The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Dear Dr. ESP,

Here you go again.  A fourth post about Nikki Haley.  I’m beginning to think you have an unnatural obsession with the former governor.  What’s the deal?

~Same Imaginary Reader

Dear Imaginary, my interest in Haley is less about her as a presidential candidate and more about how she constantly reminds me how uncreative Americans can be when they want to avoid an inconvenient truth.  When it comes to her sensitivity to the role slavery plays in the Black experience, here is what Haley wants us to believe.

If you grow up in South Carolina, literally in second and third grade, you learn about slavery. You grow up and you have — you know, I had Black friends growing up. It is a very talked-about thing.

It was not just slavery that was talked about, It was more about racism that was talked about. It was more about, you know, we had friends, we had Black friends, we had White friends. But it was always a topic of conversation, even among our friends.

Every liar has a tell.  One of the most frequent is the need to pepper an explanation with unnecessary detail and repetition.  “If you grow up in South Carolina you learn about slavery” was not sufficient.  It happened “literally in the second and third grade.”  Then she refers to friends three times and her Black friends twice.  And she twice claims slavery and racism were a constant topic of conversation.

Haley’s life story suggests something quite different.  Whatever empathy she has for the Black experience did not result from her education.  Like the rest of us, it came from experience.  If she had learned about slavery in elementary school would she have needed the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church to finally realize the Confederate flag flying over the state capitol was “a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally offensive past.” (June 22, 2015)  She affirmed it was NOT her 2nd and 3rd grade lessons, when she admitted in the same speech, “The events of this week call upon us to look at this in a different way.”  As reported by the New York Times:

It was a dramatic turnabout for Ms. Haley, a second-term Republican governor who over her five years in the job has displayed little interest in addressing the intensely divisive issue of the flag.

Too bad that lesson had less impact than her elementary school curriculum.  In a December 6, 2019 interview with USA Today writer Susan Page, Haley backtracked again, claiming, “…you know, people [South Carolinians] saw it [the flag] as service, and sacrifice, and heritage” until the Mother Emanuel shooter, in her words, “hi-jacked it.”  Is that what all her Black friends told her?  I know one who did not, former RNC chair Michael Steel, who tweeted in response to the interview:

Really, Nikki?! The Confederate Flag represented “service, sacrifice and heritage”? To whom? The black people who were terrorized & lynched in its name? You said it should never have been there. Roof didn’t hijack the meaning of that flag, he inherited it.

Having grown up in the South mid-20th century, I did not learn the impact of slavery and racism on Black Americans from discussions with my African-American friends, as Nikki Haley alleges she did.  You know why.  I did not have any!  I went to segregated schools.  I went to the movies at segregated theaters.  I ate at segregated restaurants.  And when I entered the main gate at Parker Field to watch our hometown Triple-A Yankee farm team the Richmond Virginians, I saw how Black attendees could only enter through the gate to the right-field bleachers.

When the first African-Americans were admitted in 1966 to Thomas Jefferson High School, which I also attended, I did not need them to explain the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.  The fact that it took 347 years, dating back to the arrival of the first African slaves in 1619, for these students to enter an institution named after the man who wrote “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was all I needed to know.

For what it’s worth.

4 thoughts on “The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

  1. Your commentary is so accurate. I attended 2nd and 3rd grade in a Virginia school. No mention of slavery or the Civil War was made. I’m now retired in South Carolina and had just moved here in 2015. I was shocked to see the Confederate flag flying over the statehouse. I still hear the “it was about states rights” argument even from people a generation younger than myself. Haley knows her audience and is clearly speaking to them. But give her time and she’ll move on to book bans and attacks on the LGBTQ+ citizens. Unfortunately this is who we are.

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