Nikki Haley is spreading myths for white people that cover up the truth of her own personal history

White fragility is real. Whatever else you think about educator Robin DiAngelo, she has correctly identified one of the most persistent and pernicious phenomena of 21st-century American life, the discomfort and defensiveness white people feel when they are exposed to information or discussions about racial inequality and injustice. It's a major threat to furthering racial progress. But I'm not sure she even realizes just how noxious the phenomenon is because like white supremacy, it doesn't only affect white people, even though it is almost always deployed in service of white people.

Take a recent exchange between former South Carolina Governor and Republican Nikki Haley, an Asian American, and Dennis Prager, a white American whose brainchild, something called Prager University, alludes to higher education but actually just dumbs things down and distorts history. In fact, Prager "university" is white fragility in its purest form. It is a safe space for mostly white people, though not exclusively, who'd rather hold fast to American creation myths than have to grapple with harsher truths. Haley was so proud of the exchange that she tweeted out a video of it under the heading "Critical race theory is harmful to a child's education."

In the video, Prager urges parents to take kids out of schools that teach the 1619 Project by The New York Times. That's no surprise. White fragility is all about helping white people avoid difficult conversations about race, and the 1619 Project dared to bring to light ideas and facts left out of often white-washed history books generations of students were exposed to. This is how Nikki Haley, the first woman and person of color to serve as governor of deep-red and deep-south South Carolina, responded:

Kids should not be taught that they are racist. And that's literally what the, the Critical Race Theory and all of those things are doing is they are automatically looking at these kids that know no difference. No, they don't see color. They don't see gender. They don't see anything. They're just kids. And then you're going to teach them that they are racist. I mean, this is a problem that really needs to stop.

The video is part of something called "Stand for America," which Haley claims promotes "freedom at home and strength abroad." The video ends with her essentially arguing that states' rights are the right bulwark against such supposed indoctrination.

I'm willing to bet Haley knows next to nothing about Critical Race Theory, its origins, its creators or primary practitioners, or where it diverges from Ibram X. Kendi's popular anti-racism philosophy that has gotten as much or more attention than DiAngelo's book on white fragility. But that's how white fragility works, too.

It cares not about facts. If it takes distortions and half-truths to comfort white people about race, then they will be deployed—even by a woman who should know better. Haley grew up in a rural part of South Carolina, like I did. She faced discrimination early in her life, which contradicts what she said in the video about children not seeing color or gender. How do we know she faced childhood racism she's now denying even exists? Because she told us last year during the Republican National Convention.

I grew up in a small town where we were the only Indian family, and I was bullied because they didn't know if I was Black or if I was white. All I knew was I was Indian. I was brown. I was bullied because I wouldn't take a side. ... So I told my parents and my parents talked to the teachers, and we ended up educating the class.

In service of white fragility, a woman of color who overcame discrimination, including being called a "raghead" when she ran for governor, memory-holed her own painful experiences. I don't blame Haley for deciding not to use the full name her parents gave her at birth—Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley—or checking the "white" box on her 2001 voter registration card. I'm a Black man. I get the external pressures on Black and brown people to "assimilate," which often just means be more like white people.

I've felt it, too. I've given in from time to time, thinking it the only way to succeed while maintaining my sanity. It's the insidious power of white supremacy, which will choose any host that will help it survive and spread, even if the host is a Black or brown body. Neither Haley nor I should be ashamed of finding ways to successfully navigate a country in which white supremacy was embedded during its founding.

But I fault Haley for continuing to perpetuate myths about this country and lying about the intent of those with whom she disagrees. It harkens back to the days she was essentially waving away the presence of the Confederate flag on State House grounds in our home state, as though it was no big deal. Is there a greater example of white fragility than the need to fly the flag of traitors and call it "heritage" and "honor" and having the first person of color to be governor assuaging the fears of white South Carolinians concerned the traitor's flag might be removed from public property?

Maybe the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency on the strength of white Evangelical Christian support and voters more likely than others to be motivated by racial animus is a more salient example. Because the browning of America was discomforting them, they turned to an open bigot to turn back the clock. Haley initially refused to follow but has become a sycophant, reckoning that her future depends on how effective she is at creating a safe space for scared white people.

It took the blood of nine Black people massacred by Dylann Roof in a Black church in Charleston to convince Haley it was time for the Confederate flag to go. I don't know what it will take for her to speak truthfully about America's problem with racism.

A GOP senator's dumb, reckless, and immoral words reflect a disturbing fact about the American mind

Kim Potter, a 26-year police veteran who killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop that began with an air freshener and overdue plates, resigned from the Brooklyn Center police department, and has been charged for that killing.

I don't know how to feel about that. Not that I'm upset to see her go or arrested. I'm not. It's just that even though it is heartening to know she won't be patrolling the streets any longer, I don't know if this gets us closer to justice or further away. It's hard to know what justice looks like these days. Or even what the word justice means.

Had we an actual criminal justice system, and if Potter's former boss was correct that she "accidentally" shot Wright, her "mistake" would be a powerful point of mitigation for how the public should view her. An accidental shooting doesn't make a killing any less tragic, but accidents—even horrific ones—do happen, particularly in stressful situations on stressful jobs. It's why we don't court martial every soldier who kills an innocent person during an exchange of gunfire in a war zone (though we should care more than we often do about those on the other end of American bullets and bombs).

It's why on some level I began making a distinction between Potter's actions and the actions of Derek Chauvin, the man currently on trial for the killing of George Floyd. If Potter's act was a mistake, Chauvin's was premeditated murder by a man who seemed quite comfortable perched atop Floyd's neck as life escaped Floyd's body. Besides, before the killing of Wright, the Brooklyn Center police department was considered a model of reform. One mistake, no matter how tragic, shouldn't upend years of work.

But every time I try to get to maintain that level of nuance, I come across men like John Kennedy, a Republican US senator from Louisiana. During the Chauvin trial, and in the aftermath of the Wright killing and an egregious abuse of power by police during a traffic stop in Virginia, Kennedy decided to take his talents to Fox News to dispense this gem: "If you hate cops just because they're cops, and you don't know anything about them, then next time you get in trouble, just call a crackhead."

He said that as a chyron saying "Dems use strategy to push radical agenda" shared the TV screen with Kennedy's face. What he said was so dumb, so reckless, so amoral, it's hard to find just the right words to describe it. And yet, that man is a lawmaker who has been charged with helping lead the country through times such as these.

He isn't alone. I've encountered people online and in person who openly argue that Floyd was the cause of his own death; that the Black US soldier who was pepper-sprayed by a cop for no good reason was at fault for not more perfectly complying—even though he literally held his hands high and through the driver's side window to illustrate his compliance—that the criminal behavior of Black people is the cause of all this mess, not the police. Kennedy dipped his toe in that as well, telling Fox News that minority communities have higher crime rates. He tried to soften his words with a quick "because of poverty," but the message he was sending was clear.

Lawmakers are supposed to be knowledgeable about complex subjects, or at least know how to pretend to be. Kennedy can't be bothered to be either. Black people are targeted more by police even when you account for crime and poverty rates. Police shootings do not correlate well with the amount of crime in a given area. That's why Kennedy's message was as clear as that of Tucker Carlson, host of cable news's top-rated political show, who has been putting a bow tie on the white supremacist conspiracy "replacement theory" while claiming it has nothing to do with race.

And that's what's underlying just about all of this, how we view anti-Black racism and white supremacy or deny their existence. It's why many white people will continue defending the likes of Carlson, because he doesn't say explicitly that he doesn't hate Black people and is supposedly in favor of Dr. King's dream. It's why true policing reform is so hard to come by, because the subtext is that Black people deserve what we've been getting and that cops are good people. It's why it is hard to even contemplate what a just justice system should do with officers like Potter who make "mistakes" that cut lives short and send fear and anguish throughout an entire area.

As long as we don't grapple with the underlying racism that still connects dark skin and crime in too many American minds, there's little chance we'll be able to move forward together. But, frankly, I'm not sure I want to move forward together with people who refuse to acknowledge even that.

My senator uses his image as a Black conservative to cover up the GOP's worst behavior

I would tell you a story about the idiocy of one of my senators, Lindsey Graham, but you probably know it. It's about his rank hypocrisy and lying about what he'd do with a US Supreme Court opening during an election year with a Republican in the White House. Under Democratic President Barack Obama, Graham and other GOP senators held the seat vacant for more than eight months. Graham quickly switched course under President Donald Trump after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, abandoning his previous "use my words against me" pledge, which paved the way for a 6-3 conservative court. Just recently he talked about the need to be heavily armed in case of a natural disaster and those he represents in the US Senate come to rob and murder him. Or something. I can't express how disgusted many of the moderate voters of South Carolina are, who used to believe he was a statesman. It's grating to even hear his voice or see his face on Fox News. His spiral into indecency has been stunning.

As hideous as Graham has become, we should save a bit for Tim Scott, who became the first Black man to win a Senate seat for a Deep South state since Reconstruction when he beat Democratic challenger Joyce Dickerson in 2014. Scott believes himself to be a kind of conscience of the Republican Party, a man led by his deep-abiding Christian faith who is well aware of his place in history. From time to time, he has acted on that impulse, including when he took to the Senate floor to talk about his experience with racial profiling and stopped a racist Trump nominee from receiving a lifetime appointment to a federal bench. Even in the wake of the George Floyd killing and the protests sparked by it, he led his party in an attempt to secure policing reform. His proposal seemed sincere even though it was far from sufficient the moment he declared qualified immunity for police officers, an egregious abuse of the legal system that likely fuels police misbehavior, off limits. He loves talking about Opportunity Zones (though they aren't as effective as he claims). He helped usher through a criminal justice reform bill begun in Obama's era and signed into law in Trump's.

It's Republicans like Scott who make everything tougher on a national level, because we put next to no pressure on them to do the right thing, no matter the issue. He's under no pressure to break ranks in favor of immigration reform or comprehensive background checks. He did not cross the line to vote for nearly $2 trillion in covid relief and poverty-fighting funding that will make life better for the poorest, most vulnerable residents of his state. And he has not had to answer for the odious voting rights law recently implemented by our neighbors in Georgia and being pushed by his party in nearly every state. He hasn't been pressed hard on whether Graham was wrong to have called election officials in Georgia after the 2020 election cycle. Because he's done a few reasonable things, it's given him cover while he quietly supports various kinds of injustices that are more likely to be attached to Graham and Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Maybe that's why national political reporters seem to not even bother to hold him to account.

We know Graham has no principles. We know he's sold his political soul, even though we don't why or to whom. Maybe he's still in a state of shock because his mentor, the late American statesman John McCain, is gone. We know Graham will say whatever he can to justify whatever action he wants to take, no matter how nakedly political, full of lies or harmful to his own constituents. There's no doubt about Graham any more. He's firmly put party power over country, and he won't be changing any time soon. The next headline he generates by saying something else that's awful won't be the last.

That's why it's that much more important to stop allowing politicians like Scott to continue getting away with being just like Graham, only quieter, more stoic. Scott was just as big of a Trump sycophant as Graham was. It's just that Scott's image as a conscience-filled Black Republican has made it easier for white Republicans. The white evangelical Christians who put Trump in office, and tried to give him a second term, could rest easier at night knowing they were on Scott's side. Now he's providing cover for the GOP's anti-democratic behavior targeting Black voters, a kind of 21st-century attempt to resurrect Jim Crow, which will have an effect far beyond South Carolina.

Scott should be ashamed of that. But he doesn't seem to be.

That doesn't mean we should keep letting him get off so easily. Scott imagines himself to be better than this. We need to remind him that his actions suggest otherwise.

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