So Reagan's Policies Harmed Blacks?
"Ronald Reagan 'tortured' blacks."
One Sunday morning, as I drove to my local tennis court to play a match, I heard a black radio commentator give that assessment of the now late, great 40th president. Imagine my conflict. After all, here I am, about to selfishly work on my backhand, while having allowed Reagan to busy himself by "torturing" members of my race.
The Reagan-hated-blacks routine resurfaced during the week of his memorial services and tributes. This indictment includes the following charges: he cut social spending; he showed his latent racism by supporting Bob Jones University; he gave a states' rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were killed; he "insulted" the lone black member of his Cabinet; he opposed race-based preferences; he again demonstrated racial insensitivity by pursuing a policy of "constructive engagement" with the apartheid regime of South Africa; he attempted to fire the black female chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Myth: Reagan cut social spending
Not according to the Congressional Research Service. Federal spending for social programs increased from $344.3 billion in 1981 to $412 billion in 1989, a 19.7 percent increase using 1982 dollars. As a percentage of Gross National Product, social spending during Reagan's two terms averaged 1.73 percent. By contrast, during the Carter years, social spending, as a percentage of GNP, averaged 1.65 percent.
Myth: Reagan showed his racism by supporting Bob Jones University.
The Reagan administration initially argued that, despite Bob Jones University's policy against interracial dating, the university still deserved its tax-exempt status. Reagan promptly reversed his position, and asked Congress to pass a bill prohibiting tax-exempt status for segregated schools.
Myth: Reagan signaled his racism by giving a campaign speech in Philadelphia, Miss.
Does it matter that when Reagan left Philadelphia, Miss., he traveled to New York to give a speech before the Urban League, a major civil rights organization? Some did, indeed, interpret Reagan's speech in Philadelphia, Miss., as a signal to anti-black Southerners. According to Lou Cannon, author of "Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio," the "states' rights speech" so bothered Nancy Reagan that she pushed for a shakeup in Reagan's campaign to avoid any other such missteps. Not exactly segregation then, segregation today, segregation tomorrow.
Myth: Reagan insulted a black member of his Cabinet.
At a meeting of black mayors, Reagan did, indeed, fail to recognize his own HUD secretary, mistakenly referring to him as "Mr. Mayor." Well, send in the bigot patrol.
Myth: Reagan opposed race-based preferences.
Yes, and so do most Republicans. And, for what it's worth, Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam opposes race-based preferences. Back in 1963, Whitney Young, former head of the Urban League, proposed a sort of Marshall Plan for blacks. But a member of his board objected to what he called "the heart of it -- the business of employing Negroes (because they are Negroes)."
Myth: Reagan supported the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Reagan pursued a policy of "constructive engagement." According to the Journal of Modern African Studies, Great Britain, "This policy held that quiet diplomacy, contact with oppositionist bodies, application of fair employment practices under the Sullivan Principles by American companies operating in South Africa, assistance programs to train Africans, and public statements endorsing reform would do more to undermine apartheid than would confrontational measures, including sanctions and disinvestment."
Myth: Reagan attempted to fire the black female head of the Civil Rights Commission.
Reagan did, indeed, attempt to fire Mary Frances Berry. And why not? She supports race-based preferences, set-asides and so-called "disparate impact laws," all of which Reagan opposed. Berry successfully sued to keep her job, and she remains head of the Civil Rights Commission today. (By the way, when President George W. Bush attempted to appoint a black man to the commission, Peter Kirsanow, Mary Frances Berry filed suit to prevent Kirsanow from joining the commission. She unsuccessfully argued that the current occupant on the board still had several years left in her term.)
So, how did blacks fare under Ronald Reagan?
From the end of 1982 to 1989, black unemployment dropped 9 percentage points (from 20.4 percent to 11.4 percent), while white unemployment dropped by only 4 percentage points. Black household income went up 84 percent from 1980 to 1990, versus a white household income increase of 68 percent. The number of black-owned businesses increased from 308,000 in 1982 to 424,000 in 1987, a 38 percent rise versus a 14 percent increase in the total number of firms in the United States. Receipts by black-owned firms more than doubled, from $9.6 billion to $19.8 billion.
If this is "torture," more, please -- and a side of fries.
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