WASHINGTON – In a newly released audio recording of an October 1971 conversation with President Richard Nixon, then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan is heard making racist remarks about a Tanzanian delegation to the United Nations.
In an article published Tuesday in The Atlantic, New York University history professor Tim Naftali writes that the conversation occurred the day after the U.N. voted to recognize China’s communist government.
Members of the Tanzanian delegation celebrated the decision to seat a delegation from Beijing by dancing in the General Assembly. That infuriated Reagan, who called Nixon to tell him he thought the U.S. should “get the hell out” of the U.N., which he called a “kangaroo court.”
“Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “To see those monkeys from those African countries – damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
Nixon burst into laughter after hearing the remark, which occurs at around the 6:30 mark in the recording below.
“Well, and the tail wags the dog there doesn’t it? The tail wags the dog,” the president said. Reagan agreed.
Naftali, who worked as the director of the Nixon Presidential Library from 2007 to 2011, said the National Archives first released the recording of the talk between Nixon and Reagan in 2000, but the above portion of the conversation was cut out to “protect Reagan’s privacy.”
He said that last year that he asked the National Archives to conduct a new review of Nixon’s conversations with Reagan. Reagan’s 2004 death ended any privacy concerns, and two weeks ago, the Archives agreed to release them online, Naftali said.
The recording can be listened to or downloaded on the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum website.
Though some critics have leveled charges of racism at Reagan for some of his policies – such as his support for the South African government under apartheid – and his rhetoric – such as his denunciations of “welfare chiselers” – this conversation with Nixon appears to be one of the only documented instances of him making such an overtly offensive statement.
Nixon’s conversations are full of racist and derogatory comments. Naftali documents how Nixon “believed in a hierarchy of races with whites and Asians much higher up than people of African descent and Latinos.”
Reagan and Nixon are far from the only White House occupants known to have made derogatory remarks. Worse than racist utterances, most of the country’s presidents before the Civil War owned slaves, many of them while they were in office.
By today’s standards, most presidents who were in office prior to World War II are guilty of writings, utterances or actions that would be deemed racist. Even Abraham Lincoln’s writings display a belief in white racial superiority and he was long a proponent of “recolonizing” former slaves back in Africa.
Though Lyndon Johnson passionately fought for passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, recordings of his conversations in the Oval Office reveal that he regularly used racial slurs about African Americans.
The release of Reagan’s comments comes as President Donald Trump faces accusations of racism for tweets he posted this month telling four minority congresswomen to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” He also referred to the majority African-American city of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” ffff