Quick Thoughts on Reagan’s Racist Remarks. Or What Say Ye Dinesh D’Souza and Friends?

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By now you should know about the recently released audio recording of Ronald Reagan calling African people “monkeys.” Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, made the remarks to Richard Nixon in 1971.

Listen to the remarks here and read historian Tim Naftali’s contextual piece at The Atlantic.

When I learned about this recording I thought about the debate between conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza and Princeton University historian Kevin Kruse.  For several years D’Souza has been making the case that the Democratic Party is the real racist political party, while the Republicans, as the party of Lincoln, is the party of equality and civil rights.

Southern Democrats were indeed racist in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century.  Many Republicans were also pretty racist, but they championed abolitionism, led a war to end slavery, and fought for the equality of African-Americans in the decades following the war.  But things change.  Historians study change over time.  While Southern Democrats opposed the civil rights movement, so did conservative Republicans such as Barry Goldwater and others.  Meanwhile, other Democrats, such as John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and the leaders of the civil rights movement, all sought to end Jim Crow in America.  Today the overwhelming majority of African Americans vote for Democratic candidates because of this legacy.

So what does D’Souza do about Reagan’s racist comments?  If the GOP is not the party of racism, then how does D’Souza explain the recorded remarks of the party’s conservative flag bearer?

3 thoughts on “Quick Thoughts on Reagan’s Racist Remarks. Or What Say Ye Dinesh D’Souza and Friends?

  1. “A lot of what Archie said was not meant to hurt. It came from his belief system that the races were essentially and inherently different.”

    Right. As I discovered from my jaunt through the dictionary in another comment, “Hate” is not a part of any definition of “racism”. Lots of racist people love people who are minorities. Heck, I’m constantly finding ways that I’m racist or complicit in racism, and I’m kinda the only white person in my family! Like the way I used the ‘dipping in the cool-aid’ quote in my comment above was probably cultural misappropriation. It was possibly racist even tho it was part of a plea for people to call out racism!

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  2. Some parts of these defenses I hear and read lately that “I am no racist”, or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” take me back to Archie Bunker.
    He didn’t strike me as an evil man. Not a cruel racist. I couldn’t picture him vandalizing a home or donning a white robe and hood.
    But he was a bigot. He embraced stereotypes. He believed people should “know their place”.
    A lot of what Archie said was not meant to hurt. It came from his belief system that the races were essentially and inherently different. That it is simply natural that one race has the upper hand.
    I remember how vehemently Archie denied being a bigot and racist. I think Carrol O’Connor did a good portrayal of a man who honestly meant what he said in his own defense.
    I think that despite the fact Trump seems to knowingly push the envelope with just enough of those inflammatory phrases, he doesn’t consider himself a racist. He thinks he is just smart and knows the buttons to push.
    Because it’s always about him and not the future of the country, it’s always about defending himself. Nothing else matters.

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  3. “Nixon didn’t think of himself as a racist; perhaps that’s why it was so important to him to keep quoting Reagan’s racism, rather than own the sentiment himself. But Reagan’s comment about African leaders resonated with Nixon”
    Great observation.
    And side note: I’m questioning the intellectual honesty and the efficacy of calling any party THE party of racism, even the GOP. For starters, it minimizes the systemic racism permeating America. Second, I’m calling Too Soon. The 1960’s were not THAT long ago. Sure, many of the most racist dems changed parties but all dems were complicit and a significant amount of those dems are still dems today and it’s unjust to absolve them. And practically I’m not sure it actually effects how anyone votes, except for maybe pushing anyone who’s been called racist to vote for the GOP. Finally, we shouldn’t feel hesitant to call out racism in our own parties. Or educate people in our party who are dipping into the kool-aid when they don’t even know the flavor.

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