When South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was 10 years old, she watched shop owners in rural South Carolina call the police on her father, an immigrant from India, just because he was wearing a turban. Haley told the story of how this discrimination made her feel shamed and silenced in a speech at the National Press Club in D.C. on Wednesday about “Lessons from a New South,” but she also asserted that such racism has since been largely eradicated from the region.
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking the South is still like that today. It’s not,” she said, pointing out that an intolerant population would never have elected an Indian-American like her as governor.
What is hurting people of color, Haley told the gathered reporters and pundits Wednesday, is the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Black lives do matter,” she said, “and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that has laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore.”
Haley later added during a question and answer session that she understands where the Black Lives Matter is coming from, saying, “People yell when they don’t feel heard” — an echo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” But, she continued, it’s the responsibility of all peaceful Black Lives Matter members to denounce the violent behavior of others, “or else you’re going to get tagged with it.”
As for the movement’s tactic of interrupting presidential candidates in order to have their message heard, Haley said: “You can yell and scream, but that’s not going to get you anywhere.”
Haley was widely praised and held up as a potential vice presidential candidate after she signed a bill removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse earlier this summer, in the wake of a mass shooting perpetrated by an admirer of the symbol.
She defended that decision Wednesday, saying, “The statehouse belongs to all people and needs to be welcoming to all people. That couldn’t happen with that flag flying.” But she also defended supporters of the Confederate flag, calling them “decent, wonderful people” who “are not racist.”
Yet the flag’s use has never been separate, in its long history, from white supremacy and racial terror. It was only erected at southern statehouses as a response to the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s. In the wake of calls across the country this summer to take down the flag and other symbols of the pro-slavery south, some lawmakers and activists who support the flag have rallied to its defense. Some have placed the flag outside King’s former church in Atlanta, Georgia, while others have renewed the call for the South to secede from the United States.
This Saturday, supporters of the Confederate flag plan to rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. “It’s time we take the fight to them and show them that we will not go away quietly!” says the Facebook page for the event.