Racial Code Words and “Dog-Whistle Politics”: Decrypting Racial Codes and Other Socially Conservative Lingo in American Politics
We discuss racial code words and “dog-whistle politics,” terms that describe the code words politicians use to imply politically incorrect ideas to their base.
When politicians say national populism, or illegals, or in the right context States’ Rights, or super predators, or tough on crime, or law and order, they don’t always mean the words they are saying. Instead, they are often (intentionally, or unintentionally) offering a “dog whistle” to their base. TIP: Dog whistle, as in a pitch so high only a dog could hear it.
Does every figure who says “law and order” nice and slow and then gets a big cheer from a white Republican crowd know what they are doing, does every crowd member get it, probably not. However, those looking for it do get it. And get it or not, it is messed up and needs to be called out.
The concept can be explained many ways, but perhaps the best explanation comes from the lips of one of the most famous Republican Party strategists of all time Lee Atwater (deceased former American political consultant and strategist to the Republican Party, an advisor to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and ex-chairman of the Republican National Committee) explain:
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.
An Introduction to Racial Codewords
You can’t say the N-Word in public anymore, well not if you want to win an election. Yet, there is a portion of Americans who really want their politicians to come out and “say it” about the illegals, muslims, and inner-city minorities.
The workaround is dog whistle politics and racial code words.
In other words, you can’t say the N-Word, but you can talk about Moochers. You can’t say segregation, but you can say States’ Rights. You can’t say we don’t want to pay for the healthcare of poor blacks, but you can get angry about all the lazy people on ObamaCare.
In other words, you can’t be overtly racist in America any more, but that doesn’t stop politicians and talking heads from using vaguely racist code words. Here is a discussion on racial code words used in “dog-whistle politics” in America.
TIP: Dog-whistle politics is a reference to the fact that only dogs can hear a high-pitched dog whistle. It isn’t just about African Americans, it is about hinting at any ideology or idea that an in-group can pick up on (like Deconstruction or National Populism). Back to our point about race, it is socially unacceptable to say “N****” in public anymore. However, other terms are used pejoratively instead. One can say things like “cut taxes,” “forced integration,” “welfare,” “thugs,” “looters,” “ObamaPhone,” and terms like that to “say it without saying it.”
TIP: Republicans and right-wingers tend to be better at “saying it without saying it”, I really can’t figure out why. Maybe it is just because socially conservative policies have always been against the mainstream? It is a different subject, just wanted to note it. Here I’ll also note, God made people of two types, one is conservative and one is liberal. Always been this way, it is just that the party names have changed.
Notes on the Nuances of Dog-Whistle Politics and the Complex Nature of Language
Before I offer the list there are a few vital things to note regarding the complicated issue 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 may notice that the “states’ rights” parties after WWII aren’t just about states’ rights. When you read about Plessy v. Ferguson or Brown vs. the Board, black codes, and Jim Crowe laws and may say, “wait, what!?” When you try to tell someone, they may think you are a racist, and then you may understand how difficult issues are to address when you do not tackle them directly. This page explains “what” so we can put the truth out where it belongs. In the light and the open.
- People can discuss issues without realizing they are using the code words. 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 that has been turned into a dirty word like “welfare” and “tax cuts.” Also, in this kind of political rhetoric, associations are made with Satan and Communism (see Saul Alinsky for example). TIP: Politically minded factions make similarly discriminatory remarks to other groups too. For example, using terms like “Hollywood, liberal, Jews” who are “Satanic Communists” who collude with the “mainstream media” as a placeholder for “a large portion of the American left.” There is also the “sanctity of marriage” argument in LGBT discussions and the term “illegals” in discussions about Hispanic Americans. “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 “doublespeak” goes on and on. Let’s leave those issues 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 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.” I say, “Hey right-wing supporters 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 code words to rally the base. It is that last subversive usage that we will be discussing.
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 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: Do you doubt what I’m saying or want to be horrified? Here is an 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 honest, Google any term below and add “as a racist code word.” For example “law and order as a racist code word.” Using that language is a risky bet at times, especially now that we have the internet to both spread truth and call out people on mistruth.
- 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. On which streets do they want Law and Order? Do they mean Law and Order as it was used to give “The United States the world’s highest incarceration rate and (it) 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?” The effects of these “wars” speak for themselves. See “law and order politics.” Remember that Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, and the Hippie movement were feared by middle America. The fear was whipped up into support for restrictive laws that resulted in African Americans and poor white Americans being tossed in jail in record numbers. See 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 constantly on these grounds. When black people protest they get accused of being “violent rioting thugs.” Sometimes we have seen race riots. Sometimes we’ve seen riots in Baltimore. Sometimes, though, peaceful protests like the MLK marches elicited the same degree of fear and violence. In all cases, they got the same label, which is unfair. The reality of this aside, the related code-words are used by politicians to dredge up a Black Scare. The ways people can exercise their rights is a side-point for our “code word” conversation.
- States’ Rights. States’ Rights are a fundamental principle of federalism, and they are closely related to the 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. In this context, “states’ rights” refers to “the right of the state” to not follow the same rules as the Federal government. Pre-Civil War that debate was central to “the right to own slaves” and “the right for new states to be slave states.” After the Civil War, it became “the right to enforce black codes.” After Civil Rights 64′ it was “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 or poor people or Hispanic people.” Confusing, right? See “the states’ rights Dixiecrat party.” See “John C. Calhoun.” See “Barry Goldwater’s 64′ campaign.”
- Urban/Inner-City. “You can’t publicly say black people don’t like to work, but people can get away with saying that there’s an inner-city culture in which generations of people don’t value work.” Then they demonize big government and the left and call people Communists and Socialists for wanting social programs that help urban areas. Is this what they mean about repeal ObamaCare, and school vouchers, and food stamps, and ObamaPhones? It is 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). While many 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 had 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 in an attempt to find greater opportunity to enjoy the civil and voting rights of northern cities. We can’t pretend racism doesn’t exist in both parties or the North and South or that northern cities aren’t highly segregated. In this conversation, the migration to cities in the 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 most affected statistically in general, but here we are talking about code words and perceptions. The idea is again related to the Communist, Socialist, left and their welfare which could perhaps be stopped at a state level via states’ rights with enough war on crime and war on drugs. Confusingly, the war on poverty is (mostly) a theoretical effort to help our poorest. That is the way 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,” is an upsetting and complex topic. This points to an actual problem in all American states, poverty. Is a welfare state the answer to poverty? Does it create a trapped people? These are questions that merit discussion as do prison, crime, and drug issues. Still, discussions aside, in practice politicians use “welfare” as a racial code word, and that isn’t helping to heal the nation or address poverty. It turns poor whites against poor non-whites, urban against rural, north against south, while the top earners make all the money. They focus on markets, not survival or divisive social issues as the rest of us do. 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, let’s add in a word that sounds suspiciously like the N-Word. To this I say, “Yes, genius, poor black people took everything, that is why they have so much. It 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, and 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 was the main justification used for the three-fifths compromise, the 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, let’s again state the facts, there significant 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. However, the last thing we want to do is walk away thinking “this group is bad, or this group is good.” We are all both 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 Moochers, 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 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.” Speaking of jobs, we aren’t going to pay you a living wage “because of socialism.” 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 and then 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, 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 in the 94′ crime bill (Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994). Thanks for making it clear that we lack a non-racist major party. We have a less-overtly-racist-in-policy party, the Democrats. Possibly you think welfare is racist, then the Republicans are outwardly racist but not racist-in-terms-of-policy. Either way, there are too many qualifiers.
- Super Predators. They aren’t like regular black people, they are even more scary and may have superpowers or something. I understand that this isn’t a humorous conversation, but “super predator” is probably the most ridiculous of all the racial code words. You can see why it fell out of favor. 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. I 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 disturbing. In my hometown area, the city is segregated into rich neighborhoods, many poor black neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods, etc. Most groups seem to live separately. I’m not sure the black Americans liked the Hispanic Americans any more than the Italians liked the Irish. The “liberty to segregate” is a 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 busing and forced segregation. This doesn’t exist 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. It is a mistake to think people lack reasonable-sounding explanations and have them ready to disarm your arguments. This is why it is cryptic, dog-whistle, code-word, 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 are also valid arguments that need to be accounted for such as those made in the next video.
A Message of Unity Despite the Setbacks
This message is dark, isn’t it? It is 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. Remember, change doesn’t come easily. 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 racial issues, but on many social issues. We hope that each generation moves away toward being ONE AMERICA, as we 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 be the people participating in the step back.Is America Racist? Code words are clearly dishonest, but there are more 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 urban areas and the 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 Paragraph.
To give an example of how politicians get away with using code words, let me present the world’s most ridiculously racist “not racist” paragraph.
“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 the violent super predator criminals off our streets. We need law and order, mandatory minimum sentencing, private prisons, and crime bills. We don’t need this Communist, Socialist welfare.” Someone could say that without anyone raising their eyebrows; it is PC. You can complain about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee, how dare he disrespect our flag, what a thug! That quip is PC enough for television, but you can’t say “N-word, N-word, N-word” anymore. Just ask Imus or Lee Atwater. I 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 think of themselves as racist. They don’t find their policies racist, and they don’t think saying “law and order” and “violent thugs” is prejudice. They find liberals to be 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 the opposite of what we are supposed to be doing here. You must use reason.
TIP: There is also a shorter list of code words for Hispanic and Latino people, which includes “illegals.” There are also codes for other races. It is tempting to combat these racial code words by limiting language, but I assert that we can’t combat this by being politically correct. PC culture is 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 reasonable factions in which we use logic and reason to make our case and understand each other’s 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,” 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. We are one America, and that means the worst-off corners of our country speak volumes about the best-off. We should strive to be good at 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.13th – Official Documentary Review. Watch 13th on NetFlix. At least we don’t have institutionalized slavery in modern society. Oh, wait! That is why Black Lives Matter, 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