Larry Smith

 Nikki Haley has quite a résumé, especially given her age (47). She is the immediate past U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations — a position that only 30 Americans have held. Haley is also a former governor of South Carolina — the only woman (and person of color) who has held that office. Time magazine named her one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2016. Haley’s accomplishments, poise, intelligence and attractiveness make her an “All-American” woman. However, many of her fellow Americans would be surprised to learn that Haley’s parents, who are highly educated and practice the Sikh religion, are from India. (Haley’s ethnicity makes her only the second Indian-American to serve as a U.S. governor, after Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.) Haley’s birth name is Nimrata Randhawa. Her family dubbed her “Nikki,” which means “Little One” in Punjabi.

Haley was recently in the news due to comments that she made on Glenn Beck’s show regarding the Confederate flag. In referring to the person who murdered nine African Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015, Haley said, “This guy had come out with his manifesto, holding the Confederate flag, and had just hijacked everything that people thought of. We don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. There’s always a small minority that’s always going to be there, but people saw (the flag) as service, and sacrifice, and heritage, but once he (murdered people), there was no way to overcome it.”(Note: I have chosen not to use the killer’s name.)

After a well-deserved backlash to her remarks ensued, Haley doubled down. She responded on Twitter with a link to remarks that she had made about the Confederate flag in 2015, shortly after the Emanuel massacre. In part she said that the killer had “a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect and, in many ways, revere it. Those South Carolinians view the flag as a symbol of respect, integrity and duty. They also see it as a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism." She went on to remark, “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past."

Despite her half-hearted coda, Haley’s views, even her “clarified” ones, are astoundingly disappointing — especially given that she is a person of color. Either she is completely ignorant of the history of the Confederate flag (which is exceedingly doubtful), or she is pandering to prospective Southern voters in preparation for a future presidential bid. In any case, as a native of South Carolina, Haley knows better. Much better. Her own experiences with racism — both in terms of learning its history and being a target thereof — serve to uncover the absurdity of her claims. Just as troubling is the fact that she decided to work for a president whose anti-immigrant stance (and other bigotry) has been on full display since he was a candidate.

When Haley was 5 years old, her parents tried to enter her into a local beauty contest. Due to South Carolina’s history of egregious racism, the contest usually crowned two “queens” — one Black and one white. Haley was deemed to be neither, so the judges disqualified her. Yet she has built her political career on the ideological descendants of those who excluded her from participating in a child’s pageant. Experiences like this, combined with the fact that Haley’s father has taught at an HBCU (Voorhees College), make her statements about the Confederate flag all the more unacceptable. In short, she cannot possibly believe what she said.  

 John C. Calhoun is a name that every South Carolinian knows. He was vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He also served as a senator and as secretary of state. A man of great intellect, Calhoun was arguably the most visible Southern politician of his day. Importantly, Calhoun was a very outspoken defender of slavery. Whereas many of his fellow slaveowners called the institution a “necessary evil,” Calhoun referred to it as a “positive good” — both for the slaveowner and for the enslaved. In short, he is one of the most infamous defenders of white supremacy in American history. In her intellectually dishonest defense of the Confederate flag, Haley has purposely assumed the dubious distinction of being a 21st century apologist for the worst impulse in American public life, which is something that Calhoun would have cheered. Only a full-throated rejection of that flag, and all that it stands for, will be enough to redeem her.

 Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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