Reagan, White As Snow
by Alec Dubro
www.tompaine.com/, May 13, 2007
Ronald Reagan. The man was a saint, a
positive saint. Such strength, such warmth, such conviction, such
vision. Such claptrap.
Reagan was a mean, crazy old man with
a withering contempt for most of the world's people, beginning
with African Americans and extending most strongly to black Africans.
Last week, as we've heard, the Republican
presidential candidates praised the name and heritage of Ronald
Reagan 40 times during the televised Show and Tell at the Reagan
Presidential Library. That none of them mentioned Reagan's legacy
of white supremacy and support for apartheid is a little like
invoking Jefferson Davis and not mentioning treason or slavery.
Actually, a lot like it.
Ronald Reagan was a white supremacist
to his very core, and left enough traces over his lengthy political
career so that it's evident for anyone who cares to look-which
apparently few do.
Domestically, he opposed every legislative
remedy for African Americans, betraying a meanness of spirit and
an open racism. As Sidney Blumenthal wrote in The Guardian in
Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of
1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it "humiliating
to the South"), and ran for governor of California in 1966
promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. "If
an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others
in selling or renting his house," he said, "he has a
right to do so." After the Republican convention in 1980,
Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where,
in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan.
Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared:
"I believe in states' rights."
It's hard to believe now, but in 1965,
a higher percentage of congressional Republicans voted for the
Voting Rights Act than Democrats. Reagan, then, wasn't following
party tradition; he was making a grab for the white racist vote-and
it worked. Southern Democrats abandoned the party en masse for
one more welcoming to white supremacy. No wonder so many loved,
and still love, the man: He validated people's whiteness.
It's true that Reagan knew enough to occasionally
disguise his racism. He appointed Samuel Pierce to head the Department
of Housing and Urban Development, where Pierce presided over the
halving of housing subsidies. No matter. Reagan couldn't remember
the man's name. Once, at a reception for the nation's mayors,
he greeted Pierce with a '"Hello, Mr. Mayor." Despite
this, a few black conservatives, such as Armstrong Williams, were
willing to validate him as someone who knew better than the "civil
rights establishment" what was good for African Americans.
But it was in foreign affairs that he
showed that he could rise above mere opportunism and flaunt his
racism for all the world to see. He was the best friend that South
Africa's apartheid government had in the developed world.
Reagan consistently opposed taking any
stand against the Pretoria regime, no matter what their sins.
His administration created a policy called "constructive
engagement," which meant no sanctions.
When the pressure for sanctions grew too
great, even within the Republican Party, Reagan refused to relent,
claiming the sanctions would hurt black workers. In 1986, Reagan
vetoed a congressional sanctions vote, this time claiming that
it would help the communist ANC. Moreover, "the U.S., he
added, 'must stay and build, not cut and run'." When Congress
overrode the veto, Reagan made sure that the law was barely carried
But it was not just passive support. According
to the African National Congress, Reagan ordered his CIA chief,
William Casey, to provide the Directorate of Military Intelligence
with information on the South African liberation movement. Reagan
supported the apartheid government's invasion of Angola, which
didn't even border on South Africa, saying that they were fighting
communism. The Reagan administration never mentioned South Africa's
nuclear weapons - weapons of mass destruction.
If and when the documents of the Reagan-era
intelligence community are declassified, we'll be able to confirm
the high-level links between the White House and Pretoria, the
various U.S. foundations that funneled money to South Africa and
the personal connections between U.S. right-wingers and the apartheid
regime-and what exactly was Reagan's role in the matter.
But even if none of it is ever proved,
Reagan showed that he was an implacable foe of racial integration
of any sort, domestic or foreign, and would use any tactic to
block its implementation. If any of the Republican candidates
for president are ignorant of Reagan's wretched conduct, it's
because they refuse to look.
But the world saw him. After one of Reagan's
pro-apartheid speeches, Bishop Desmond Tutu said:
"I found it quite nauseating. I think
the West, for my part, can go to hell . . . Your president is
the pits as far as blacks are concerned. He sits there like the
great, big white chief of old."
Reagan proudly upheld a line of philosophy
that ran from slavery to Jim Crow, from eugenics to National Socialism,
from anti-miscegenation to apartheid. Oh, he usually couched it
all in the familiar terms of property rights and individual freedoms.
But Reagan was a vicious old racist and anyone who invokes him
deserves nothing but contempt.