Breaking: Ronald Reagan Just As Racist As We Always Knew He Was
Ronald Reagan was a lousy racist -- by which we mean he was infested with racism not that he was bad at being racist. The War on Drugs and the vanishing black middle class are the ultimate LinkedIn testimonials to Reagan's enduring work in the field of racism. Now that Putin's president is in the White House, white folks of all political persuasions like to share videos of Reagan not physically urinating on minorities and immigrants. This is supposedly evidence of how far removed the white nationalist in chief is from Our Fair Reagan. But the street where Ronnie lived was just as racist as Donald Trump's. Black people already knew this, but now we have more evidence of Reagan's racism than just devastated black communities. We have it on tape, which is not always enough for white people, but let's give it a shot anyway.
Back in October 1971, the United Nations voted to recognize the People's Republic of China and expel Taiwan. This annoyed Reagan, then governor of California, so he phoned the White House to complain. Richard Nixon was the current president and few private conversations with him were ever positive or actually private. The creep recorded everything. Reagan shared with Nixon his anger over the African delegates siding against the US. The great communicator sounded like a conservative caller to Rush Limbaugh's radio show.
REAGAN: Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did.
NIXON: Yeah. (He was not a great communicator -- SER)
REAGAN: To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!
NIXON: (DIABOLICAL RACIST LAUGHTER)
When Roseanne Barr ambiened her way out of a job after comparing Valerie Jarrett to an ape, many conservatives tried to argue that this wasn't inherently racist. What if someone actually does resemble a lower primate? Are we supposed to just not make the observation? And don't liberals believe everyone's descended from apes? Is Darwin racist now? (Yes, he was.) What's interesting is that the National Archives appreciated how racist Reagan's comments were way back in 2000 when his taped conversation with Nixon was released. They deliberately withheld the monkey routine, despite it killing with Nixon -- a notoriously tough audience.
The president later shared Reagan's bigoted complaints to Secretary of State William Rogers.
NIXON: As you can imagine, there's strong feeling that we just shouldn't, as [Reagan] said, he saw these, as he said, he saw these... these, uh, these cannibals on television last night, and he says, 'Christ, they weren't even wearing shoes, and here the United States is going to submit its fate to that,' and so forth and so on.
It's bad enough that Reagan expected "monkeys" to wear appropriate footwear, but Nixon complaining about the shoeless state of "cannibals" seems to really miss the point. Reagan was something of an alpha racist, and Nixon tried to present his bigotry as indicative of how the average (white) American viewed the situation.
NIXON: [Reagan] practically got sick at his stomach, and that's why he called. And he said, 'It was a terrible scene.' And that sort of thing will have an emotional effect on people … as [Reagan] said, 'This bunch of people who don't even wear shoes yet, to be kicking the United States in the teeth' … It was a terrible thing, they thought.
If the "cannibal monkeys" are kicking Uncle Sam in the teeth, isn't it a good thing they don't have shoes? We're having trouble tracking the racist metaphor. Reagan was never a big supporter of Africa, at least not the black residents. When he challenged President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976, Reagan loudly denounced Ford's support of black majority rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). At a rally in Texas, Reagan -- probably wearing a 10-gallon hat -- said, "We seem to be embarking on a policy of dictating to the people of southern Africa and running the risk of increased violence and bloodshed." How very George Wallace of him.
As president, Reagan claimed to morally oppose apartheid but he vetoed a bill to impose sanctions on South Africa. He also believed the African National Congress, which fought the corrupt South African government, was a pack of commies. Reagan might've been more polite and superficially charming than Trump, but we don't want to go on an all-expenses paid date with either Republican. This isn't "The Racist Game."
[ The Atlantic]
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.