Haley’s comment ignites talk about race

Nikki Haley’s clumsy fumbling of questions about American racism — call it Haley’s comment — leads me to wonder how many of us truly understand what is perhaps the most divisive factor among Americans. It eclipses class, politics, gender, religion, geography, even IQ.

Nikki Haley fumbles her answer on racism in America (Photo: CNN)

Do I believe America is a racist country?

Let me answer with a related question: 

Is America an anti-Semitic country?

You mean, now?

Do you get the point?

I am not saying anti-Semitism and racism are the same, they are not proportionate, but they share similar roots — fear, hate, misunderstanding.

Race is not mono-thematic. It is more like a half-filled glass. It can be perceived with optimism, or pessimism.

Asked if America is a racist nation, Haley said no, that our stated ideals were equality and the pursuit of happiness. She said “all men are created equal,” quoting the Declaration of Independence. That is the glass half-full answer.

The half-empty version is that “all men” excluded women, and the U.S. Constitution decreed that Black slaves were to be counted as 3/5ths of a person. Which means less than human.

That was in addition to not prohibiting the evil of slavery.

Yes, there were reasons for that moral failure, but facts are facts.

Haley seems to be unable to reconcile the difference between our high-minded stated ideals, and the grim actuality of our practice.

So, yes, it can be true that the opposites — slavery and equality — are both counted as America’s pillars.That is part of our founding contradiction.

Not all of America approved of slavery, but it took 84 years for those opposed to defeat those in favor.

It defies logic to deny that America was a racist nation. Haley knows that, but she also knows that most Republicans don’t want to hear it.

They want to hear something about Abraham Lincoln and think that wins the argument.

It does not.

As some Democrats make a fetish of slavery, they like to forget that theirs was the party of racists for about 130 years.

Not a single Republican voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1960, while 18 Democrats voted nay. Earlier, in 1948, the Dixiecrats walked out of the Democratic National Convention to form the States Rights Party.

Enough with the history.

Back to the point: Is America a racist country today?

And again:  Is America an anti-Semitic country today?

No. America is a country that is home to anti-Semites, but it is not anti-Semitic.

I can prove it.

When there is a terrible anti-Semitic act, such as the 2018 mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue, some Jews make reference to Nazi Germany, as if America were a Nazi country.

No. In Nazi Germany, it was the government that was killing the Jews. In America, the government arrests and prosecutes those who attack Jews.

Jews here — like everyone else — are protected by the law, however imperfect.

Those same general laws protect African-Americans, plus an added layer of laws that enshrine equal opportunity in jobs, housing, voting, and so on.

Since laws provide the structural system of society, it is inaccurate to talk about “systemic racism” in America. It would be just as wrong as to believe in “systemic anti-Semitism.”

Do racism and anti-Semitism exist?


Are they admired qualities by the vast majority of Americans?


If I were to design a Grievance Meter, that’s one place where Blacks would be #1. (Although Native Americans might argue that point.)

Throughout U.S. history, various groups have been victimized, or outright excluded, such as the Chinese. Each wave of immigration brought out Nativist hate against the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the Muslims.

We can’t deny our past. And slavery was the worst of the worst.

But to judge today as if it were 1850, or even 1950, when segregation was legal in many states, would be a travesty. It’s hard to believe in systemic racism in a country that has nine Black billionaires, where it’s hard to find a major city that hasn’t had a Black mayor, where vast areas of entertainment and athletics are dominated by African-Americans.

And when we acknowledge our racist past, that in some way obligates us to correct, or at least diminish, the gaps between white and Black education and wealth in America. Doesn’t it?

That leads us to the subject of reparations, but that is a topic that requires its own space.

7 thoughts on “Haley’s comment ignites talk about race”

  1. I really enjoyed this piece, Stu. It’s a balanced and realistic look at racism in this country. You’ve explained it all clearly and without hyperbole. I find it hard to believe that a substantial portion of the populace cannot find it within themselves to acknowledge these simply facts from our history. It’s ridiculous. Oh, and Haley’s Comment? Fucking awesome! 🙂

  2. While I could certainly argue that areas of American government are working to become less racist, too many of the new proposed voting rights restrictions in areas of the country, still make the other side of the argument possible.
    Political rhetoric these days does not help.
    As for your two examples, I don’t think they bolster your argument. Yes, there are Black mayors in cities which have large Black populations, but how many Black mayors are there in majority white suburbs? What about state-wide races? America has elected nearly 2,000 U.S. senators and only 11 have been African American. States have elected only three African American governors. Three. So while New York, Philadelphia, etc., can lay claim to Black mayors, the vast majority of states have never had minority representation in a state-wide office.
    The 9 Black billionaire argument is equally questionable as six of the nine come from sports (the ultimate meritocracy) and entertainment. Only three come from the world of business, where access to education, opportunity and networking are more important to success. The 9 Black billionaires are also only a touch more than 1% of the total number of U.S. billionaires, which is over 750 (the recent stock market rise has probably created a few new ones), That number will certainly increase thanks to the last 50 years of affirmative action, diversity hiring and making it easier to own property – and inflation will make for more billionaires. But no Black billionaire is even close to the Top 25 wealthiest Americans, That may take another generation or two.
    Any country with a past most likely has a history of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, or treating some group terribly. Any politician or academic denying that is just being silly. The better question is are we becoming a fairer country, with more equal access to opportunity, with fewer people judging people by their skin color or religion? I think the trend line is in the right direction, but there are still too many Americans fighting against it, too many foreign adversaries trying to pit one against the other, and working to slow progress.
    Cheers, Stu. Miss ya.

    1. Howard Gensler, You have hit the proverbial nail square on the head. I cannot disagree with one thing you have said.

      In many, (most?), cases how one perceives racism is based on their political beliefs and agendas.

  3. This wonderful column could just as easily have been part II of the column you did on Kate Smith: you cannot make judgments today based on what was in place or deemed acceptable yesterday.

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