I mean, obviously what he said he intended to do was worse than dressing up in blackface, but it also is something he intended to do, and never followed through on. I think we beat ourselves up a lot on some of the stuff we did when we were younger, “I could have done this, I almost did that”, and often as time continues to move forward, our memory of the past changes.
For sure he thought these awful things, but how much did he really want to act on it? He could have easily done so, but he didn’t. I think with 40+ years of hindsight it is easier to think how close he was to doing something that awful, while in fact, he just couldn’t do it.
I mean, we are talking about someone thinking something horrible vs someone doing something extremely offensive. It is very hard to compare the two.
Also, I think it makes more sense to understand the society of the 80’s as being a lot more racist than today. So, things that were racist (and they definitely were back then) just weren’t as publicly frowned on as they are now. Like, everyone knew what they were doing was transgressive, and edgy, but nobody was there to call them out on it? So it got a pass? And since it wasn’t something being broadcast to the world, it was probably seen as less offensive. Sure I am in blackface, but it is just around my close friends for a laugh!
It doesn’t make it any less racist, but you can understand. I can bet you 100 bucks nobody would have done that if they knew that a black colleague or student was attending that party. So, it is pretty obvious that they knew it was racist, they just knew they could get away with it.