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Nikki Haley talks down to Black Democratic lawmaker for challenging her on human rights

New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks issued a vehement challenge to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on the Trump administration’s policies of isolationism and dismissal of the most dire human rights abuses around the world, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. But, in a tone that was wholly inappropriate for the setting, and which […]

By Alison R. Parker - June 28, 2017
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U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley testifies on Capitol Hill

But, in a tone that was wholly inappropriate for the setting, and which evinced disrespect for Meeks’ position and concerns, Haley opened her response with an attempt at a joke.

After Haley told California Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman that she had not spoken with Donald Trump about Russia’s interference in our election, Meeks declared that it was “absolutely shocking” to him that no such conversation had taken place.

He referenced Haley’s comment in her opening statement that “many Americans felt a deep sense of betrayal” over the U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements.

As Meeks made clear, a lot of people across the country and around the world feel far more betrayed by this administration’s reckless acts.

MEEKS: Madam Ambassador, I am actually stunned at the response that you just gave back to Mr. Sherman, that you’ve never spoken to the president of the United States about Russia’s involvement in our democracy. Never talked to the president about United States and we’ve got to deal with Russia — and the biggest question that we’ve had recently is Russia’s involvement and what they’ve done to our democracy. And for you not to have had a conversation with the president of the United States about that involvement is absolutely shocking to me.

Secondly, you mentioned the word ‘betrayal’ in your opening statement, but I want you to know that that’s an appropriate word to describe what I’m hearing from my constituents and my fellow Americans and our allies all across — at home and abroad. They feel a sense of betrayal because of the way that the Trump administration has diminished America’s leadership and global standing. Our allies have expressed their sense of betrayal and mixed messages coming from the president. And I believe this budget proposal is a betrayal of our nation’s interests. So while you mention a sense of betrayal regarding a single U.N. resolution, I hope you recognize the deep sense of betrayal that many Americans are feeling right now as the administration pursues a path of isolation.

Meeks is entirely correct that under Trump’s leadership — or more appropriately, lack thereof — our standing in the world has suffered.

He referenced a recent Pew Research Poll of 37 nations, which showed that “a median of just 22 percent has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs” — in stark contrast to the 64 percent who expressed such confidence in former President Barack Obama.

The poll troublingly noted that this discontent is “especially pronounced among some of America’s closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada.” And as Meeks made sure to point out, Trump receives higher marks than Obama in only two countries, one of which is Israel.

The other? Russia.

Meeks also called back to Haley’s mention of human rights, but issued a devastating counterpoint. When Trump visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and China, and when he met with Russian officials in the Oval Office, “there was no mention of human rights.” Yet when Trump went to Europe, he issued criticisms of our allies there.

Meeks noted that this would all seem to complicate Haley’s job to advance our national interests abroad, and asked how she can do that work effectively with Trump undermining her all the way.

But with a stunningly ignorant attempt to make light of the situation, Haley opened her response with a disrespectful “joke” about Meeks’ demeanor.

MEEKS: So, how do you handle situations in which the White House contradicts or overrides something you have publicly said or the secretary of state has publicly said with regard to U.S. policy? How is it — who determines what that U.S. policy is? And given all of this — especially with the Pew polls — that’s going on, it seems as though we’ve lost a lot of our leadership around the world.

HALEY: Thank you, Mr. Meeks. And I want to know what coffee you’re drinking this morning, because I need to start drinking that.

That Haley would deem it appropriate to make a joke during a serious conversation at a committee hearing is distasteful enough.

Her implication that Meeks was amped up or aggressive, as though on a caffeine high, when he was instead simply being direct and concise, carries a connotation with which Black people have always had to contend.

The “angry” or overemotional stereotype, lobbed at both Black men and Black women, is often wielded to diminish valid and perfectly appropriate responses, to exaggerate their demeanor into something absurd or negative.

Haley may have meant nothing more than a light-hearted jest, but just like calling a woman “hysterical” is a loaded term, so too is implying that a Black man expressing emotion is overexcited and needs to calm down.

Meeks was speaking about the soul and protection of our democracy, and about our reputation as a leader around the world. If those are not topics about which one ought to be impassioned, one wonders what Haley thinks would be worthy of such emotion.


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