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  • President Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981 and remained until 1989, after serving as California’s governor from 1967 to 1975.

    President Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1981 and remained until 1989, after serving as California’s governor from 1967 to 1975. | Photo: Reuters

Published 31 July 2019
Opinion

Describing the recording as “chilling,” historian Tim Naftali said, “Nixon’s comments don’t come as a surprise to me, Reagan’s comment did."

The late United States President Ronald Reagan has become the center of a racial scandal after a recording released by the National Archives revealed the president calling African U.N. delegates “monkeys.”

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While on the phone with President Richard Nixon in 1971, Reagan — who was governor of California at the time — said: “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!”

Nixon responded, laughing, saying Africa was where the “tail wags the dog.”

This triggers uncomfortable questions for many in the U.S., particularly from the right, who often use Reagan to example of the perfect president and the ‘American dream.’ Movie star turned politician, Reagan was elected president in 1981 and remained until 1989, after serving as California’s 33rd governor from 1967 to 1975.

Still, despite the overall shock, this isn’t the first time the conversation has been released to the public.

Parts of the conversations between the two U.S. politicians were just released in a The Atlantic article by Tim Naftali, previously director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Naftali writes that the Nixon and Reagan’s exchange were originally released in 2000, paraphrased for the latter’s privacy. 

After Reagan's 2004 death, privacy concerns were eliminated and the full conversation made its debut.

Current President Donald Trump has also made headlines for using racist and white supremacist language on numerous occasions. Most recently, Trump suggested four progressive Democratic congresswomen of color “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Describing the recording as “chilling,” Naftali said in his July 30 piece, “Nixon’s comments don’t come as a surprise to me, Reagan’s comment did. Nixon’s comments are worth learning about today as a reminder that when people of power express bigotted ideas, not only are those words bad, but they have a meaning and a significance that is much bigger than one would assume."

The New York University professory writes, “Bigotry shaped Nixon’s domestic and foreign policy."

"In this era, when we have a head of state who uses racially charged ... terms and tweets, we have to keep in mind, that this isn’t just a matter of one man’s flaws. This may be injecting poison into this administration is making on foreign and domestic issues. That’s why revisiting the Nixon tapes and learning what is new on them is of real importance today,” stressed the academic.​​​​​​​

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