Nikki Haley, the Republican former governor of South Carolina and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, made the first speech of her 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday.
Like many kickoff speeches, Haley’s address in Charleston was heavy on broad themes and light on the kind of specific claims that can be fact-checked. But she did make one particularly inflammatory accusation about President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Haley claimed that under Biden and Harris, “a self-loathing has swept our country.” She said, “Every day we’re told America is flawed, rotten, and full of hate. Joe and Kamala even say America is racist. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Facts First: Both Biden and Harris have explicitly said they do not think that America is itself “racist,” though both have also said that there continues to be “systemic racism” embedded in American institutions such as policing and the criminal justice system.
Biden and Harris were asked in April 2021 about an assertion from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, that “America is not a racist country.”
They both agreed.
Biden said on NBC: “No, I don’t think the American people are racist. But I think after 400 years, African Americans have been left in a position where they’re so far behind the 8 ball in terms of education, health, in terms of opportunity.”
Biden added that he doesn’t think people “say, ‘I don’t want any Black person around me or living next to me.’” Rather, he said, it’s fact that “there used to be laws that said a Black person couldn’t live in that neighborhood.” He continued: “I don’t think America’s racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow, and before that, slavery, have had a cost, and we have to deal with it.”
Harris said on ABC: “No, I don’t think America is a racist country. But we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today. And I applaud the president for always having the ability, and the courage, frankly, to speak the truth about it.”
Biden and Harris do endorse a notion that Haley rejects: that various American institutions have an ongoing problem with systemic racism. In basic terms, that’s the idea that racism is baked into institutions’ laws, policies and practices rather than merely perpetrated by prejudiced individual bad apples.
As president, Biden has repeatedly spoken of systemic racism as a major issue for the country – while, again, never saying that the country as a whole is a racist entity. He said at CNN town hall in early 2021, during an extended commentary about racial disparities in criminal sentencing, that “I think we have to deal with systemic racism that exists throughout society.” He vowed in a speech in early 2021 that his administration would “work to dismantle systemic racism across the board by advancing racial equity across the whole of government. In health care, education, housing, economic mobility, environmental justice, civil rights, and our justice system itself.”
Months later, after White former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, a Black man, Biden said the crime had let the world see “the systemic racism that is a stain our nation’s soul.”
Harris has taken a similar approach, not saying the United States is a racist nation but arguing that systemic racism continues to plague some of the nation’s key institutions.
During the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of Floyd in 2020, Harris wrote in Cosmopolitan magazine: “Let’s speak the truth: People are protesting because Black people have been treated as less than human in America. Because our country has never fully addressed the systemic racism that has plagued our country since its earliest days.” She added that “structural racism lives on in our policies and everyday life.”
Harris said upon Chauvin’s conviction in 2021: “America has a long history of systemic racism. Black Americans – and Black men, in particular – have been treated, throughout the course of our history, as less than human. Black men are fathers and brothers and sons and uncles and grandfathers and friends and neighbors. Their lives must be valued in our education system, in our health care system, in our housing system, in our economic system, in our criminal justice system, in our nation. Full stop.”
Haley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this article.