Ronald Reagan. Photo–Military Photo; WikimediaCommons.
Tim Naftali, a history professor at New York University and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, recently wrote an article about the racist conversation then-California Governor Ronald Reagan had with President Richard Nixon for the Atlantic.
It was 1971 and Reagan was upset that some African nations in the United Nations refused to align themselves with the US’s position regarding Taiwan’s independence from China. Reagan called Nixon to express his dismay. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan said.
I doubt that you’ll find many African Americans who were around during Reagan’s tenure, either as governor or as president of the United States that are surprised at this statement. While some White legislators wanted to honor Reagan by adding his image to Mt. Rushmore and others want to name a building after him in every state, many African Americans clearly saw and experienced what he was; a racist.
Many Republicans, Black and White, have spent years trying to convince Black people that we mindlessly vote democratic. Asking African Americans to ignore the obvious racism that permeates the Republican Party is like asking someone that can’t swim to jump into the ocean. The racism that Blacks have always heard loud and clear has gone either largely unrecognized or ignored by many Whites. Race has been used to justify policies that have contributed to today’s wealth gap, the mass incarceration rate of Black people, voter suppression efforts and many other issues that plague Black communities. What’s somehow “covert” to some Whites, is obvious and overt to most Black people.
Ironically, in the United States, you’re not really a racist until White people label you one. African Americans have been battling systemic racism ever since the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619. When you’re at the bottom of the social, economic and political wrung, all you can do is look up. We clearly see what somehow is a bit hazy or nonexistent to others. The much-used phrases, “This is not who we are” and “This is not who America is,” elicit the following response from Black people: “Hell yeah, it is!” and “This is what we’ve been trying to tell you!”
Today, television networks like MSNBC and CNN, the so-called “liberal” networks devote much of their airtime telling us how racist Donald Trump is. Pundit after pundit is called upon to tell us what is already abundantly clear. Yet, some of these same pundits continue to quote Reagan as if he were the gold standard. That’s why I’m not surprised that the discovery of the recording of the racist conversation between Reagan and Nixon has received minimal if any airtime on the “liberal” channels. Apparently, lumping Reagan’s disgusting comments with Trump’s racism is not a road that the powers at CNN and MSNBC are willing to travel. Calling Trump racist is easy. Calling Reagan racist delegitimizes the basis of an entire political philosophy.
Trump has shown the Republican Party that their racist attitudes no longer need to be limited to private, backroom conversations. The Southern Strategy is no longer a secret that needs to be denied. Republican candidates all over the country are lining up, waiting to out-Trump, Trump.
With all of this noise about Trump as a backdrop, the African American vote tends to be a pragmatic one. While Trump’s bluster is appalling, it’s not that shocking to many of us. There’s a popular thought process among African Americans, particularly from the South. I’ll paraphrase it; “I’d rather know someone doesn’t like me because I’m Black, than have someone act like my friend while really having racial animus.”
What you know, can’t hurt you. The only difference between Reagan and Trump from a racist perspective, is that Trump doesn’t try to hide who he is.