Ronald Reagan

Champion of Inequality

Excerpt from Learn Our History | Vol. 2

There might not be a more polarising legacy in American politics than that of Ronald Reagan. An actor, FBI informant, governor of California and 40th President of the United States, Reagan is widely seen as a step backwards in America's fight for equality.

While Reagan's most ardent supporters have hailed him as a 'Republican messiah', his strongest critics have described him as the literal 'devil'.

Whatever the subjective views are of Reagan, there are objective facts as to his impact on American lives, particularly those of black Americans.

His time as governor of California saw him oppose the 1963 Fair Housing Act, which prohibited landlords from denying housing to people because of their ethnicity, religion, sex, marital status, physical handicap or familial status. Reagan inexcusably explained that:

"If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, he has a right to do so..."

Reagan also opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a policy that banned segregation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin, as well as the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting, describing the act as 'humiliating the south'.

Reagan entered the highest office in the land in 1981, and as president, his crusade against social justice was kicked up a notch. During Reagan's first year in office, the median income of black families declined by 5.2% and the number of poor Americans in general increased by 2.2 million. Reagan oversaw drastic cuts in government funding for childcare, unemployment and housing, cutting social benefit spending by $20 billion a year.

Reagan also cut funding for the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), a program designed to assist disadvantaged individuals in finding public sectors jobs; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department, two agencies designed to clamp down on discriminatory practices in housing, education and the workplace.

In 1988, Reagan vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which stipulated that publicly-funded institutions had to comply with civil rights laws in all areas of their organisations.

Reagan's apparent disdain for equality was not confined to his own borders either. Reagan was an advocate of South Africa's apartheid government, providing fiscal and military support to this abhorrent regime.

In response to Reagan's pro-apartheid dealings, Bishop Desmond Tutu expressed:

"In my view, the Reagan administration's support and collaboration with [the apartheid regime] is equally immoral, evil and totally un-Christian."

Even as most of the world slowly came to openly oppose South Africa's racial repression, Reagan stood by it. In 1972, Congressman Ronald Dellums introduced anti-apartheid legislation which, despite opposition, was eventually passed by Congress in 1986. Reagan, perpetually on the wrong side of history, vetoed the bill.