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Blog: Gov. Nikki Haley Needs to Take an Ethnic Studies Class to Understand America’s Racial History

Nikki Haley gives GOP response to the State of the Union
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gave the Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union.

By Ed Diokno

Fresh off her rebuttal to President Obama’s final State of the Union, the Indian American South Carolina governor responded to a reporter asking  what prompted her critical statements about some Republican’s positions on immigrants. Haley  clarified that she was thinking about all the Republican presidential candidates. The last straw, she said, was Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.

“When you’ve got immigrants who are coming here legally, we’ve never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let’s not start that now,” she said.

Whhaa …??


Haley should have known better considering last summer she had to make the decision to take down the Confederate flag in front of the Charleston courthouse after white supremacist Dylan Roof shot and killed nine African American Bible class students.


There is a lengthy list of American laws based on race or xenophobia. Here are a few examples:

  • We can began at the founding of the United States when slave-owners helped write the Declaration of Independence. When they used the phrase, “all men are created equal” they were not referring to their slaves, which they considered “property.”
  • The 1787 Three-Fifths Compromise was created to make the Constitution – the very foundation of U.S. law – palatable to the slave-owning South. Also written into the Constitution was a provision to make it illegal to assist a slave’s escape to freedom, even if it is to a state forbidding slavery.
  • The Trail of Tears is the result of the the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forcing Native Americans off their traditional lands.
  • The Jim Crow laws which states used mainly  against African Americans. Laws that provided segregated schools, separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms and separate entrances for Euro Americans and African Americans.
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act which later morphed into a ban against all Asians and  members of the “Mongolian” race.
  • There were laws in many states, including California, that prevented nonwhites to own land or to buy a home.
  • In the 19th century, there were laws forbidding Native Americans’ spiritual practices such as “ghost dancing.”
  • Anti-miscegenation laws which, if they were still in effect, would have prevented the marriage of the child of Indian American immigrants to a European American.
  • Executive Order 9066 mandated the internment of the West Coast’s Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.
  • Operation Wetback allowed federal authorities to deport over one million Mexican Americans throughout the Southwest. Many American citizens were victimized by the sweeps and forced to leave the U.S.


Our schools downplay these dark chapters in our history (if they are mentioned at all). The racist laws reinforced a sense of – let’s be frank – White exceptionalism that is not wholly deserved. That belief of White American superiority impacts our actions throughout the world and affects the treatment of foreign visitors, immigrants, refugees or anybody who is “different” from the what is generally perceived as the so-called (White) American image.


Demographic shifts indicate that European Americans will no longer be the dominant racial group in the U.S. by mid-century. The popular image of Americans solely being descendants of European immigrants perpetuated and reinforced by our media products (Motion pictures, television and Internet) needs to change, but I digress.


I often wonder why a person of color, including Nikki Haley, chooses to be a member of the current brand of the Republican Party with its hate-spewing rhetoric and xenophobic rants. A lack of historical context might be part of the explanation. That’s a topic for another post.


Haley’s performance after Obama’s SOTU pumped her up in the eyes of the GOP. Her name is in the mix when considering candidates for Vice President. As the child of immigrants, raised as a Sikh, who reportedly experienced racial bias while growing up in South Carolina, Haley needs to brush up on her history to understand whose shoulders she stands on.

Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)


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