Nikki Haley, Racism In America, And Trump

On racism, Republicans, and names

Former Governor Nikki Haley, one of the three remaining Republican Presidential hopefuls, has sparked a lot of conversation with recent comments about the topic of racism and America. During an interview with Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, Haley proclaimed that we have “never been a racist country.”

Haley’s remarks were in response to MSNBC host Joy Reid’s comments on whether Haley could win the GOP nomination as a woman of color. Haley suggested Reid “lives in a different America than I do,” pointing to her own rise from the daughter of immigrants to governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the United Nations.

“I mean, yes, I’m a brown girl that grew up in a small rural town in South Carolina who became the first female minority governor in history, who became an UN ambassador and who is now running for president. If that’s not the American dream, I don’t know what is,” she said, a day after she came in third in the Iowa Republican caucuses. “You can sit there and give me all the reasons why you think I can’t do this. I will continue to defy everybody on why we can do this. And we will get it done.”

When asked by host Brian Kilmeade if the GOP is a racist party, Haley made a broader point that the US has “never been a racist country.”

“We’re not a racist country, Brian. We’ve never been a racist country,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.”

Reporters and pundits have pointed out that this seems in conflict with Haley’s past accounts of the racism that she faced throughout her life. However, those accusations miss that Haley directly addressed this issue in her statements on Fox:

“I know I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you, today is a lot better than it was then. Our goal is to lift up everybody. Not go and divide people on race or gender or party or anything else. We’ve had enough of that in America,” she added.

Let’s leave aside the ahistorical nature of this argument. Our history of institutionalized race-based chattel slavery, not to mention the extended national toleration of segregation and Jim Crow laws, prove that our history has been bound up with racism.

Then again, as we know, it took days of pushback on Haley for her to be able to say that slavery was a primary cause of the Civil War. At the time, the theory for why Haley attempted to dodge the question was due to discomfort among the Republican base to talk about the topic of race. Her comments on Fox seemed designed to address this.

After that appearance, her campaign offered the following further clarification of Haley’s point:

“America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country,” a campaign spokesman said. “The liberal media always fails to get that distinction. It can throw a fit, but that doesn’t change Nikki’s belief that America is special because its people are always striving to do better and live up to our founding ideals of freedom and equality.”

Across all of these and past comments, Haley puts the focus on individual racism versus systemic racism. America could not be racist because that would require systemic racism (the enshrinement and reproduction of racism via laws and other social institutions). This is a very similar position to the one that Tim Scott adopted. Yes, he has been stopped countless times for driving while Black, but that doesn’t mean that policing has a racism problem.1 More broadly, it’s also in keeping with overall Right Wing and Republican ideas about racism as something individuals are versus institutions.

Even accepting this formulation, it still doesn’t address individual leanings among conservatives towards racism. There have been a few examples since Haley’s statement that demonstrate the challenges Republican people of color face in trying to appeal to their base. Take the alleged conservative “humor” site the Babylon Bee’s recent “joke” about Vivek Ramaswamy being offered a position to run the Donald Trump “White House 7-Eleven.” That follows on the heels of an interview where a caucus voter said they couldn’t vote for Ramaswamy because they’re “not being prejudiced, guys, but I don’t like his name. I don’t like where he came from. After 9/11, I still harbor a lot of hard feelings.

This discussion is, of course, nothing new. Arguably, it can be traced back to the ascendency of the Lily-white movement at the turn of the 20th century and was advanced by noted Black Republicans such as Jackie Robinson in the 1960s as the party began integrating Southern segregationists.2 It can also be seen in examples like Bobby Jindal and Haley adopting “American” sounding names in political life.

****Record scratch!****

Ok, so for those of us used to online political discussions, this is where all of our conservative, Right Wing, and Republican readers get ready to comment:

Ummm, ackchyually Matt, Nikki is her middle name! It’s Nimarata Nikki Randhawa Haley. Why can’t she be like Mitt Romney and use her middle name? After all some White Democrats do too (readers help, I know they are out there but I don’t have time to do the Googling for an example)! Clearly you’re the real racist here Matt for suggesting she is doing this to appeal to White Republican votes. Real Republicans don’t see color.

[Soruce: So many social media exchanges on this topic.]

Hold on to your hats folks… I totally agree with the proposition that people should be able to use whatever name they prefer. We should respect those wishes (in the same way we should use the pronouns people tell us to use). Shocker, I know.

I also agree that focusing on anyone’s name to stoke racial othering fears is bad and bigoted. That said, I also wonder what those (strawmen) Conservative commentators will have to say about Former President Trump’s most recent “truths” and what they say about his conception of the Republican base:

Governor Chris Sununu, the now failing Governor of New Hampshire, where I am beating his endorsed candidate, Nimbra, by big numbers, and DeSanctimonious by even bigger numbers, should spend more time keeping Democrats from voting in the Republican Primary - How ridiculous is that? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, because Nimbra doesn’t have what it takes. She’s weak on China, Russia, Borders, and Crime, but never saw a war she didn’t like. I defeated ISIS, Rebuilt our Military, and brought our soldiers back home. I hope Sununu’s endorsement of Nimbra has more strength than Kim Reynolds’ Iowa endorsement of DeSanctus! How did that work out? MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

Not only does Trump decide to refer to Haley by her first, far more ethnic name, but, get this, with “Nimbra” he is either misspelling it out of ignorance or trying to make a joke out of it. Of course, for all of us who lived through the “Barak HUSSEIN Obama” years, this isn’t a particularly new strategy for the former President. Neither is “ReTruthing” articles suggesting that Haley should be disqualified over birth-right citizenship issues (I’m old enough to remember when Republicans didn’t think people should be administratively prevented from being on ballots… wasn’t that like a month ago or so?).

Granted, politics isn’t mumbly-peg and sharp elbows will always be thrown. But at some point, it’s worth asking why is the defacto incumbent Republican Presidential candidate and frontrunner resorting to racist appeals if that isn’t what they think an important part of the Republican base wants to hear.3

  1. At one point, Tim Scott was working on advancing police reform to address racial tensions. That valuable work ended up DOA and Scott spent a lot of time avoiding discussing it on the campaign trail during his short-lived candidacy for President in 2023. ↩︎
  2. I know that there is a narrative that a higher percentage of Republicans voted for the major civil rights bills than Democrats. And this is true. It’s also only telling part of the story. For example, with the 1964 Civil Rights act, Republicans and Democrats from the South (defined as members of Congress from the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America) overwhelmingly voted against the Legislation. In fact, Southern Republicans voted against the measure at a higher rate than Southern Democrats. Also, when you control for the South, Democrats voted for the measure at a higher rate than Republicans. This shouldn’t read as either party being bad or good, but rather the regional nature of open political opposition to Civil Rights (which we often use as a proxy for racism correctly or incorrectly). ↩︎
  3. And before our commenters respond with, “But the Democrats have racism problems too,” of course, that’s true. Joe Biden once made a 7-11 joke in 2006! And it was dated humor 16 years ago too. And a lot of time has passed since then, including a cultural reevaluation of those stereotypes. ↩︎

FILED UNDER: 2024 Election, Entertainment, Popular Culture, Race and Politics, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.


  1. al Ameda says:

    I think that Republicans believe that while we’re making progress on race, we’re not going to get past all this historical unpleasantness if liberals keep talking about it.

  2. DK says:

    Oo ee Oo ah ah
    Vi vek Ramalamadingdong
    Oo ee Oo ah ah
    Nimbra Randhawa Dingdong


    A racist country lol
    How about asking Ron, Vivek, and Nikki why they keep cucking for the Republican Party’s racist frontrunner?

    “And look, the name-calling — I know President Trump well. That’s what he does when he feels threatened. That’s what he does when he feels insecure,” Haley said. “I don’t take these things personally; it doesn’t bother me. I know him very well, and this is what he does. I know that I am a threat; I know that’s why he’s doing that.”

    Haley added that she had no plans to “get into the name-calling back with him.”

    “Name-calling.” Gurl. Can you imagine what Nikki Haley and right wing media if Biden was running around calling Gov. Haley “Nimbra?”

    Of course Haley and DeSantis are losing. Voters know they will not defend American democracy. They can’t even defend themselves. Weak tea sellouts.

  3. Slugger says:

    That wasn’t a factual statement. It was not intended as a factual statement. It was an affinity statement: “Hey, I’m one of you. I will not disturb your preferred power structure.” Politicians do this often. They all claim to be of the people. Trump is not letting her in on the game in his inimitable manner.

  4. de stijl says:

    I think I live in fairly liberal place. And I do. But the outstate voters disagree heartily, on core issues to them, which mostly boils down to queer bashing.

    It is a bit odd to live in a fairly open to all space, and the majority of folks outside of your space vehemently disagree.

    I live in a blue city in a purple state.

    My governor and the aggregate state legislators do not support or advocate for policies I’d prefer.

    We are purple, but the people in charge are deep red and advocate for policies I despise deeply.

    On the state level, my vote, my neighborhood, my city is utterly disregarded and dismissed because they (Republicans) have a slight state legislative majority and the governorship, and they can enact crap I think is foul and disgusting.

    That’s basically life in a purple to red state. Blue cities, red rural.

  5. SenyorDave says:

    @de stijl: And these same legislators who get apoplectic over perceived insults about flyover states have no problem labeling cities as cesspools, hellholes, etc. Some red state governors openly deride cities in their own state.

  6. Argon says:

    One wonders what those in the GOP who referred to Pres. Obama as “Barack Hussein Obama” intended…

    In any case, I’m glad to hear that there wasn’t systemic racism in the US. I guess my father and grandparents were interned in an Arkansas camp for people of Japanese descent during WWII for some other reason, and my parents’ marriage in the 1950’s must’ve have illegal to perform in multiple US states not because it was ‘mixed race’.

  7. Joe says:

    readers help

    I recall Jimmy Carter went into politics with that formation of his name not only to be folksy but because he was properly James Earl Carter and wanted to avoid name association with MKL assassin James Earl Ray.

  8. mattbernius says:

    @de stijl:

    That’s basically life in a purple to red state. Blue cities, red rural.

    Living in Western NY, I’d also add in that suburbs are also often red too.

    And much of those divisions can be traced back to race. Heck, I live outside of one of the most racially segregated cities in the US (at least by school district).

    One of the biggest negative historical narratives is somehow that the North, because of the side we fought in the civil war, was less racist than the South. One needs look no further than the histories of the great migration and the rise of redlining to see how racism is prevalent in the enlightened North.

    In fact, let’s not forget that the focus of Trump’s messaging (and Haley’s too) is New Hampshire.

  9. gVOR10 says:

    “We’re not a racist country, Brian. We’ve never been a racist country,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can.”

    “We”? It seems to me she’s fairly describing liberals. Conservatives, like her, don’t seem to have been part of the “we” who weren’t racist and are trying to make things better. It took the Mother Emanuel shooting to get her to even take down the Stars and Bars flag off her capitol.

  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’ve read a bit of the Babylon Bee and I’m sure that’s a satire of Trump and racist attitudes. I can understand your lack of trust, because satire often misses when it is read/heard outside its target audience.

  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    I see that Nikki Haley was born in 1972. I agree with her that things are better now than they were, but I’m comparing with the 60’s and 50’s, not the 70’s and 80’s which is a bit more of a stretch.

    And I completely disagree with “This country has never been racist”. The foundation of slavery is a racial attitude of “they deserve it, because they can’t manage anything better”. This attitude informed Jim Crow, which still existed during my lifetime. I have certainly found racialist attitudes baked into my own psyche.

    And yes, I’m trying to do better, and most Americans are trying to do better.

    Welp, I think her campaign is probably going to be valuable, regardless of the outcome.

    I have long predicted that the first woman to be President of the US would be conservative. I didn’t predict “woman of color” though. We’ll see.

  12. Matt Bernius says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    I’ve read a bit of the Babylon Bee and I’m sure that’s a satire of Trump and racist attitudes. I can understand your lack of trust, because satire often misses when it is read/heard outside its target audience.

    The issue I take with this is that it’s target audience doesn’t seem to be taking it that way. From the article I linked:

    Some X users recognized him for being able to take the joke.

    “You know you’ve made it when the Bee roasts you,” one wrote. “Congrats!”

    “Took it like a champ,” another noted.

    “Politicians need thick skin. Knew this wouldn’t be an issue to you,” another commented. “Glad you know how to have a sense of humor, brother.”

    And other Republicans who happen to be Indian seem to agree:

    Renee Lynn
    This is disgusting & despicable. Shame on you @TheBabylonBee. This is racist and this is America, we Republicans respect all. Stop your Hinduphobia right now. Trump supports @VivekGRamaswamy. I’m asking my followers to please tell @TheBabylonBee stop your racist, be American.

    For other people not getting the joke, see here: and

    It just doesn’t read like this is a satirical post about Trump’s bigotry. If it was, then he should have been the punchline, not Vivek.

    Or did your point go over my head?

  13. Gustopher says:

    Telling White people that they are not racist has been the brown conservatives route to money and powerful my entire lifetime, and likely long before that. Haley is just one in a long line of people who have found that little bit of grift.

    She can’t have an honest discussion about race, because it would ruin the grift*, so there will be tortured statements that dance around the obvious, or less tortured utterly false statements.

    She’s more competent than Herman Cain or Hershel Walker, but she relies on the same obvious lies.

    *: the goal of the grift here is political support, rather than the Diamond and Silk or Candace Owens goal of attention that can be monetized, but the grift remains the same.

  14. de stijl says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    If the choice is Trump or Haley, I’d vote Haley everyday.

    Fuck me, there is a really good possibility we’re going to get four more years of Trump. God dammit!

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @de stijl: If the choice were to really become Trump or Haley, I’d need to consider emigration. But this is why I just accept that I am disenfranchised in the real sense. The nation isn’t going to be what I’d like–or even a close approximation of it–anytime during my lifetime. And may be gone completely as currently constituted (no pun intended) in a generation or two.

  16. MarkedMan says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    The foundation of slavery is a racial attitude of “they deserve it, because they can’t manage anything better”

    It wasn’t just a racial thing. When you go back to the founding era you have to remember just how radical the American ideal was. In Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, hell, everywhere else, there were still kings and queens with real power, lords and ladies that could order the death of their vassals. Writings as late as the early twentieth century has an awful lot of class based observations and instructions. “Know your station”, “Don’t get above your place”, “Mind your betters”. If an author wanted to show that a groundskeeper or maid was a “good one”, there was an awful lot of obsequiousness to those above them. Forelock tugging, curtsying, doffing of caps, never interrupting the ladies, etc. As radical as the American Ideal was, it didn’t happen overnight and we still have a ways to go.

  17. KM says:

    One of the Alt-Right Playbook videos discusses the very heart of this topic: that white people do not think of racism in terms of power but in morals. That as children the definition of racism is one of being intentionally cruel or immoral to another like bullies and not as engaging in a power structure with clear preferences for who goes where. This definition will stay with many and so when they hear the word “racist” they think “that can’t refer to me because I’m not bad” The age-old practice of minorities giving their children white-sounding names or nicknames to help smooth their way is well-known and documented as somewhat successful. Yes, her middle name is Nikki but her parents clearly choose it so she’d have the option to…. well, do what she’s doing right now. The Joy Luck Club has a whole page of one character picking names for her children she thought sounded lucky (Vincent = “win cents”) but were also ‘Murican to assimilate better.

    Ragging on someone’s preferred name is bigotry because it implies you know how to refer to someone better then they themselves do and have the right to insist you call them what you want. Part of being an adult is getting to decide who you are and how you want the world to refer to you (Bill instead of William, adding Dr or any title to your name, Ms vs Mrs, etc). Haley also needs to be careful since the whole transphobia mess is making laws saying you need to use your birth/ legal name a thing now. It started with kids but now adults are being dragged in and guess what, these badly written laws won’t make distinctions for non-white-sounding names as opposed to dead names. If the GOP gets it’s way, the press and businesses might have to refer to her as Nimrata or face legal repercussions in several red areas. Won’t that be awkward if she gets the nom or even wins?

  18. CSK says:


    Thanks for the earworm, pal.

  19. charontwo says:


    If the GOP gets it’s way, the press and businesses might have to refer to her as Nimrata or face legal repercussions in several red areas.

    Nikki is on her birth certificate as her middle name. She was called that as a child.

  20. de stijl says:


    Ted Cruz just basically endorsed Trump.

    Mr. Cruz, that man repeatedly called you out and attempted to humiliate you with grade-school level name-calling insults a few years back. He was way, way out-of-bounds being a dick to you and your wife. And you’re endorsing him?


    Masochistic cuckholdery isn’t my bag, but be you.

  21. CSK says:

    @de stijl:

    Didn’t Cruz end up endorsing Trump in 2016 and 2020?

  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Matt Bernius: My remark was about the Bee itself. I’ve read a few things. I stand by my read.

    My remark was decidedly *not* about its commenters. Satire is exactly like that – interpretation depends on whether you are part of the group or not. If you don’t get the satire, you are one of the people being mocked.

    The Bee appears to me to be caught up in the ongoing schism in Evangelical Protestants. It can’t survive without many of those readers, even though it may not be comfortable with them.

    I have, myself, made a satirical remark which was taken at face value by a listener. I did not correct them, as that would have been a very bad problem that wouldn’t have solved anything. The party in question would have felt I was mocking them. I was hoping they would share in the joke, but no.

  23. SenyorDave says:

    @de stijl: Ted Cruz has never acted in any way that would indicate an ounce of integrity.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Didn’t pay any attention, but considering the choice was between endorsing Trump and endorsing Biden, I would guess yes.

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    To repeat myself from this AM’s open forum,

    An Oklahoma lawmaker is facing backlash for proposing a discriminatory bill that deems people of Hispanic descent as “terrorists”. The Republican state representative JJ Humphrey introduced the bill, HB 3133, which seeks to combat problems in the state, such as drug and human trafficking, and lay out punishments to those who have committed these “acts of terrorism”. The punishment for such a crime would be forfeiting all assets, including any and all property, vehicles and money.

    In addition to “a member of a criminal street gang” and someone who “has been convicted of a gang-related offense”, the bill defines a terrorist as “any person who is of Hispanic descent living within the state of Oklahoma”.

    The move was met with fierce criticism.

    State senator Michael Brooks, who serves as the senate’s minority caucus vice-chair and founded the Oklahoma Latino legislative caucus, said the move by Humphrey was unsurprising. “To have the law treat people differently based on their race or ethnicity only creates greater divides,” Brooks said. “The bill is fatally flawed, and I don’t know if there’s much of a way to be able to change it.”
    Humphrey apologized but then doubled down. He said: “I apologize for using the word Hispanic, but I was not wrong. Again, these are Hispanic. Reality is they are Hispanic. There’s nothing to be ashamed with.”

    Yeah, but tell us again Nikki, how America has never been a racist country.

    I was born in ’58. I saw racism all through the ’60s (all I had to do to see it was walk my neighborhood), and ’70s (all I had to do to see it was go to school), ’80s (all I had to do to see it was go to work), ’90s (all I had to do to see it was walk the streets of my almost all black neighborhood) (except for me), ‘Aughts (all I had to do to see it was go to a union meeting), ‘teens (again all I had to do to see it was go to work where I finally worked with a black carpenter for the 1st time)(and was told not to tell him how I was getting paid before he was) and now the ’20s where all I have to do is pick up a newspaper (above)…

    To say things are “better” now is to ignore all the ways in which they are just as bad as they ever were. If you disagree, please explain it to this dumbass hillbilly who has a Hispanic wife who some fuckhead Oklahoma legislator just labeled a “terrorist.”

    Please, explain to me how I have no need to escort my wife to the polls every election, in full knowledge that I might meet a bullet.*

    *TBH, I don’t think any of these gutless weasels have the balls to shoot me even if they are all carrying (and I’m not), but at my age I am also very capable of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time because I just don’t have any fucks left to give any more.

  26. SenyorDave says:

    Anyone who can say with a straight face that America has never been a racist country has no business being POTUS. She might have a future as a comic. It is a commentary on the Republican party that she is one of the “reasonable” candidates.

  27. de stijl says:


    Still way more preferable than Trump.

  28. SenyorDave says:

    @de stijl: That is what is so frustrating. I honestly believe that most people in prison who are in for non-violent offenses would be more preferable than Trump.

  29. Ken_L says:

    Haley has to pander to the racist wing of the party, because she can’t win the nomination without prising off some of Trump’s and DeSantis’s supporters (DeSantis, of course, has done little as governor except find ways to denigrate LGBTQ people openly, and other “minorities” indirectly). But on the other hand, she can’t afford to offend the “moderates” to whom she is the voice of sanity in a party gone mad. If they lose faith in her, they’ll vote for Biden or stay home.

    In other words she’s in an impossible position, which is why she never stood a chance of getting the nomination. I assume she knows this, and hopes to rebuild the party around her leadership if and when Trump goes down to another defeat in November.

  30. Flat Earth Luddite says:


    If I were running (dawg pity all y’all) my platform talking points

    Hey I’m both younger and thinner than Trump, only one conviction, and 45 years without another felony!

    I can read a book AND speak in complete sentences!

    You want crazy? You REALLY want crazy! Vote sociopath! Vote Luddite!

    Luddite and Cracker in 2024!

    No. Nonononono. Just no.

  31. DK says:


    I assume she knows this, and hopes to rebuild the party around her leadership if and when Trump goes down to another defeat in November.

    Her leadership pfft lol

    Her “leadership” won’t help Republicans, or the country very much, just marginally. We need strong, decent leaders — not power-hungry cowards like Nikki Nimbra Haley, Tim Uncle Ruckus Scott, and Ron DeFailure.

    Can you imagine simping after Trump, a pathetic fraud who will go down as the first post-WW2 fascist to assume power in the USA? That disgusting, rapist, birther bigot pig Trump? Really, y’all. Sad!

    Nikki Haley is a cynical, grasping follower who has to be shamed into saying “Slavery was the primary driver of the US Civil War.” Too weak and scared to say, “Donald’s racist attack on me is just more evidence of his manifest unfitness. No smart, patriotic American can vote for this orange Putin-puppet traitor at all, ever.”

    Gov. Haley is not a leader. She’s a lying loser, just like Treason Trump.

    Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, maybe yeah.

  32. Hal_10000 says:

    I have long had the policy of ignoring anyone who refers to Obama as “Hussein”. I have the same policy for anyone, right or left, who refers to Haley as “Nimrata”. She’s been called that since she was a kid. It’s from a Punjabi word, not the shortened form of “Nicole”.

    As for “Nimbra”, this just shows that Trump’s nickname game is fading along with the rest of his mind.


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