Ronald Reagan referred to Africans as “monkeys” in newly released tapes featuring a phone conversation with US president Richard Nixon in 1971.
The tapes date back to October, when the United Nations voted to recognise the People’s Republic of China.
Reagan, who was California governor at the time, was furious to learn that delegations from Africa did not align themselves with the US position (to recognise Taiwan as an independent state).
In a rage, he called the president to disparage the continent after watching delegates from Tanzania celebrate the UN decision to support Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan said.
Nixon responded with laughter, before adding:
Well and then they — the tail wags the dog, doesn’t it? The tail wags the dog.
The conversation between Reagan and Nixon was published in The Atlantic after NYU history professor Tim Natfali and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library got the tapes released.
Referring to the audio of the tape, Naftali told the Washington Post: “It was worse than I expected."
It was the combination of the slur by Reagan and then Nixon’s repeating it, not once but twice in later conversations. This was not just revealing about what Ronald Reagan thought about Africans in 1971, and arguably later, it was also a reminder of how Nixon could hold racist views but not think of himself as a racist.
Nixon went on to call secretary of state William Rogers, where he called them "cannibals".
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.
The tapes have caused shock waves in the academic community. “I’m kind of taken aback. This is stunning,” said Bob Spitz, author of Reagan: An American Journey.
In all of my very careful research into his private papers, I never found an instance where I felt that Reagan was racist.
Generally when someone says, ‘I don’t have a racist bone in my body,’ I’m instantly sceptical, but in this case after all my work I found myself kind of nodding my head. So this is shocking.
H/T Washington Post