The stellar new candidate for governor of South Carolina has the GOP faithful, Tea-Partiers, Sarah Palin and her Mama Grizzlies all a-twitter — and tweeting, too — about how the Republicans are opening their “Big Tent” ever wider to women and minorities. And Nikki Haley is their Exhibit A.

But wait! Is Ms. Haley REALLY non-white, as often described? Ms. Haley was born a Sikh, from a family of Punjabi immigrants that converted to Christianity when she was a child. Sikhs back in India are a religious minority on the subcontinent, chiefly from the northwestern Punjab region. Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh is also Sikh, and one of the world’s most powerful and influential leaders.

Here’s what that august online resource, Wikipedia, says about Punjabis:

“The Punjabi people are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group from South Asia. They originate from the Punjab region, which has been host to some of the oldest civilizations in the world, including the Indus Valley Civilization. Punjabis are ethno-linguistically and culturally related to the other Indo-Aryan peoples of South Asia.”

I’ve paraphrased a bit because Wikepedia text is so often poorly written.

Wikipedia goes on to explain that Punjabis, especially from society’s upper castes, are closely linked, genetically, to western Eurasians and Middle Easterners, and supplies a map indicating large pockets of shared DNA traits among the earliest settlers of central Asia and central Europe.

So, just for a moment, let’s pretend we’re Glenn Beck in front of his blackboard on Fox News. But instead of writing “Nazi” or “socialist,” let’s write “Indo-Aryan.” Now, let’s capitalize and circle “ARYAN,” and draw arrows all around the word, like Mr. Beck might do.

Now, think about it — especially all of you Beckians, Dittoheads, Aryan Nationalists and crazed survivalists locking and loading your assault rifles in the mountains of northern Idaho. If you search way, way, WAY back through your ancestors, you’ll discover that they look a lot more like Nikki Haley than they do your great-great grandma Darlene from the Scottish moors.

The fact is, Ms. Haley, born Nimrata Randhawa, is probably more CAUCASIAN than 90% of the “white,” conservative Republicans who will likely carry her to victory in South Carolina this November. And while Ms. Haley is quite tan, she wouldn’t stand out amidst a sea of white sunbathers at Myrtle Beach this time of year. Except that she’s healthfully slimmer than your average South Carolinian, has prettier teeth, and possesses the luscious black locks common to people of northern India, sought by wig manufacturers the world over. She’s likely smarter than your typical Palmetto-stater, too (think Mark Sanford).

So I’m not buying this description of candidate Nikki Haley as “non-white.” Same goes for for Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, who is also of Punjabi descent, though originally a practicing Hindu. He may well be more authentically Caucasian than…David Duke!

“Non-white” is a murky political term, reflecting class distinctions more than ethnic or racial realities. Whites and blacks alike in this country might think the Mexicans mowing their lawns and trimming their shrubs are non-white. But few of the political elites in Mexico City see themselves this way when they look in the mirror. Bolivian president Evo Morales can lay a more genuine claim to being non-white, as he is the first president of native-American descent, an Aymara Indian, elected to lead his country’s government in La Paz. But even that distinction might break down on the genetic level, as the “indigenous” people of the Andes aren’t really indigenous at all, but rather the ancestors of great waves of migrants from…central Asia.

Still, think of the words and phrases I’m using here: In addition to non-white and caucasian, there’s “native-AMERICAN” and “Aymara INDIAN.”  Meanwhile, we have our first black president, who is half “white,” and whose African DNA comes from Kenya — a land from which no slaves were transported to our shores four centuries ago. Yet, a mouth swab of his DNA would likely reveal some “Arab” blood, courtesy of the East African slave trade practiced by conquering Moslems. It’s almost funny how Americans, in general, think of Arabs as “white.” So, Osama bin Laden is white, but Nikki Haley is non-white? Go figure.

As for Ms. Haley’s politics, that’s another story, and not the point of this blog.

This much, however, is certain. Nikki Haley is female, and will likely be the first woman elected governor of South Carolina in the fall, and one of the few ever elected in the South — or the entire U.S., for that matter. Win or lose, South Carolinians should be proud of Haley, as all of us should be proud of having our first African-American president in the White House. Emphasis on AMERICAN!

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