What Black Americans should know about presidential candidate Nikki Haley

The former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has already leaned into her diverse candidacy.

Nikki Haley has officially thrown her name into the 2024 presidential race, becoming the first formidable challenger to former President Donald Trump. 

Haley, a former member of the Trump administration who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has already leaned into her diverse candidacy as a younger woman of color who led a state with one of the largest Black populations in the country as the former governor of South Carolina. Her run for the White House will also undoubtedly put her and her political record under the public microscope.

So who exactly is Nikki Haley, and what should Black Americans know about her? TheGrio breaks it down for you.

She is of Indian descent

If elected president, Haley, 51, would become the first woman and woman of color to serve as commander in chief. An Indian American, she has already broken racial and gender barriers as the first woman and woman of color to serve as South Carolina governor, and the first Indian American to serve in a presidential cabinet.

In her speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, Haley noted that her Indian immigrant family “faced discrimination and hardship” for standing out in their small South Carolina town. “​​My father wore a turban; my mother wore a sari. I was a brown girl in a black-and-white world,” said Haley, and despite the challenges, “my parents never gave in to grievance and hate.”

Comments on critical race theory (CRT)

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley has urged governors to ban funding for schools that teach critical race theory. In this scene from California last year, proponents and opponents of teaching CRT attend a Placentia-Yorba Linda school board discussion of a proposed resolution to ban the teaching. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Like Republican leaders across the country targeting some teachings of race in classrooms, Haley publicly slammed critical race theory. In 2021, she called on state governors to ban funding for schools that teach CRT. 

She told Fox News: “Think about a 5-year-old that starts kindergarten and they don’t know anything about color. If she’s white, you’re telling her she’s bad. If she’s brown or Black, you’re telling her she will never be enough and she’s always a victim. That’s harmful for the well-being of our children.”

In a tweet, also in 2021, Haley wrote, “Critical race theory is going to hold back generations of young people … America should be united around shared values, not divided by different shades of color.” As recently as January 2023, she called CRT “un-American.”

In a recent interview with theGrio, Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison slammed Haley for her previous comments on CRT. He said Haley “doubled down” on what he described as “craziness.”

“She just recently talked about CRT. I don’t even know if she knows what that means,” said Harrison. 

He continued: “What is it that you don’t want us to teach our kids? You don’t want us to teach our kids that 40% of enslaved people in this country came through the Port of Charleston? Should we ban or stop the building of the new International African-American History Museum in Charleston? Should that not be a part of the dialogue? I mean, it is sad to see how this Republican Party has devolved into something that is not even recognizable.”

Response to Charleston church shooting, comments on BLM

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While governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley showed a photo of the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor during a June 17, 2016, memorial service, held one year after Middleton-Doctor and eight other Black parishioners were shot dead at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. Haley had called for the confederate flag to be removed from the state Capitol after the shooting. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

As South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley notably called for the confederate flag to be removed from the state Capitol following the 2015 mass shooting of nine Black parishioners in Charleston. Though she was previously resistant to the lowering of the flag before white supremacist Dylann Roof killed his victims at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Haley was ultimately swayed to change her position.

However, Haley was later criticized for seemingly supporting the confederate flag after its removal. The then-governor told a conservative podcast that the flag — largely seen as a symbol of hate dating back to the American Civil War — was seen by people as a symbol “service, sacrifice and heritage.” Roof, she said, “hijacked everything that people thought of” the flag. 

Haley would later talk about her time as governor during the South Carolina tragedy in her RNC speech in support of President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s 2020 reelection campaign. In her remarks, Haley criticized the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the 2020 uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd. She also blamed the Democratic Party for “turning a blind eye towards riots and rage.”

She continued: “And of course, we value and respect every Black life. The Black cops who’ve been shot in the line of duty. They matter. The Black small business owners who’ve watched their life’s work go up in flames. They matter. The Black kids who’ve been gunned down on the playground, their lives matter, too, and their lives are being ruined and stolen by the violence on our streets.”

Appointed South Carolina’s first Black U.S. senator

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Nikki Haley (left) appointed Tim Scott (right) to be South Carolina’s first Black U.S. senator in 2012. In this photo from Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, South Carolina, the two are joined by Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio (center), who was on a presidential campaign swing. (Alex Holt for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As governor, Haley notably appointed Tim Scott to be the state’s first Black U.S. senator in 2012. Today, more than a decade later, Scott remains the Senate’s lone Black Republican.

When Haley announced the historic appointment, she said she selected Scott because of his credentials and not his race. “It is important to me, as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned this seat,” Haley said. “He earned this seat for the person that he is. He earned this seat with the results he has shown.”

Ironically, Sen. Scott could also become Haley’s opponent in the 2024 Republican presidential primary as his name has also been floating around GOP circles as a potential nominee.

Delivered rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address

In 2016, Nikki Haley delivered the Republican rebuttal to then-President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address. Haley opened her speech with complimentary remarks about Obama, who she noted “broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans.

“As he did when he first ran for office, tonight President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He is at his best when he does that,” said Haley. However, she later slammed Obama: “Unfortunately, the president’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.”

Haley described the near end of the Obama presidency as a “chance to turn in a new direction,” and went on to take his administration to task on issues like immigration and foreign defense. And in what is likely a preview of Haley’s economic agenda, she said, “If we held the White House, taxes would be lower for working families, and we’d put the brakes on runaway spending and debt.”

She also said her vision for America would “recognize the importance of the separation of powers and honor the Constitution in its entirety,” including amendments on guns and states rights.

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