Reagan, White As Snow

by Alec Dubro, 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 2003:

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 out.

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.

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