Reagan and those Damn “Monkeys” from Africa

In October of 1971, the day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States.

Reagan said:

Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did, … To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!

The Atlantic has a great article on the subject of Nixon’s and Reagan’s racism. Reagan’s rant is just further proof of a long history of documented racism in the Republican party.

Remember when one of the leading GOP strategists of the 1980’s, Lee Atwater defined “States Rights”?

Here’s how I would approach that issue as a statistician or a political scientist—or, no, as a psychologist, which I’m not, is how abstract you handle the race thing. In other words, you start out—now, ya’ll aren’t quoting me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968, you can’t say “nigger.” That hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff liked “forced busing,” “states’ rights” and all that stuff. And you’re getting so abstract now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all of these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the byproduct of them is: Blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously, maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. Do you follow me? Because, obviously, sitting around saying we want to cut taxes, we want to cut this, and we want—is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “nigger, nigger,” you know. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the back burner.

Lee Atware, 1981

Or that time when Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained the “War on Drugs” for us?

You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.

Ehrlichman, 1994

I do.

Thanks for reading,


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