In my reading of Dean Kotlowski’s Nixon’s Civil Rights right now, I am in Chapter 6, “A Cold War: Nixon and Civil Rights Leaders”. The chapter is about how President Richard Nixon had a tense relationship with civil rights leaders. Part of this was because civil rights leaders disliked Nixon’s focus on providing African-Americans with economic opportunity rather than integration, and they criticized Nixon for favoring a slow approach to the desegregation of Southern schools. Moreover, Nixon’s continuation of the Philadelphia Plan to empower minority businesses took a bit of time to produce results, and so civil rights leaders labeled it a failure. On Nixon’s side, Nixon did not care for Ralph Abernathy preaching to him. Nixon preferred to reach out to the African-American silent majority, which actually was not a majority of African-Americans at the time, but which consisted of African-American ministers and businessmen.
Something that stood out to me was what Kotlowski narrated on page 173. Nixon adviser Daniel Patrick Moynihan suggested in a memo that the “issue of race could benefit from a period of ‘benign neglect'” (Moynihan’s words). Kotlowski states: “Moynihan protested that the phrase ‘benign neglect’ was neutral, coming from a 130-year-old report on British policy toward Canada. In Nixon’s opinion, reporters had given Moynihan a ‘bad rap.’ Neither Moynihan nor the president realized that they implicitly had compared civil rights policy to British colonialism.”
This makes me wonder if the controversial things that public figures say necessarily mean what people think that they mean. When Rush Limbaugh said that the Obamas were “uppity”, for example, did he really mean that they were not acting in a manner that was fitting for their race, as people claimed when they looked at the history of the use of “uppity”? Or did Rush simply mean that the Obamas think and act like they are superior to others? I’m not saying that I agree that the Obamas think they’re superior, but it does seem to me as if many project onto people’s words things that the people may not have meant.