On Tuesday, The Atlantic published a recording of a 1971 conversation between President Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, in which Reagan says some awfully racist things after watching the United Nations vote to admit the People’s Republic of China.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” he said, earning a big laugh from Nixon.
Nixon’s racism is well-known, thanks to previously released tapes. But hearing Reagan — who still has an image as a folksy grandfather despite Iran-Contra, “welfare queen” scapegoating, ignoring the AIDS epidemic, supporting apartheid — use such language was jarring for many.
It was particularly traumatic, as one might imagine, for his daughter, Patti Davis. Davis wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post describing what it was like to hear those words come out of her father’s mouth.
“I don’t know if it was masochism or shock, but I listened to the tape twice before allowing myself to cry. I wanted the story to go away, to get buried in the news of the debate. I wanted to immediately go back in time to before I heard my father’s voice saying those words.”
She added, “There is no defense, no rationalization, no suitable explanation for what my father said.”
Davis went on to say that the tape was so shocking because she’d always heard the opposite from her father, and she believes that, if he were alive today, he would ask for forgiveness.
“He would have said, ‘I deeply regret what I said — that’s not who I am.’ He would have sought to make amends for the pain his words caused.”