Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has defended her claim that the United States has “never been a racist country”.
“The intent was to do the right thing,” Ms Haley said at a CNN town hall on Thursday after she was asked if she defended her comments, given the country’s history of legal racism, including slavery.
During the town hall, CNN host Jake Tapper pressed Ms Haley on her claim, pointing out that slavery was institutionalised in the constitution and the White House was built on slave labour. He also pointed out that Ms Haley’s home state, South Carolina, seceded from the Union and fought a war to defend the enslavement of Black people.
However, the former US ambassador to the United Nations doubled down on her comments, saying that America was founded on the idea that all men are created equal.
“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,” she said of the country’s founding.
“The intent was everybody was going to be created equally,” she added. “As we went through time, they fixed the things that are not, ‘all men are created equal.’”
She went on to say that developments to make everyone equal, including establishing women’s right to vote, happened over time, but she “refuse[s]” to believe that the “premise” of forming the country was based on racism.
Earlier this week, following Ms Haley’s third-place finish in the Iowa caucus, the GOP candidate sparked uproar when she was asked in a Fox News interview if she believed the Republican Party was racist.
Dismissing the suggestion that she would struggle to gain the GOP nomination as a woman of colour, Ms Haley responded: “No! We’re not a racist country… We’ve never been a racist country.
“Our goal is to make sure we are better than yesterday,” she added.
Ms Haley continued: “I am a brown girl that grew up in South Carolina, who became the first female minority governor in history, who became a UN ambassador and is now running for president.
“If that’s not the American dream, I don’t know what is.”
Ms Haley echoed her comments on Thursday, drawing on her personal experience of the racism she experienced as a result of being born to Indian parents in rural South Carolina.
“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 they didn’t,” Ms Haley said. “Because for every brown and Black child out there, if you tell them they live or were born in a racist country, you’re immediately telling them they don’t have a chance.
The former US ambassador to the UN added that she believed in the importance of telling children that “America is not perfect” and “we have our stains” but that “our goal should always be to make today better than yesterday..”
“We have too many people with this national self-loathing. It is killing our country,” she continued.
“We have got to go back to loving America. We are blessed because that little brown girl in that small rural town grew up to be the first female minority governor in this country … and is now running for president of the United States.”
Her comments attracted criticism from vice president Kamala Harris who criticised Ms Haley for downplaying systemic racism in the United States. “The history of racism in America is not something that should be the subject of a soundbite or a question that is meant to illicit a one-sentence answer,” the Democrat from California told The View.
“I think we all would agree that while it is part of our past and that we see vestiges of it today, we should also be committed collectively to not letting it define the future of our country. But we cannot get to a place of progress by denying the existence of racism,” she added.