• Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

Why Nikki Haley whitesplained the Civil War, explained

Nikki Haley Campaigns In Iowa, thegrio.com


Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.  

Who is Nikki Haley?

Nimarata Nikki Haley is the former governor of South Carolina who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

Haley was born and raised in Bamberg, South Carolina, to immigrant parents from Amritsar, Punjab, India. She served in the South Carolina legislature and in the Trump administration as ambassador to the United Nations. 

What did Haley say about the Civil War?

During a campaign stop in Berlin, New Hampshire, on Wednesday, an audience member at a town hall asked Haley: “What was the cause of the United States Civil War?” 

 “I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run, the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley said. “I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are.” When the audience member specifically brought up the slavery part of the equation, Haley seemed perplexed, asking: “What do you want me to say about slavery?”

By Thursday, Haley had reversed course.

Nikki Haley, asked what caused the Civil War, leaves out slavery. It’s not the first time

“Yes, we know the Civil War was about slavery,” she told the radio show hosts on The Pulse of New Hampshire Radio program “Good Morning NH with Jack Heath” before launching into another weird rant about how the “lessons” of the Civil War is “that freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people” blah blah blah more words that don’t rhyme with “slavery.”

What’s wrong with what Nikki Haley said?

Because the Civil War was about slavery.

Before suffering a temporary bout of race-based amnesia, Haley could have easily pointed to Georgia’s Declaration of Secession, which blamed the rift on “numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.” She didn’t even have to read Mississippi’s entire succession document. The second sentence in A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi acknowledged that the state’s position “is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.” If that was too hard, she could have cited Virginia’s Secession Ordinance, which opened by whining about “the oppression of the slaveholding states.”

Perhaps no state enumerated its desire for slave-based government better than Haley’s home state. Before the 11 different territories united to form the Confederate States of America, the Palmetto State argued that the United States wouldn’t have existed if slavery wasn’t included in America’s founding document. South Carolina’s Declaration of Secession acknowledged that slavery was the only reason it started the bloodiest war in the history of the North American continent.  

“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States, read South Carolina’s Declaration of Secession. “[T]hey have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery…We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved…”

But, even though reputable historians, scholars and the people who started the Civil War acknowledge that the race-based, constitutional, perpetual system that reduced human beings to chattel was the “immediate cause” of the bloodiest conflict in American history, Haley couldn’t answer the question correctly.

Why would Nikki Haley say something like that?

It is impossible to know exactly why Haley didn’t just answer the question correctly. Although Haley blamed the misunderstanding on a “Democratic plant,” there are only two reasonable explanations for why a seasoned politician like Nikk Haley would say what she said.

  1. Nikki Haley doesn’t know that slavery caused the Civil War or
  2. Nikki Haley knows that slavery caused the Civil War but didn’t want to say it. 

How could someone as educated as Haley not know that slavery caused the Civil War?

Haley was born and raised in South Carolina, a state where some students were taught that the War for White Supremacy was about taxation and states rights. She attended Orangeburg Preparatory Schools, which was formed by the merger of two segregation academies

Furthermore, a 2018 Winthrop University poll found that only 25% of Southerners believe slavery alone caused the War for Slaveholder Rights. A 2023 YouGov poll found that only 53% of Republicans know what caused the Uncivil War and that whites are nearly twice as likely to cite a reason other than slavery. 

Although Haley grew up in a majority-Black town and was raised by a father who taught at an HBCU and a mother who worked in a majority-Black school district, it’s possible that Haley hadn’t heard about this whole slavery thing until Thursday morning. 

OK, that’s possible but not likely. If she did know that slavery caused the Civil War, why wouldn’t she say it?

Nimarata Nikki Haley is the former governor of South Carolina who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

What Black Americans should know about presidential candidate Nikki Haley

Haley was born and raised in Bamberg, South Carolina, to parents who immigrated from Amritsar, Punjab, India. Haley was born and raised in South Carolina, a state where some students are taught that the War for White Supremacy was about taxation and states rights. She attended Orangeburg Preparatory Schools, which was formed by the merger of two segregation academies

Wait, you’ve said all that stuff already.

I know.

But suppose you grew up as an immigrant surrounded by people who truly believe a racist lie. Imagine being educated by those racist liars. Imagine if those racist lies were fundamental to your view of the past. Imagine if those racist liars voted for you and gave you your entire career. But imagine if your unwillingness to confront that fundamental racist lie catapulted you from a tiny town all the way to the most powerful position in the world.

Now imagine Black people.

Imagine the labor and resistance of Black people that created the Immigration and Nationality Act — the 1965 civil rights legislation that allowed your family to become Americans. Imagine if your parents made sure you didn’t go to school with them and your school made sure that they couldn’t sit in your classroom. Imagine if you didn’t need their votes or their admiration. Imagine if your unwillingness to confront a racist lie contributed to a racial massacre. Imagine if your last job was in an administration that gained power by embracing racist lies. Imagine if your last boss was a racist liar. Imagine if you wanted his job. 

But most of all, imagine white people. 

Imagine if you understood that most of them voted for your party. Imagine if they were so dumb that they believed a racist lie. Imagine if the people who know the truth would never ever, ever penalize you for being a liar or being dumb or being racist. Imagine if you knew that they would never ever do anything about segregation academies or unequal education systems or racist curriculums or the fundamental lie of America. Now, imagine you’re in a tiny New Hampshire town and someone asked you about that racist lie you’d heard all of your life. What would you say?

Before you answer that question, let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, during a book signing in my South Carolina hometown, I told the story of how my high school history teacher invited the entire AP U.S. history class to her home for an overnight study session the night before the test. We slept in a room with a huge confederate flag. 

A white woman at the signing spoke up. She was younger than me, but she explained that her history teacher was also a confederate enthusiast. Another guy told a story about his pro-confederate AP History teacher. As we talked, we realized that we were all talking about the same teacher. The teacher is now retired but, according to our calculations, she personally taught her version of American history to at least 2,000 students in our tiny hometown during the course of her career.

One of the attendees — a white man who I later learned was a transplant from New Hampshire — shook his head in disapproval. He wondered how a pro-confederate could have operated inside a school system for so long without someone speaking out. 

“But how do you even know you’re being taught a lie if you never learned the truth?’” asked one of the former students. “And who would we tell?”

Ultimately, someone with integrity, courage and intelligence must be brave enough to stand up to the racist liars and the lies they tell. This is how a racist lie becomes the truth. This is white identity politics and how the race card is played silently and so frequently. It persists because there is never anyone to tell.

Nimarata Nikki Haley is the former governor of South Carolina who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for president of the United States.


Michael Harriot is an economist, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His New York Times bestseller Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America is available everywhere books are sold.

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