Reagan, African-Americans, and a Few Thoughts

A few words and a confession from National Center executive director David W. Almasi:

In 1996, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found African-Americans almost equally split between conservative, moderate and liberal political beliefs. A Gallup Poll in late 2003 found more blacks identifying themselves as conservative (30 percent) than liberal (22 percent). But the media can’t seem to find any of these people.

And I’d like to take this time to apologize for falling into their trap. Of all people, as the director for the African-American leadership network Project 21 – an organization formed to highlight the diversity of black political opinion – I should know better.

As reported by the Media Research Center, ABC in particular has been taking cheap shots during its coverage of the death of President Ronald Reagan. As Reagan’s casket was loaded onto Air Force One to travel to Washington, George Stephanopoulos commented out of the blue that Reagan “did not reach out to African-Americans.” Anchor Peter Jennings felt that they had “not talked a lot yet about his relationship to African-Americans,” as if a dirty secret was being swept under the rug.

But possibly the most unforgivable comment came from Jennings once again, commenting on the crowds of mourners: “we haven’t seen many African-American faces up at the presidential library.”

In my opinion, Jennings just wasn’t looking. Blacks mourned the loss of Ronald Reagan. Blacks benefited from his policies. And many blacks today consider themselves conservative because of who he was and what he did. Greg Parker, a member of Project 21, said, “Those who say such things are misguided and are not looking around hard enough. I myself was ten years of age when he took office and 18 when he left, so I grew up with him as President. He was the reason I became a Republican and a conservative.”

To say Reagan did not care about black Americans or do anything to help them during his term of office shows gross ignorance of his presidency. As syndicated columnist and Project 21 member Deroy Murdock points out: “The dramatic economic expansion his tax cuts and deregulation unleashed benefited Americans in general, but black Americans in particular. Rising employment and opportunities for entrepreneurship helped grow the black middle class during the Reagan years. And the fall of Communism made things safer for Americans of all backgrounds.” As for his personal interest in black Americans, Reagan – a man of letters – maintained a correspondence with Ruddy Hines, a black boy in the D.C. public schools, throughout his presidency.

As for black faces in the crowd, I spent five-and-a-half hours in line on Wednesday night to visit Reagan in the Capitol Rotunda. The line was the very definition of diversity with regard to race, ethnicity, class, sex, age and lifestyle. Peter Jennings apparently didn’t see any black faces because he didn’t want to.

But let’s talk about my mea culpa. It comes from a conversation I had with Greg Parker as we collaborated on a press release about these media slights of Reagan. I told Greg I was moved by a young black man in front of me in the line. If I saw him on the street, I said, I’d consider him a gang-banger without the slightest interest in Ronald Reagan much less the desire to spend almost a quarter of a day to pay respects to a man who was largely out of the public eye during his lifetime.

I suddenly realized I was acting no better than Stephanopoulos and Jennings. I was willing to simply figure the guy as either a staunch liberal or political agnostic or someone who was more interested in Playstation than trickle-down economics. While that may have been the case, he nonetheless was there, and it is touching.

I shared my stupid statement with Project 21’s Mychal Massie. He told me not to feel bad about what I initially thought, saying he knew my heart. And I think that guy Wednesday night knew Reagan’s heart. Despite the slow drumbeat of criticism of Reagan and conservatives like him from black “leaders” and their media allies, he saw through it and made the effort to say goodbye.

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