There must be something in South Carolina's water that convinces its politicians that racism in America doesn't exist. Senator Tim Scott made news in 2021 when he said, "America is not a racist country," while also describing several of the racist experiences he's had. Presidential candidate and former Governor Nikki Haley just went a step further, announcing, "we've never been a racist country," during a recent Fox News interview.
Haley was responding to Brian Kilmeade's question as to whether the Republican Party was racist. She avoided said question, saying instead that Americans not only were not racist but never had been.
Haley could have given a more responsive answer without absolving the entire country of a racist past. She could have said that the Republican Party was founded on the concept of slavery. She could have said the Republicans were the "Party of Lincoln" and responsible for freeing enslaved people after the Civil War. Nikki might have added that Republicans were behind the Enforcement Acts that effectively ended the first wave of the Ku Klux Klan and that without Republicans, there would have been no Reconstruction.
Nikki wouldn't have been expected to add that Republicans shared responsibility for ending Reconstruction given its role in the Compromise of 1877 and Possee Comitatus that ushered in Jim Crow. There was no need for her to deny racism was present at any time in the United States. It's not surprising in retrospect, given she once failed to acknowledge slavery as a cause for the Civil War.
There needs to be a commonly understood definition for "racist country" to be sure I'm on the same page as Scott and Haley. I submit a racist country must have more than a percentage of racists living within its borders. What criteria would one use to judge whether a nation is racist?
I suggest looking at its founding documents, which describe some inhabitants as three-fifths of a person. That clause in the Constitution is often misunderstood as saying Black people were 3/5th of a person. It gave Black people no rights at all but allowed greater representation for white people in states where slavery was allowed. That Black people had no rights was confirmed by Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney in Dred Scott when he declared in his majority opinion that Black people were inferior and had no rights at the founding of our nation that white men were bound to respect.
“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in relation to that unfortunate race, which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted," said Taney.
"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order … and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
Being the former governor of South Carolina, one would think Hakey woukd be familiar with one of its early senators, John C. Calhoun. Calhoun regularly gave speeches in the Senate regarding Black, brown, and red people.
“[We] have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race the free white race," said Calhoun. "To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that!"
Lest you believe Calhoun to be some inconsequential figure, you should know he served almost eight years as the nation's vice president and was once the secretary of state and the secretary of war. He was also the Senator from South Carolina for 15 years. In his speech on Mexico, he advocated against further expansion into Mexico because there were "too many Mexicans." Calhoun is still honored throughout South Carolina with his name on parks, buildings, monuments, and roads. A few statues have come down, but far too many remain.
These are examples with which Haley should be familiar that demonstrate America was at least once a racist country. I could get into the times and places where Black people were denied the ability to read, let alone vote and when lynchings were common. I didn’t even mention almost a century of enslavement after 1776.
I should mention when America helped the creation of the middle class through housing programs. At the same time, the government supported redlining and excluding Black people from getting VA and FHA loans. Ameria pretended separate but equal in public schools was a thing while ignoring that equality was never real.
Nikki mentions the racism she personally experienced. Did she suddenly forget, or did the need to appease potential voters become her primary concern? She spoke in her interview about the America she would like us to be:
“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.”
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.”
I agree with her goal, but self-honesty is the first step in making change. America can't cure a problem it doesn't acknowledge. Given we're a representative government, we need our elected representatives to be honest with themselves and the public. A start would be to stop lying about racism, past and present. You're giving excuses to others who don't want to see things changed.
If Nikki Haley remains uncertain as to whether the Civil War was about slavery or whether America was ever racist, I direct her to the South Carolina Declaration of Secession, which makes both clear.