The daughter of former President Ronald Reagan published an op-ed in The Washington Post on Thursday condemning her late father’s recently uncovered racist remarks and asking the public to forgive him.
“There is no defense, no rationalization, no suitable explanation for what my father said on that taped phone conversation,” Patti Davis wrote about the newly released recording published Tuesday by The Atlantic.
The National Archives recently released audio of a private phone call from 1971 between Reagan, then the Republican governor of California, and then-President Richard Nixon. Reagan called United Nations delegates from African countries “monkeys” in the recording, reportedly referring to Tanzanian delegates dancing after the U.N. voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, which Reagan opposed.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries,” he told Nixon in the audio. “Damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes.”
Davis, who has criticized the Republican Party under the Trump administration, wrote Thursday about moments in her childhood when she said her father pushed back against instances of racism and bigotry, claiming that he always taught his family to call out toxic beliefs.
“But the words he used in his conversation with Nixon cannot be interpreted as anything but ugliness. That’s what makes this so painful,” she wrote. “Legacies are complicated, though, and for people to be judged fairly, the landscape of a lifetime has to be looked at.”
Though Davis said Reagan’s racist comment was an “aberration,” the former president, who died in 2004, has been criticized before for policies and promises rooted in racism.
During his gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Reagan said, “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so.” Reagan is also credited with promoting the “welfare queen” stereotype, which paints black women as people who abuse taxpayer money for lazy lifestyles.
Legislation that disproportionately hurt marginalized communities also laid the groundwork for Reagan’s “War on Drugs.” The former president also blocked an anti-apartheid bill to impose sanctions on South Africa; the House voted to override his veto.
Still, Davis wrote that while she tries to forgive her father for his racist remarks, her hope is that “others will forgive my father for words that should never have been uttered in any conversation.”