Racial Code Words in American “Dog-Whistle Politics”: Decrypting Racial Codes
TIP: Dog whistle politics = a reference to the fact that only dogs can hear a high pitched dog whistle. The idea being, that while one can’t say “N****” at a right-leaning political rally anymore, they can say things like “cut taxes”, “forced segragation”, “welfare”, “thugs”, “looters”, and things like that to “say it without saying it”. Here, i’ll let Lee Atwater (deceased former American political consultant and strategist to the Republican Party, adviser to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and ex-chairman of the Republican National Committee) explain.
Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy. The thing about Lee Atwater is, all his awful qualities aside, he was smart and honest. One can respect smart and honest even when you disagree… it is subversion that creates opposition. At least in the old days people used to say what they mean.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “…,…,….” By 1968, you can’t say “…” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “…, ….”
TIP: For more information on racial code words using in politics see: Dog Whistle Politics: and the book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.
Notes on the Nuances of Dog-Whistle Politics and the Complexity of Language
Before I offer the list there are a few vital things to note regarding the complexity of dog-whistle politics:
- This is for educational purposes and is speaking more to history than today (as in, no this isn’t meant as an attack on modern politicians or parties, it is meant to call awareness to something so we can move past it collectively).
- When you study history you start to notice that the “sates’ rights” parties after WWII aren’t just about states’ rights. Then you read about Plessy v. Ferguson to Brown vs. the Board, black codes, and Jim Crowe and you’re like “wait, what!?” Then you try to tell someone, and they think you are now being racist… and your like, “oh”, I get this game. So here then, this page explains “what” so we can put the truth out where it belongs. In the light and in the open.
- People can say these without realizing they are using the code words. And, lets be honest, no one is ever going to admit to using these words on purpose.
- The shameful trick here is that almost every code word below is a term that is supposed to be a good thing (like welfare and tax cuts) that has been turned into a dirty word…. they also do this thing where everything gets associated with Satan and Communism (see Saul Alinsky for example)… but, this is just the sort of underhanded BS the page is about. TIP: Politically minded factions also do this to other groups too, for example, using terms like “Hollywood, liberal, Jews” who are “satanic Communists” who collude with the “main stream media” as a placeholder for “a large portion of the American left”. And then there is the whole “sanctity of marriage thing” for LGBT and “illegals” for hispanic Americans. Oh, and “real Americans” is sometimes used as code for white right-wing Christians. On that note, treating “evangelical white Christians” as a synonym for “right-wing conservatives” does no justice to the millions of evangelical white voters on the Christian Left or those who are not political. Likewise, calling all “news that isn’t left-leaning mainstream news” “fake news” does little justice to independent news sources attempting to pick up the slack. The list of political “double speak” goes on and on. But lets build a mental wall around those arguments for a moment so we can go back to making this discussion of dog whistle politics regarding black America great again.
- Language is complex and can be described as symbolic. Whether or not a racial code word means the N-word (or something similar) depends at least partially on context and subtext. For example, I could say, “I like Law and Order” and be talking about the TV show, or could be like, “this 1960’s race riot is awful, we really need some law and order,” and not be being racist, or I could be like, “Hey right-wing base at a David Duke rally, don’t you think we need more Law and Order in our Urban areas” and be talking about black people using racial codewords to rally the base. It is that last subversive usage that we will be discussing.
1968, Nixon – The First Civil Right – political ad – closed captioned. Oh they are going to war on something alright, but i’m pretty sure its blacks, hippies, and liberals (half joking, but really go research it, i’m only half joking). Like how they twist being against Civil Rights into being for Law and Order, clever right? Welcome to 1964 – 2016. Now don’t mistake this as the politics of a whole group, Nixon is an underrated president in many ways and did a lot for Civil Rights, liberty, and equality. If one group was “all bad” and the “all good” the conversation wouldn’t be complex. We are only talking about subtext and code meant to rally a certain base of people (many of whom, it would seem from my experience, don’t specifically even realize the trap they are falling into).
Racial Code Words: A List of Terms That Essentially Mean “the N-Word”
The following terms are sometimes used as racial code for the N-word. Unfortunately, the terms used help to reinforce this idea that black people are “drug using violent criminals that are on welfare and belong in jail” (a stereotype that hurts black America on many complex levels).
TIP: Want to be horrified? Here is a fun experiment. Google any of the terms below and do an image search. For example “violent thugs rioting”. Or, if you don’t think i’m being honest, Google any term below and add “as a racist code word”. For example “law and order as a racist code word“. Why yes using that language is a risky bet latimes, especially with this new fangled internet we all have upon which we can spread truth and call out people on their BS.
- Law and Order. Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and now Trump have all called for “Law and Order”. Are they trying to rally the base innocently? Did someone forget to tell them this is code for the N-word? We know they don’t mean “Law and Order” on Wall Street or K Street. Which streets is it that they are calling for Law and Order on? Do you mean Law and Order like “The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate and hosts more prison inmates than all other developed nations combined” or Law and Order like “the 94′ Crime Bill, War on Drugs, and mandatory minimum sentencing in urban neighborhoods…” because that is how it is coming off and the effects of these “wars” speak for themselves. See “law and order politics“. See: MLK, Civil Rights, and Hippy uprising responded to by fear from middle America, which was whipped up into supporting restrictive laws that resulted in African Americans and poor white Americans being tossed in jail. See: From From Wallace To Trump, The Evolution of “Law And Order”. See: The Southern Strategy.
- Thugs, Especially “Thugs who Riot” or “Violent Thugs” or a version of that. BLM has been attacked since day on these grounds. When black people protest they get accused of being “violent rioting thugs”. Sometimes it is race riots or the LA riots. Sometimes it’s like the riots in Baltimore. Sometimes though, it is just flat out classy protests like the MLK marches. In all cases they get the same label, which is unfair. The reality of this aside, the related code-words are used by politicians to druge up a Black Scare, how black people actually exercise their rights is sort of a side-point for our “code word” conversation.
- States’ Rights (going strong since day 1). States’ Rights are a fundamental principle of federalism and they are closely related to the virtuous idea of popular sovereignty. These are the classical liberal principles that make America the land of liberty… they are also at the heart of America’s racial debates since day 1. In this context, “states’ rights” refers to “the right of the state” to not follow the same rules as the Federal government. So pre-Civil War that is “the right to own slaves” and “the right for new states to be slave states”. After the Civil War it is “the right to enforce black codes”. After Civil Rights 64′ it is “the right not to embrace the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts”, “the right to segregate”, “the right to not bus”, “the right to deny social welfare programs”. In the modern day, it is “the right not to expand Medicaid” and such. So, in relation to the N-word, the subtext is “we states have the right to deny rights… to black people”. Confusing, right? See “the states’ rights Dixiecrat party“, see “John C. Calhoun“, see “Barry Gold Water’s 64′ campaign“.
- Urban/Inner City. “You can’t publicly say black people don’t like to work, but you can say there’s an inner-city culture in which generations of people don’t value work”… then you can demonize big government and the left and call them Communists and Socialists for wanting social programs that help urban areas. Wait, is this what they mean about repeal ObamaCare, and school vouchers, and food stamps, and ObamaPhones… yeah, not just that, but it is that. Remember, one major party favors urban America (today Democrats, used to be Republicans), the other rural (likewise today Republicans, used to be Democrats), and while countless black Americans live in the rural south… black America tends to be underrepresented there (tell me the last time the black belt, which is both a region of the Deep South and a region in which southern black Americans have lived since long before 1865, swung an election?) Since the first Great Migration of 1910–1930 and the Second Great Migration of 1940-1970 many African Americans have moved to urban areas where they had greater opportunity to enjoy the civil and voting rights of northern cities. Now, we can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist in both parties or in the north and south or that northern cities aren’t highly segregated, but for this conversation, the migration to cities in hope of a “new deal” has since equated “black people” with being “urban” or “inner city”. See: What Does Paul Ryan Really Mean by the Phrase “Inner City”? Google Ngram Offers a Clue.
- “Welfare“. If in your mind you see black America as a poor urban dwelling lot, then it is easy to equate them with welfare. Sure, like the prisons, poor whites are actually most affected statistically in general, but here we are talking about code words and perceptions. The idea here is again related to the Communist, Socialist, left and their welfare which can be stopped at a state level via states’ rights with enough war on crime and war on drugs (confusingly, the war on poverty is actually, er umm mostly in theory, an effort to help our poorest, such as when it was used by LBJ… although the anti-LBJ crowd flipped the word back around into a racial code word… See: “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later“). “Welfare”, unlike the more purely BS codewords, is a little more upsetting and complex as a topic. This points to an actual problem in the black community, and in America in general, poverty. Is a welfare state the answer to poverty? Does it create a trapped people? Great smart questions that merit discussion (just like legit prison, crime, and drug issues)! Still, valid discussions aside, in practice politicians use “welfare” as a racial code word, and that isn’t exactly helping to heal the nation or address poverty… this only turns poor whites against poor blacks, urban against rural, north against south, while the top earners make all the money (as their focus is on markets, not divisive social issues like the rest of us). See: Welfare: Who’s on It, Who’s Not?
- Moochers and Takers. A moocher is someone on welfare. If welfare isn’t enough of a clue, lets add in a word that sounds suspiciously like the N-Word. This one is self explanatory given the above, and very F-word’d up. To this I say, “Yeah genius, poor black people took everything, that is why they have so much… couldn’t possibly be those whose wealth increases every year, who collect interest payments, and profit off debt. Let’s just keep blaming black people.” FACT: Did you know in the Civil War you didn’t have to fight in the Confederate army if you owned enough slaves (see Twenty Negro Law). Slave owners with enough slaves had to stay home and “prevent slave rebellions”. Poor whites who didn’t own enough or any slaves, who even then weren’t happy with the provision, made up the bulk of the Confederate army. Here, we can’t forget, the Southern Rural American, even those who have been in the country since before the Civil War, are A MINORITY (this being the main justification used way-back-when for the three-fifths, electoral college, and other compromises. So, we can wag a finger and call out racial code words used by the modern southern minority, but we can’t dismiss their legitimate fears of being overrun by “the tyranny of the majority“. Also lets again state the facts, there is a ton of racism in the north and in cities, and this includes racism from black Americans against other groups. Urban areas and the North tend to favor “less racist” policies on aggregate, with the Civil War being the clearest example of this thing which does not change, but the last thing we want to do is walk away thinking “this group is all bad, or this group is all good”… we are all bad and good, and it is going to make us just that much better if we stop using racial code words in politics.
- Looters. Like the Moocher thing, only here it isn’t about welfare being Communist, it is about violent rioting thugs who steal and loot.
- “Tax Cuts”. Don’t worry, we are going to cut welfare, but we’ll also trickle on you and give you liberty and freedom from the welfare state. As you know, rich white people love creating jobs for poor black people. Just think about all the black people who have worked for white people in the past and how empowering it was. Nothing to see here folks. Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007–2011. Consider 1/2 of Americans don’t pay the income tax (because they don’t make enough money).
- “Minimum Wage”. And speaking of jobs, we aren’t going to pay you a living wage “because socialism”. And we are sending half the family to jail where they will work for even less. When we say “lazy minimum wage workers”, we aren’t just talking about teenagers entering the workforce. See Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2014.
- War on Drugs. If by “war on drugs” you mean turn a blind eye to crack until everyone is addicted than throw them in jail, then the war is going well. See: “Freeway” Rick Ross (the other Rick Ross).
- War on Crime. If by “war on crime” you mean turn a blind eye to poverty and gang violence in urban ghettoes and then throw people in jail for drug crimes… Anyway, this is its own essay. The statistics are clear on what people are in jail for: Drugs. See: Recidivism in Prisons. See: Criminal Recidivism: the Plight of African American Male Youth?
- Tough on Crime. If by “tough on crime” you mean mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes… which you do 94′ crime bill (Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994). Thanks for making it clear that there is no not-racist major party, just a less-overtly-racist-in-policy party (the Democrats)… unless you do think welfare is racist, then the Republicans are outwardly racist but not racist-in-terms-of-policy (either way, too many qualifiers). These truisms make it easier not to have a page that only bashes Republicans.
- Super Predators. They aren’t like regular black people, they are even more scary (and have superpowers or something)… not that black people are scary. Er, um. I get this isn’t supposed to be a funny conversation, but “super predator” is probably the most ridiculous sounding of all the racial code words. You can see why no one uses it anymore. See: Danny Glover vs. the Predator for the difference between a black person and a predator.
- Vouchers, Private Schools, etc. The idea here is that we can direct government funding toward white schools by doing enough political acrobatics. Feel free to research the affects of Brown v. Board of Education for yourself. You’ll note the strong opposition to segregation in the north and south, here i’ll recall growing up in the North East where my “one black friend” and I were warned to “stay away from the ghetto”. Which, while good advice given the crime rate there even still today, is pretty messed up. In my hometown area the city is segregated into rich neighborhoods, many poor black neighborhoods, hispanic neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods, etc… everyone essentially self-segregates, and i’m not sure the black Americans liked the hispanic Americans any more than the Italians liked the Irish, and this “liberty to segregate” is a giant complex issue for towns, cities, states, and the nation). Despite the complexity, issues of segregation, especially in education, lend themselves to a lot of racial code words. See: The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts.
- Forced busin’ / forced segregation. This isn’t really a thing anymore (as you can tell from our segregated schools), but some areas still do this. See the history of “forced busing” (AKA desegregation busing): ‘Forced busing’ didn’t fail. Desegregation is the best way to improve our schools.
TIP: Social conservatives who use the dog-whistle, if pressed, will being to justify all the above. Call forced segregation racist, you’ll get an earful of how “they want to be separate”, call out the racism in the justice system, you’ll hear “but blacks are more likely to be criminals”, etc… In short, it is a mistake to think there isn’t a reasonable sounding explanation ready to disarm your arguments. This is why it is cryptic, dog-whistle, code-word, complex politics, not obviously racist and hateful hard to justify politics. Slavery and pre-1960’s segregation was more obviously insidious, but nothing is ever simple. See: Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand” A Century of Racial Segregation, 1849–1950.
Why The War on Drugs Is a Huge Failure. War on drugs, southern strategy, Civil Rights 64′, the parties switched (solid south Dixiecrats joined the Republicans from 1930’s to 1990’s roughly). None of this is unconnected, but for as many ways in which there is institutionalized racism in America…. there is also actual valid arguments that need to be accounted for (such as those made in the next video.
A Message of Unity Despite the Setbacks
The above is pretty dark right? A stream of words meant to rally anger and play politics with fear, turning us against our brothers and sisters and toward a major party policy… But remember, change doesn’t come easy. People are naturally biased creatures, both selfish and compassionate, and a fear of out-groups is a very real thing.
Each generation we make “two steps forward and one step back” (not just on race, but on many social issues). Each generation moves away from black codes and toward being ONE AMERICA (as it should be). We can talk openly and honestly about the past, but if we can’t find forgiveness and understanding for the future, and if we discriminate based on being discriminated against, then we may just be the ones participating in the step back.
Is America Racist? Codewords are clearly immoral, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t actual problems to deal with in America. We need to drop the hate and focus on the real issues like actual crime, poverty, and drug use in black urban areas and the actual oppressive aspects of welfare-state politics. In this it is helpful to hear the conservative-libertarian viewpoint of PragerU.
The Internet’s Most Racist Non-Racist Sentence
Calls for unity in the spirit of greats like MLK aside, and back to code word conversation… To give an example of how politicians get away with using codewords, let me present the world’s most ridiculously racist “not racist” sentence:
“We need law and order, these violent thugs are rioting, moochers and looters are destroying our country, we need to make this country great again by cutting taxes and welfare, the war on drugs and war on crime are getting violent criminals out of the inner city and off our streets, i’m talking about law and order people, i’m talking about feeling safe, we need to get these violent super predators criminals off our streets, we need law and order, mandatory minimum sentencing, private prisons, crime bills, we don’t need this Communist socialist welfare”. One can say that in polite society, it is PC! One can complain about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, how dare he disrespect our flag, what a thug!… That quip is PC enough for MSM, but one can just can’t say “N-word, N-word, N-word” anymore. Just ask Imus or Lee Atwater (I really suggest listening to Atwater explain this, he is well worth researching).
The Daily Show – Tomi Lahren’s Anger Lights Facebook on Fire. Your Goldwater alt-right breitbart blonde haired blue eyed white libertarian or republican does not find themselves racist on average (this has been going strong since after WWII with the whole states’ rights revival). No, they don’t find their policies racist, and they don’t think saying “law and order” and “violent thugs” is prejudice, no, they find liberals racist and think the only true sin is socialism. If you don’t understand their position, then you are sort of “lumping a minority into a box and discriminating against them”… which is like… the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing here. You must use reason.
TIP: There is also a shorter list for hispanic and latino people, that list includes “illegals”. There is also a list for other races that I won’t go into in a side point (as each should be its own essay). It is tempting to combat these racial code words by limiting language, but I’d assert that we can’t combat this with PC! PC culture is just feeding the fire and making the oppressors feel oppressed. I think the only real way to combat it is with honest and open dialogue from all reasonable factions where we use logic and reason to make our case and understand each others points.
FACT: The majority of people in jail are white, but per-capita African Americans are incarcerated at higher rates than any other demographic in America. Meanwhile, America has the world’s highest incarceration rate and hosts more prison inmates than all other developed nations combined. Do the math. We may need “law and order” (as in actual law and order), but we don’t need mandatory minimum sentences that target poor black Americans sending them and their community into the vicious cycles we see today…. that is just some institutionalized racist BS. We are one America, and that means the worst-off coroners of our country speak volumes about the best-off. We should strive to be #1 in everything, we may not be today, but that should be the goal. Not just for the 1%, but for the 320 million, their children, and their children’s children regardless of color, class, or creed…. and if we can’t as citizens all hold ourselves to that ideal, we can at least expect it of our political leaders.
13th – Official Documentary Review. Watch 13th on NetFlix. At least we don’t have institutionalized slavery in modern society… oh wait. WTF?! That is why BLM, not that these Populist movements aren’t their own issue, it is just that we have to understand their root to offset their effects.
- When White People Use These “Six Code Words” They Are Really Saying The N-Word…
- N-Word Wiki page
- 8 Sneaky Racial Code Words and Why Politicians Love Them
- The N-Word, Updated: 6 Code Words or Terms That Often Mean the Same Thing
- Richard Sherman: ‘Thug’ is accepted way of calling someone N-word
- Dog Whistle Politics
- Stereotypes of African Americans