When Nikki Haley, who was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, stands in front of United States citizens and addresses the nation, stating that “America is not a racist country,” she directly undermines the lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in the country and beyond.
During her speech at the Republican National Convention, Haley, who is the former Governor of South Carolina, and the former ambassador to the United Nations, spoke in support of Donald Trump, and claimed that he has “always put the American people first.”
As if her claims weren’t a way of kicking dirt into the already open wound that is systemic racism in America, Haley made these comments a day after an unarmed Black man by the name of Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“In much of the Democratic party, it is now fashionable to say that America is racist. That is a lie. America is not a racist country. This is personal for me. I am the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. They came to america and settled in a small Southern town. My father wore a turban, my mother wore a sari. I was a Brown girl, in a Black and white world. We faced discrimination and hardship. But my parents never gave in to grievance and hate,” Haley said. “My mom built a successful business. My dad taught 30 years at a historically black college. And the people of South Carolina chose me as their first minority and first female governor.”
In the past, however, Haley has talked about racism she and her family have personally experienced as Sikh Americans, and that she had previously been bullied as a result of her heritage.
She went on in her speech to claim that conversations about race and anti-Black racism and police brutality were personal for her, as a brown girl growing up in a Black and white world.
Haley’s claims, and open support and endorsement of Trump are exactly why South Asians cannot claim solidarity with causes like Black Lives Matter, without first interrogating their positionality and what they gain from their proximity to whiteness, and the subjugation of Black people.
You don’t have to be a white person to uphold white supremacy, and racists and white supremacists will gladly welcome a person of colour as a talking ahead to absolve them of any need to address issues of racial justice and equity.
Asian Americans benefit hugely off of being white-adjacent, because they are a win for diversity, and as “model minorities” they are more palatable in positions of power and to the white gaze.
The model minority myth, that has helped many first-generation immigrants come to North America, for their children to get educated and take up high-ranks in sought-after professions like medicine, law, engineering, technology, was built on the subjugation of Black people.
For Haley to make these claims, and to pledge support for Trump while claiming pride for her Indian heritage, despite the fact that she claimed she was white on a 2001 voter registration card, is disrespectful to the heritage she claims when it is convenient for her, and the community she belongs to.
She says she celebrates being a minority, but simultaneously invalidates the experiences of minorities in America because it is what fits the narrative that will allow her to advance her cause, and obtain power.
It’s why when she was referencing why Black lives matter, she mentioned riots, and Black police officers, and not the dozens and dozens of Black men and women who have been killed without justice.
Adjacent to whiteness is not the same as whiteness, and it is not an excuse to try to get closer to people in power at the expense of marginalized people, when your position could have instead been used to lift them up.
There is nothing more that racist love than having a person of colour defend their talking points so they can convince people they’re not racist.
America is a racist country, and to deny this fact is to deny the experiences of Black men and women who are killed with no justice and no remorse
America is racist, and it's why Jacob Blake is paralyzed after an attempted murder in broad daylight, yet the country is continuing on with business as usual, because the senseless murder of Black people in America doesn’t fit the narrative that, as she said “America is not a racist country.”
If you think America isn’t a racist country, let us just remind you that having brown skin doesn’t absolve you too from being a racist.
Getting a seat at the table isn’t an automatic win, it’s what you do when you take your place, and as South Asians, we need to do much better.