clock menu more-arrow no yes

Nikki Haley didn't deny that America has passed racist laws

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The internet is having a lot of fun with a new quote from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who gave the Republican response to the State of the Union on Tuesday night.

This tweet about the quote in question went viral:

Gawker also ran an article headlined, "Governor Whose Marriage Would Have Been a Crime in Her State 50 Years Ago: We’ve Never Had Racist Laws."

Except that's very clearly not what Haley meant.

Here's the full context of Haley's quote, which came about during a conversation with reporters on Wednesday afternoon:

When you've got immigrants who are coming here legally, we've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. … We've gone too far than to go back into a race and religion issue. I've been through those fights. That’s not worth it.

The context of the controversial part of Haley's quote — "we've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion" — is very clearly immigration laws. Specifically, she was speaking about Donald Trump's proposal to ban all Muslim immigration from the US, which came up after she criticized Trump in her State of the Union response.

Haley is still wrong — there was, for example, an 1882 law called the Chinese Exclusion Act that specifically blocked Chinese immigrants, based largely on xenophobic and racist fears of Chinese people at the time.

But she's not anywhere nearly as wrong as her critics are suggesting. Obviously, she knows there have been racist laws in the US. She even acknowledges it: "We've gone too far than to go back into a race and religion issue." But she doesn't seem to know that racism previously affected immigration laws.