Nikki Haley Says The "New South" Is Less Racist. Not Everyone Agrees.
In the aftermath of the Charleston shooting that left nine dead at a historic black church in June, discussions about race relations in the South reached fever pitch. Much of the nation praised South Carolina for finally removing the Confederate flag from its state capitol. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley doesn't believe that these two events define racism in the South. In a speech at the National Press Club (NPC) on Wednesday, Haley described a "New South" that's less racist, using her personal experience as an Indian-American as proof of the progress. But her speech has been criticized on multiple fronts.,
For one thing, she supported voter ID laws — which disproportionately keep minorities from voting. She also criticized the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, "Black lives do matter, and they have been disgracefully jeopardized by the movement that's laid waste to Ferguson and Baltimore."
In her speech, Haley said: "Today, there truly is a New South. It is different in many ways, perhaps most especially in its attitudes toward race. We are still far from perfect. We still have our problems. There’s still a lot more to do. But the New South, in many ways, is a place to look toward, rather than away from, when it comes to race relations."
Haley explained that her family was treated differently at times because it was apparent to rural South Carolinians that they were immigrants. "I mentioned earlier that my father wore a turban. He still does, to this day. He is a tall, graceful man — not someone who blends into a crowd." However, she said that the South has changed since her childhood, and she's living proof of this, as the first minority (and first female) governor of South Carolina.
Haley told the story of a time her father was racially profiled, showing that she knows firsthand that racial discrimination is a very real part of the South's history. As she and her father shopped together at a farmers market when she about was 10 years old, the couple working the produce stand looked nervous, began whispering, and made a phone call. Soon, two police officers showed up and watched them as they shopped.
She told the NPC:
The importance of that story, to me, is not in pointing out that my family and I have faced discrimination in the past. My mother always taught me not to talk about the things that are obvious. It is to make this clear: a lot of people make the mistake of thinking the South is still like that today. It’s not. I know. I lived through it.
Haley said her that state, and the South as a whole, has come a long way since she was a kid, and that she would not have been elected governor if South Carolina was still so intolerant. She told the NPC: "But now when I see that market, I see it not as a 10-year old girl suffering the humiliation of prejudice, but as the first female, first minority governor of my state."
Not everyone sees this "New South," though. Haley's speech was criticized on Twitter for defending voter ID laws. She said: "A good example in the civil rights arena is in voter ID laws. There are those who act as if any effort whatsoever to maintain the integrity of the voting process is a racist attack on civil rights. Well that’s just not so." She went on to say that voter ID requirements should be upheld: "But let’s figure out ways to make it easy and cost-free for every eligible voter to obtain a photo ID. That way, everyone who wants to vote, can vote."
South Carolina currently has a voter ID law in place that requires every voter to show a photo ID, with an exemption for people with a "reasonable impediment to obtaining photo ID." While Haley and other pro-voter-ID politicians argue that these laws aren't racially biased, researchers have found that the rules disproportionately keep minorities from voting, as they're more likely to not have a photo ID. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that black turnout at the polls dropped by almost four percent more than white turnout did in Kansas during the 2012 election after ID requirements were put in place.
Many Twitter users found Haley's speech hypocritical. Can there really be a "New South" when laws that suppress minority voters are still in place? While Haley may think that the region is racially tolerant today, others certainly don't see it that way.