While presidential candidate Joe Biden is struggling with being confronted with his past, let’s not forget that there were politicians with far worse records of racism than Joe. Most of us have been able to witness Joe’s evolution to become a better person. One might say he learned from his experiences and became someone who is much loved by many of the very people hurt by his earlier position on several issues such as criminal justice. I can forgive people who do better when they know better.
I think that describes Mr. Biden. I have no doubt that he has learned from the error of his ways and he has become a much better person. When you know better, you are charged with doing better, and I think that fits Mr. Biden. Surely President Barack Obama knew about Mr. Biden’s past, and still selected him to become his vice president. He turned out to be a good choice and that’s why so many Black people are now supporting him.
Now let’s take a look at another politician from not too long ago — President Ronald Reagan. He was our 40th president, and is often admired and quoted by many on both sides of the aisle. I was never impressed by him, but many were. I met Mr. Reagan in 1984 when I visited him at the White House with Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson. While I didn’t formally meet him then, I ran into him in Detroit at the Republican National Convention and had an opportunity to size him up. I didn’t find him impressive either time. Yet, I knew people who treated him like he was a close second to God! I never thought of him as a particularly smart person, but to this day, many (white) people speak of him in glowing terms.
We can’t measure him against Joe Biden. They’re very different people. Let’s measure him beside Donald Trump. Trump recently disrespected African leaders with very offensive terms. Mr. Reagan disparaged African delegates to the United Nations. A few days ago, The Atlantic published an article where Reagan held one of his racist conversations with a questionable character named Richard Nixon, who tried to convince us when he got caught that he was not a crook!
Once Reagan vented his frustrations about African leaders to Nixon: “To see those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”
As Trump was campaigning for president, he ran off statistics disparaging the way some Black people live. In an effort to get Black people’s support, he asked, “What have they got to lose?” Recently he referred to cities with large Black populations in derogatory terms. He referred to Baltimore as rat-infested and said he couldn’t understand how any humans could live there — his way of dehumanizing Black people. A few years earlier, Reagan claimed minorities were better off under him — just the way Trump says it.
Trump claims to not have a racist bone in his body, but it’s obvious there’s racism in his heart while accusing Rep. Elijah Cummings of being racist. Reagan was quoted as resorting to the old standby of turning the problem back to Black people because, surely, he wasn’t racist! He challenged NAACP’s Dr. Ben Hooks to imagine looking into his (Reagan’s) heart, and he would find not a trace of prejudice or bigotry there! No, it’s always the fault of the accuser!
One of Reagan’s defenders denied that he was racist — just backward in some ways on racial issues! That sounds like racism to me.f
Williams is national president of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc., and host of “Wake Up and Stay Woke” for WPFW-FM 89.3.