In a 1971 telephone conversation with the US president Richard Nixon, then California governor Ronald Reagan described African delegates at the United Nations as “monkeys” who are not comfortable wearing shoes.
The Nixon Presidential Library recently released the October 1971 phone conversation between Nixon and Reagan, The Atlantic revealed Tuesday in an opinion piece by Tim Naftali, a clinical associate professor of history at New York University.
The phone call was recorded by Nixon and the tape later became the responsibility of the Nixon Presidential Library, which released the recording two weeks ago.
Reagan, who went on to become president about a decade later, was venting his frustration with UN delegates who voted against the US and recognized the People’s Republic of China. When the vote was taken, members of the Tanzanian delegation started dancing in the General Assembly hall.
Infuriated at the images, Reagan called Nixon the following day.
“Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
Nixon began laughing hard.
Straight after the call, Nixon spoke with his secretary of state, William Rogers, telling him about Reagan’s remarks.
Referring to Reagan, Nixon said, “He saw these, as he said, he saw 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.”
Naftali argued in his opinion piece what while past US presidents may have harbored racist beliefs, they did not generally voice them publicly. He compared that to a recent spat between US President Donald Trump and four Democratic congresswomen of color whom the president said should “go back” to their countries of origin.
In a rare move, Trump was later rebuked by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives for “racist comments” against the ethnic-minority first-term Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.
The group — three of whom were born in the United States — are of Hispanic, Arab, Somali and African-American descent.