Nikki Haley in her own words: Why America ‘has never been a racist country’

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has drawn praise and criticism this week for her claim that the United States “has never been a racist country.”

At a CNN town hall Thursday night, host Jake Tapper asked the Republican presidential candidate to clarify what she meant by the remark, noting that slavery was enshrined in the Constitution.

Haley responded she truly believes “our Founding Fathers had the best of intentions when they started and we fixed it along the way.”

Here’s a look at how the Haley’s response has evolved over the last week:

‘We’ve never been a racist country’

On Tuesday, the former governor gave an interview on Fox News where she was asked to respond to an MSNBC host’s comments about the Republican Party.

Fox News host Brian Kilmeade asked Haley if she was “involved in a racist party.”

Haley responded, “We’re not a racist country, Brian. We’ve never been a racist country.”

“Our goal is to make sure that today is better than yesterday. Are we perfect? No. But our goal is to always make sure we try and be more perfect every day that we can. I know I faced racism when I was growing up. But I can tell you, today is a lot better than it was then. Our goal is to lift up everybody. Not go and divide people on race or gender or party or anything else. We’ve had enough of that in America.”

A campaign spokesman for Haley later reiterated the former governor’s position, telling CNN:

“America has always had racism, but America has never been a racist country. The liberal media always fails to get that distinction. It can throw a fit, but that doesn’t change Nikki’s belief that America is special because its people are always striving to do better and live up to our founding ideals of freedom and equality.”

‘National self-loathing’

After Haley’s remark on Fox News sparked a national discussion about the legacy of slavery and racism in the United States, Jake Tapper pressed Haley on her stance at a town hall in New Hampshire Thursday.

“I understand that you don’t think America is a racist country now but … do you really think as a historical matter America has never been a racist country?” Tapper asked.

Here’s Haley’s response, in full:

“I will tell you, when you look at the Declaration of Independence, it was that ‘men are created equal’ with unalienable rights, right? That is what we all knew.

But what I look at it as, is I was a brown girl that grew up in a small rural town. We had plenty of racism that we had to deal with. But my parents never said we lived in a racist country. And I’m so thankful that they didn’t.

Because for every brown and Black child out there, if you tell them they live or born in a racist country, you’re immediately telling them they don’t have a chance. And my parents would always say, ‘You may have challenges. And yes, there will be people who are racist. But that doesn’t define what you can do in this country.’ And so, I think it is important that we tell all kids that, ‘Look, America is not perfect, we have our stains, we know that, but our goal should always be to make today better than yesterday. It’s hugely important.

And that’s the problem that I have. We have too many people with this national self-loathing – it is killing our country. We have got to go back to loving America.

We are blessed because that little brown girl in that small, rural town in South Carolina, she grew up to become the first female minority governor in history. She then went on to become UN Ambassador and now she’s running for president of the United States. I want every brown and Black child to see that and say, ‘No, I don’t live in a country that was formed on racism. I live in a country where they wanted all people to be equal. And to make sure that they have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”

After brief applause, Tapper again pressed Haley, noting she was discussing the ideals of the United States, but that the country was founded “institutionally on many racist precepts, including slavery.”

“But when you look at, it said, ‘all men are created equal,’” Haley said.

“I think the intent, the intent was to do the right thing. Now, did they have to go fix it along the way? Yes. But I don’t think the intent was ever that we were going to be a racist country.

The intent was everybody was going to be created equally. And as we went through time, they fixed the things that were not, ‘all men are created equal.’ They made sure women became equal too. All of these things happened over time.

But I refuse to believe that the premise of when they formed our country was based on the fact that it was a racist country to start with. I refuse to believe that. I have to know, in my heart and in everybody’s heart, that we live in the best country in the world, and we are a work in progress. And we have a long way to go to fix all of our little kinks.

But I truly believe our Founding Fathers had the best of intentions when they started and we fixed it along the way. And we should always look at it that way.”

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