Have you ever been in the home of someone who has a photo of Ronald Reagan hanging above the mantel, as if he were Jesus Christ or Abraham Lincoln? Heard him described by a Republican as “our greatest president”? Or as “Saint Ronald?”
The veneration of Reagan is a favorite pastime of Republicans, especially those who like to pretend that the current president is an aberration, not a predictable outcome, of Republican politics. Reagan, they argue, was principled and refined, the kind of person who looked and acted like a leader.
Recently released recordings of Reagan saying overtly racist things about African diplomats–I won’t repeat them here word-for-word, but he compares them to animals and calls them uncivilized–are evidence, in his own voice, that he was racist.
Turns out that people who make racist policies are also often racist in their personal lives.
But that’s not new information.
Here are just a few of the racist things that Reagan did that were no secret then. In fact, they were tactics he used to rally white voters:
- He announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair with a call to support states’ rights. States’ rights, if you recall, is what racist liars say the Civil War was about when they really mean it was about white supremacy and black oppression. Reagan saw this message as foundational to his run for president, and he went to where he thought it would play best–just miles away from one of the Civil Rights Era’s most notorious murders. (Now, granted, it’s hard to give a public talk in Mississippi and NOT be within a stone’s throw of racial terrorism. But he could certainly have not included an appeal to states’ rights if he didn’t want to be accused of riling up the racists.)
- He repeated the disproven racialized stereotype of the “welfare queen.” The US’s welfare system is fairly hard to manipulate; food stamp, for example, have a very low rate of misuse, fraud, or and waste. Far, far less than, say, the Pentagon.
- He supported Bob Jones University’s argument that its segregationist policies should not make it ineligible for federal educational funding–a case the school lost in court.
- He argued in favor of the right of white property owners to maintain segregated neighborhoods.
- He opposed the Voting Rights Act and described it as “humiliating” to the South–by which he meant to white, racist Southerners. Like his decision to invoke “states’ rights” in Philadelphia, Mississippi, such language signaled to voters that Reagan did not consider African Americans to be citizens worth considering–he would be a president for white people only.
- In continuing Nixon’s War on Drugs, he continued policies that aimed to imprison men of color.
- He opposed the creation of Martin Luther King Jr Day as a federal holiday.
- He opposed economic sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime and supported labeling Nelson Mandela as a terrorist.
In an effort to be polite, we often try to pretend that there is no link between personal racism and support for racist policies and structural racism. Reagan’s racism toward African diplomats–people he needed to have a good working relationship with for the sake of the world–is one more piece of evidence that the racism we see in policies is generally the same racism people have in their hearts.