Warning: This post uses the "C" word.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley led the charge to remove the Confederate flag from state grounds after Dylann Roof killed 9 blacks at a South Carolina church and posted a white supremacist manifesto online. However, Salon magazine was not satisfied with her action but instead seemed outraged by the fact it was Governor Haley who was trying to remove the flag. Eesha Pandit wrote a column that bristled and dripped with sarcasm and social justice as she attacked every facet of Governor Haley's existence:
The day after the racially motivated shooting at the 199-year-old black church steeped in American history, the Confederate flag flew high and proud in front of the South Carolina statehouse.....
Consequently, many called for the governor of South Carolina to take down this flag in the wake of the murder of nine Black South Carolinians. At a tearful press conference that same day, Haley denounced the tragedy, though declined to recognize it as a racially motivated hate-crime, despite the killer’s confession of it as such. Yesterday, she finally responded to the thousands of calls to remove the flag and recommend that it be taken down and placed in a museum, stating “The events of the past week call on us to look at this in a different way,” and adding that now is the time “to remove the flag from the capitol grounds.” She affirmed her commitment to freedom of expression, and said, “for those who wish to show their respect for the flag on their private property, no one will stop them.” In her remarks, she straddled a line – acknowledging that the flag as a symbol of history, ancestry and respect and how many others find it offensive. Not once in her remarks did she name that the offense in question is systemic racism, chattel slavery and state-sanctioned violence against Black Americans.
Why didn't Ms. Pandit just call her a phony? The ever hyper-sensitive Ms. Pandit was just getting warmed up in calling her a phony. The crescendo continued:
In this moment, Nikki Haley’s ethnicity and heritage are back in the news, and a 2011 story that discovered that Haley identified herself as “white” on her voter registration card in 2001 is circulating again. But Nikki Haley is not white. Born Nimrata Randhawa and called “Nikki,” meaning “small one,” by her family, she was elected South Carolina’s first female governor in November by the largest margin of victory for a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate in 24 years.
She is the nation’s second Indian-American chief executive and the first Sikh governor in the U.S. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from India and Haley was born in Bamberg County, South Carolina. In September of 1996, she married Michael Haley — a captain in the Army National Guard and combat veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan — in both a Methodist church ceremony and a Sikh gurdwara. Today, she identifies as a Christian. In 2001 she identified as “white” on her voter registration card. And in 2011 Haley was an outspoken champion of legislation designed to prevent voter registration fraud.
Is there a column by Ms. Pandit that criticizes Dolezal for claiming she was black? Wait a second. She DID write something about our little Belhaven grad in another article:
But, the questions of race and identity that Dolezal’s story raise, while sometimes interesting, are focused on a single woman, born to two white parents, and her claim to Black identity. Questions of police brutality, racial profiling, violence against women and girls of color, meanwhile, have taken a backseat to speculations about whether this one woman has an authentic (whatever that is) claim to Blackness (many open questions about what this is, too).
So we need to challenge Ms. Haley's ethnicity and ignore Ms. Dolezal's. Got it.
Nikki Haley is not a stranger to racism, herself, and at the hands of elected officials of her own party. Nikki Haley is not white, but her own political party touts xenophobic, anti-immigrant and racist policies and practices. Some of her colleagues are directly funded by white supremacists. Given the racism inside her party, and the hostility toward non-white immigrants in so many places in the U.S., it’s no wonder that Nimrata Randhawa would find it easier to maneuver the political terrain as Nikki Haley, that the Sikhism she was born into would be much more difficult to navigate than a conversion to Christianity.
As the voter registration story broke for the second time last week, we were reminded of how some South Carolina Democrats questioned Haley’s use of “Nikki” as her first name and whether she had changed her first name legally from her birth name. Dick Harpootlian, the party chairman, reminded us that, “Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her,” adding, “When she registers to vote she says she is white. She has developed a pattern of saying whatever is beneficial to her at the moment.” Whether it’s coming in the form of racist slurs from the members of her own party, or the DNC chairman reminding us not to trust her because she flip-flops on race, Nikki Haley has not been able to outrun the racial hierarchy.
In other words, the Governor is not "authentic". Ms. Pandit probably broke her brain trying to find a Sikh phrase for "Uncle Tom".
These politicians serve to remind us that the forces for assimilation and eradication of our immigrant heritage are strong here in the United States, but whitewashing isn’t quite what Nikki and Bobby might hope. Aside from skin color, and other physical markers of race, which some of us don’t have the ability to forgo, race in America is anchored to white supremacy. Assimilating into whiteness, by changing our names, our religion and in some cases even our physical appearance (for those who can), may allow some of us to pass for another race, but it does nothing to challenge the very systems of structural inequity that ensure that while we may “pass” we are never
Rachel Dolezal can return to the refuge of whiteness, should she choose. And the incessant racism faced by Nikki Haley, from inside and outside her own party, proves that she cannot simply become white, despite what she checked on her voter registration card.
This is why Haley’s failure to acknowledge the racism at play in the Charleston shooting is important. Her own brownness, or attempts at whiteness, mean very little in the face of her words and actions, which consistently downplay racism — racism that she herself has experienced, and which perhaps have informed her own attempts at assimilation. Her identity as a person of color means very little if she’s unable to articulate it in a way that names and addresses structural racism. She knows the significance of the Confederate flag, and to dismiss that history is an act of willful ignorance, regardless of her race.
Wow. Question her religion, her marriage, her skin color, her career. All because she said take down The Flag. One can only wonder what Ms. Pandit would have written if Governor Haley had instead defendedThe Flag. As it is, the Governor is called gutless by supporters of The Flag and trashed by nutjobs such as Ms. Pandit. What is a well-meaning Governor to do?