikki has painted a scene in which white third-graders and black third-graders are standing in separate groups on the kickball field and Haley is right there in the middle of the two sides and she’s being forced to chose one team or the other — the black girls or the white girls.
Here’s my issue with that: if the kids are going to divide themselves into sides based on race — you’re on one team, I’m on another — then why would they even play together in the first place? Wouldn’t their prejudices separate them completely?
And then you have to re-examine Haley’s account of how she resolved the situation: She grabbed the kickball and she ran away with it.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know if you were anything like me and my friends, but if I was in Haley’s third grade class and she snatched the ball and took off with it, I would have run after her too … and tackled her and taken the ball back. And I can tell that she sure as hell wouldn’t be playing with us that day, or any day after for that matter.
But somehow in Haley’s anecdote, this action of schoolyard dickery inspires her classmates to ignore their racial differences, to abandon their prejudices, the very thing that had divided them into two different groups? And in that one action, third-grade Nikki Haley brings an end to racism in her elementary school. Like I said, it just doesn’t ring true. It’s all just a little too narratively convenient.
Then again, maybe I’m thinking about this a little too much. Maybe I’m letting my prejudices against Haley cloud my judgment. But I’d be willing to bet that what we have here is a tidy little anecdote from Nikki’s upcoming memoir. It’ll be interesting to see if and how the story changes on April 3 when her book, Can’t is not an Option, is released. I’ve already ordered my copy. Have you?