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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Haley invites Americans to think beyond Black and white

All hail Nikki Haley! The value that the former South Carolina governor adds to the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination is enormous. It’s also not as simple as Black and white.

That’s the whole point. As she was growing up in South Carolina, Haley’s worldview was shaped not just by who she was — but also by what she wasn’t. She held an ambiguous place on the color line, as she acknowledged in her video announcing her White House bid. “The railroad tracks divided the town by race,” she said. “I was the proud daughter of Indian immigrants. Not Black, not white. I was different.”

When it comes to electing presidents, America is not scared off by “different.” John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president. Barack Obama was the first African American president. And Joe Biden is the first president to celebrate his 80th birthday at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I don’t know whether Haley would make a good president, but I am sure that her bid for the White House is good for the Republican Party. It also benefits the country as a whole.

For starters, Haley brings a refreshing splash of color to what is likely to be — if history is any guide — a boring Republican presidential field made up of mostly white males. Can’t you imagine the surreal spectacle of half a dozen or more white Republican men on a debate stage — most of them born on third base but convinced they hit a triple — complaining about how their tribe can’t get into college, can’t get a job, can’t get promoted and can’t get ahead all because of immigrants, “wokeness,” trade deals and affirmative action?

Folks, it’s dangerous for anyone to consume that much whine. Haley is a woman of color and the daughter of Indian immigrants. It’s a safe bet that life has actually taught her a thing or two about how to overcome real obstacles as opposed to imagined ones.

“My mom would always say your job is not to focus on the differences but the similarities,” she recalled in the video. “And my parents reminded me and my siblings every day how blessed we were to live in America.”

A onetime rising star in the GOP whose political career lost some of its luster when she joined the Trump administration as U.N. ambassador, only to later distance herself from the former president, Haley would be — if she won enough primaries — the first woman and first Asian American whom Republicans ever nominated.

Liberals like to preach about the value of diversity. Yet they can’t handle the concept when conservatives display it. Witness the clumsy and sexist comments by CNN’s Don Lemon — the cable network’s chairman of woke — who recently dismissed Haley’s chances to reach the White House by saying the 51-year-old is past her “prime.” Lemon then grabbed a shovel and dug himself in deeper by explaining that, for women, the prime years are their 20s, 30s and “maybe” 40s.

Such a comment was always going to be offensive. But the remark is especially thickheaded given that the current occupant of the White House is an octogenarian. So President Joe Biden is not past his prime?

The fact that Haley’s gender is already getting headlines is ironic given that the candidate pledged she wouldn’t engage in “identity politics” during the campaign. That’s one of those silly assurances that white people never have to make, and we can expect Haley to break that promise before her first yard signs goes up.

Gender aside, I’m more interested in something else about Haley — the fact that she inhabits, along with tens of millions of other Americans, a kind of racial “no man’s land.” Haley is neither white nor Black. Just by virtue of who she is, and what she isn’t, she has already made a valuable contribution to this country’s diversity dialogue. It is long overdue for Americans to think more broadly about race and ethnicity and to have an honest conversation about the nation’s color scheme.

We’ve been here before, sort of. With a white mother and a Black father, Obama raised the profile of mixed-race individuals. Haley could do the same for another group that is often overlooked: people of color who — like me — don’t fall neatly into what is now an antiquated Black-and-white paradigm.

Americans need to have that talk. Now, thanks to Nikki Haley, we have the chance to kick it off. Let’s get started.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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