Former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley participated in the 2024 Republican Presidential debate.

Aaron of L.A. Photography/Shutterstock (Licensed) remix by Jason Reed

Why TikTok thinks Nikki Haley is ‘whitefishing’

And what does it mean?


Tricia Crimmins


Posted on Jan 23, 2024

2024 Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley’s racial identity has become a topic of debate as she’s soared in the polls and a key vote in New Hampshire approaches.

Some online accused her of whitefishing, positioning herself as Caucasian for political gain. 

Haley discusses her Indian heritage publicly and leveraged it as part of 2024 presidential campaign, hoping to bring Indian Americans into the GOP fold. 

But in the past, she also been criticized for identifying herself as “white” on a voter registration form as well as changing her name and converting to Christianity

Haley’s birth name is “Nimarata Nikki Randhawa,” but she has long used Nikki, her middle name, as her first name. Haley is her married surname.

Nikki Haley whitefishing

As such, some Indian Americans have said they feel “abandoned” by her. Others have gone as far as to say she’s whitefishing. Oftentimes, whitefishing includes specific accusations of lightening one’s skin. In Haley’s case, the accusations point to her public presentation of herself as more Caucasian than her heritage may imply. 

An Indian creator on TikTok posted a video mocking Haley for, they say, attempting to appear white.

“Nikki Haley white fishing in her room,” TikToker @petroleumjellybean said while putting makeup on her face. “While her mom calls her downstairs cause the rotis getting cold.”

Roti is unleavened Indian bread. On Monday, @petroleumjellybean’s video got almost 2 million views before the users made her account private. 

Whitefishing first came into the popular lexicon around 2018 to describe celebrities of color like Lil’ Kim, Michael Jackson, and Nicki Minaj, who were accused of lightening or bleaching their skin to look white (or more white). 

The term is the opposite of Blackfishing or Asianfishing, or when white people alter their appearance to look non-white. 

@petroleumjellybean isn’t the only creator of Indian descent criticizing Haley on TikTok. @Fierymasala, whose content focuses on race and “exposing anti-Blackness,” said that Haley is “trying to be white for power and to achieve a certain status,” and married her husband Michael Haley because he is white.

“I bet you she wouldn’t have married a Black guy,” she said in a TikTok. “Because they just wouldn’t have the same ‘power.’ So that’s the issue.” 

Haley has also gotten flack from Republicans for her Indian heritage and how she’s presented it publicly, being attacked for being both Indian and attempting to present as white.

Former President Donald Trump mocked Haley’s first name, calling her “Nimbra” and “Nimrada” in Truth Social posts.

“With her, it’s just something that came. It’s a little bit of a takeoff on her name,” Trump said on Fox News of his remarks about Haley’s first name. “You know, her name, wherever she may come from.”

Ann Vandersteel, a right-wing commentator, also ridiculed Haley for how she has talked about her own identity.

“Nikki Haley is calling herself a ‘brown woman’ now. Remember: PANDERING TO PEOPLE OF COLOR IS WHAT DEMOCRATS DO,” Vandersteel wrote in a viral tweet. “Sorry Nimrata, we MAGA REPUBLICANS require just a little bit more than a heavily made-up face and some skin pigment.”

Speaking about race and acknowledging racism, though, don’t go hand in hand for Haley: In a 2020 Republican National Convention speech, Haley said growing up she was “a brown girl in a Black and white world” and “faced discrimination and hardship.” In that same speech—and a recent Fox News interview—though, Haley was been adamant that “America is not a racist country.”

Haley faced severe backlash for those remarks last week, including by those on the left, who used the remark to accuse her again of whitefishing, claiming she was afraid to use her real name during her run for the Oval Office.

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*First Published: Jan 23, 2024, 10:07 am CST