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It's "Nikki."

Former UN ambassador throws headscarf in the ring for the White House.

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Nikki Haley 2023

Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, declared her candidacy for president of the United States this week. A full-blooded Indian, Haley is the latest first-generation American to gaslight her ethnicity in a race for the White House.

"I was a brown girl in a black and white world,” she told the RNC in 2020. But Nimrata Randhawa, born to Indian immigrants from Punjab, preferred to use her childhood nickname “Nikki” and was particularly private, even secretive about her Sikh background. She emphasizes instead her conversion to christianity and listed her race as “white” on a 2001 voter registration card, damning evidence of the evolution of whiteness in America.

Attitudes about race in the United States ebb and flow at best. Slavery. The Indigenous Peoples. Asian-Americans. Latinos. Antisemitism. The Obama and Trump campaigns in particular not only politicized these demographics, but dared us to express and vote our beliefs into law about the browning of America.

The focus now is on Critical Race Theory, with many pushing back at the prospect of it being taught in schools. A prospective GOP candidate Governor Ron DeSantis says, "I don't want our curriculum to be politicized. It's not about smuggling in your political agenda. It's about teaching the foundational principles of our country."

In what some have deemed a race-obsessed nation, leading the United States Mission at the UN in 2017-18 gave Haley perspective.

Let’s Make America Great Again

When Haley delivered a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2021, she observed the critical race theory reflected in economics. “Dismissing the lessons of Reagan makes no more sense than dismissing the lessons of Lincoln or Washington. We mustn’t reject the profound wisdom of our past. It’s a sure way to destroy our future.”

The parallels between 1980 and 2023 are compelling. Runaway federal spending and national debt, and growing inflation and rampant crime are precisely what makes America vulnerable to counterintelligence and economic espionage from Russia and China. Haley explains that critical race theory was never more obvious than at the United Nations.

The UN is a place where diplomats from all over the world gather and exchange pleasantries. Socializing is encouraged, confrontation discouraged. On the surface, everyone plays nice. But just underneath the surface it’s a very different story. A very ugly story.

Haley is referring to despotism such as Syria’s use of chemical weapons; North Korea’s nuclear arsenal; Iran’s bankrolling terrorists; and Venezuela torturing its own people all of whom are unaccountable to the international community. Haley observes, "Rome wasn’t conquered by more advanced, civilized people. They were conquered by less civilized, more vigorous peoples."

While Russia, Syria, North Korea, Iran and China are communist, the very antithesis of the free world, what makes their influence possible is the vulnerability of the free. Societies no longer able or willing to offer resistance.

Betting on America

For Haley, solidarity and the struggle for power begins at the grassroots level. The GOP candidate is known for quoting Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004,

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Nikki Haley at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.2014

We are one American family. There is not a black America and a white America, a Latino America and an Asian America. There’s the United States of America. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes.

That promise sparked a fire in the hearts of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the abolitionists who brought slavery to an end. It moved the minds of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and the suffragettes all of who’ve made women’s rights a reality. That promise filled the air when Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his American dream. It was made more real with the end of segregation and the victory of civil rights. Haley says, “that promise of America has been the constant in my life.”

“I’m the daughter of immigrants, Haley says. “We were the only Indian family in a small, rural Southern town. My dad wore a turban. My mom wore a sari. I haven’t just seen the American story. I’ve lived the American story.”

Model Minority Myth

To observers, Haley’s “brown girl in a black and white world” scenario perpetuates a Model Minority Myth: praising immigrants who successfully assimilate into their adopted nation’s caste system. Yuki Yamazaki, a post-doctoral fellow at New York University explains, “their instinct to assimilate and shed cultural identity is often rewarded by white people in power.”

British India shaped the association of brown, black and white people centuries ago, when via the East India Trading Company the crown ultimately conquered the nation in 1858. Following India’s independence in 1947, Indians began migrating around the world and today represent a diaspora of 18 million immigrants. They’ve re-distributed predominantly to the United States, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, though most transfer their citizenship to the United States.

Did little Nimrata's assimilation into the South Carolina public-school system, education at Clemson University, marriage to a caucasian South Carolina army national guardsman, and rejection of Sikhism and conversion to Christianity all curate a seat at one of the most conservative states in the nation? Yamazaki contends, "there is a long history of South and East Asians identifying with whiteness in order to get safety, benefits, security, and citizenship.”

With All Due Respect

At the Simon Bolivar Bridge, a 980-foot crossing over the Táchira River separating Venezuela and Colombia, Ambassador Haley witnessed thousands of Venezuelans fleeing socialist tyranny in 2018.

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Simon Bolivar Bridge, Táchira River, Venezuela and Colombia

While attending the inauguration of Colombian President Ivan Duque, millions of Venezuelans were pouring into Columbia. Haley recalls, "parents and their children passed me unawares, carrying what few earthly possessions they owned. Plastic bags filled with clothing, family photos, stuffed animals."

Thereafter, she was taken to a nearby shelter run by the Catholic Church where Venezuelan refugees gathered for shelter. She mingled among the crowds without introducing herself offering sandwiches, cold water, conciliatory remarks of hope. “After about 30 minutes it hit me,” Haley recalls, of an encounter she says ignited her first thoughts of a presidential run. “Nobody actually knew who I was. They only knew where I was from.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin depicted black slaves praying to a white God in order to be cleansed and whitened, but can a brown girl in a black and white world split the difference?

Nationality is one’s place of birth, citizenship, and/or state ID which connects a person to a specific bordered nation. Ethnicity are shared traditions, languages, religions, values and culture. While the Randhawa family from Punjab continue to wear their saris and turbans in South Carolina, their exodus from India enables their daughter to disappear into the American dream.

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