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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Racism, China and US presidents

REGINALD DUMAS

RACISM IS A well-established feature of life at all levels in America. I’ve been at the receiving end myself, more than once, and I was a foreign diplomat there. Imagine the experiences of African-Americans.

These days we’re saying Donald Trump is a racist, but we must not forget that, president or not, he’s like many others, except that he’s far less subtle about it. He is “the least racist of people,” he protests, not understanding that by according himself a rank on a racism scale he’s in fact admitting to personal racism. (Perhaps, come to think of it, “subtle” isn’t quite the word.)

How do some of his predecessors in office compare? This is Theodore Roosevelt: “Negroes are a perfectly stupid race.” Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower, according to the New York Times of last July 31, “frequently espoused prejudiced views and told racist jokes. Lyndon Johnson…espoused racist views, often referring to African-Americans using slurs. And (Richard) Nixon’s own tapes…revealed that he made disparaging remarks about Jews, black people, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans while in the Oval Office.” Nixon at least was all-embracing in his derision.

Recently, an audiotape surfaced of a conversation on October 26, 1971, between Nixon, then president, and Ronald Reagan, then governor of California. The UN General Assembly had just voted to replace Taipei with Peking (now Beijing) in the UN seat reserved for China. So elated by the result was the leader of the Tanzania delegation, Salim Salim, that he did a little jig in the hall.

Reagan, staunchly Taipei, was furious. “To see those (dancing) monkeys from those African countries, damn them,” he said. “They’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.” Hampered by footwear, Salim had obviously missed the beat. Nixon found that very funny, and embellished his recounting of Reagan’s sneer: “monkeys” became “cannibals.” To him, that was even funnier.

An article in The Atlantic magazine of last August 5 looked at the issues of race in America and white America’s attitude to Africa. It made the point that “Nixon and Reagan saw the struggles African nations faced emerging from colonialism as symptoms of black inferiority.” Isn’t Trump a lineal descendant of those two presidents?

This “least racist of people” is the one who proclaimed that Barack Obama was really from Kenya (a “shithole country,” remember) and who never tires of trying to demean this highly intelligent, thoughtful, classy, scandal-free man, qualities you cannot instinctively associate with Trump. And, unforgivably, Obama is black.

It’s all been too much for The Donald, whose ceaseless dog-whistles and putdowns aimed at Obama are fervently supported by the white unintelligentsia and some self-serving Negro evangelicals, who happily reside at his level of perception.

The Atlantic article also said that “champions of individual liberty like Nixon, Reagan and Barry Goldwater consistently backed white minority governments in Africa, (which) was consistent with the belief that black people could not govern themselves, whether in South Carolina or South Africa.”

Well, we’re nearly halfway through the UN-declared decade for people of African descent. In the time that remains, do you expect a positive change in the attitude of the current Washington-based champion of individual and corporate liberty? Could you?

“No belief in American history has been more threatening to democracy, or consumed more American lives,” the article went on, “than the certainty that only white people are fit for self-government, and the corresponding determination to exclude other citizens from the polity.”

Where the US presidency is concerned, “white Christian males” should replace “white people.” That might more clearly explain the dilemmas of Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris, and the phenomenon of Trump (or Joe Biden).

The article attributed Peking’s 1971 success at the UN to China’s years of “forging ties with African nations…to increase its…influence.” That may be so, but an important point wasn’t mentioned.

In the run-up to the October UN vote, Washington, as expected, was lobbying hard for Taipei. (To our credit, TT, resisting intense pressure, supported Peking.) “Yet at the same time,” I wrote in my book Eleven Testing Years, “the USA…was secretly cosying up to…(Peking). In July 1971 Henry Kissinger, then the US national security adviser, had quietly flown (there) for talks. In February 1972 came the state visit (to China) by…Nixon: ‘the week that changed the world,’ he would triumphantly call it.”

And this was the same Nixon who in October 1971, three months after Kissinger’s visit and four months before his, was cracking up (or pretending to) at Reagan’s racist jibe about the African “monkeys,” until recently barefoot, that had backed Peking!

They didn’t call that fellow “Tricky Dick” for nothing.

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