On the day that news broke about Jacob Blake, a Black man who police shot in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wisconsin, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley took the Republican National Convention stage to declare that America is not, in fact, racist. “It’s now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country,” Haley said on Monday. “It doesn’t have to be like this,” Haley said as she painted the protests and “violence on our streets” as the main thing tearing America apart.
It was a moment of jarring divide: While many were praying for the recovery of yet another Black man who was fighting for his life at the hands of police violence, Haley and fellow RNC speakers were falling over themselves to congratulate the party (and party’s leader) for running a completely non-racist country.
But Haley’s speech, among others, didn’t just make bold claims about racism – she also painted broad brush strokes about America, with boisterous misinformation about gun violence and white supremacy, all of which she likened to her time in office in South Carolina. Despite Haley being called the “winner” of the night for her appeal to the weary right wing, her statements incited a number of questions and fact checks.
According to Haley, during her time as governor, she created “tens of thousands of American jobs” and the state was thriving despite the country as a whole being held back by Obama and Biden. Haley pushed the narrative that a Biden-Harris administration would be much more devastating.
“It wasn’t like this in South Carolina five years ago. Our state came face-to-face with evil. A white supremacist walked into Mother Emanuel Church during Bible Study. Twelve African Americans pulled up a chair and prayed with him for an hour. Then he began to shoot,” she said in reference to the fatal day that Dylann Roof carried out a shooting rampage at a historically Black church in 2015. Then, she championed that afterwards, the state came together to remove “a divisive symbol, peacefully and respectfully.”
Haley’s reference to removing the Confederate flag would be a great example of necessary change in the community – if she hadn’t tried to defend the flag, and if it hadn’t taken so much civil unrest to have it removed. Before signing the measure into law that removed the Confederate flag in 2015, Haley had lamented that Roof “hijacked” the meaning of it when it was once about “American heritage.”
While she recognized that the flag is “a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past” without explicitly mentioning racism, she also tried to save face by saying that the people in South Carolina who revere it see it as “a memorial, a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during time of conflict,” saying that has nothing to do with hate or racism.
But perhaps more importantly, critics eagerly pointed out that Haley failed to pass any gun violence legislation to protect her community in the years since the shooting, and largely ignored the same root issues that bred Roof’s hate crime – much like she did in her speech.
It’s impossible to rectify Haley hoisting herself up as someone who has done great work for the communities she’s served in the face of tragedy without addressing the ways she has failed to stand up against the racism and violence that actually exists in America. Nothing is more deeply ingrained in the history of this country, and no speech can erase that.