I listened, with interest, to the University of California, Berkeley Law Professor, Haney Lopez discussed his latest book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class on Democracy Now!, January 14, 1914. At the outset, let me say I am responding to the author's verbal introduction to his book, and this discussion was the first time I heard about the book, but certainly not the subject, particularly the first half of the title after the colon. The book traces the history of racially coded language and its use in US politics, and Lopez argues that this language has not disappeared! No! Racially coded language is used today, he argues, to stir white Americans "into voting for Republicans whose main allegiance is to corporate interests." As a result, his book is about how "race" wreaks havoc on "the whole middle class."
Never mind that Democrats are aligned with corporate interests-- quite a few--rather than a few. As a senior fellow at Demos, Lopez and his cohorts are dedicated to "advocating not just for people but for the very idea of the people--of one nation, united by a shared fate" (Demos.org).
When Lopez begins the discussion on Dog Whistle Politics , I am an audience member, one among Americans, consisting of all races, classes, sexual orientations, and religious or nonreligious beliefs. You know, that "one nation," "shared fate."
"We," then is all Americans, I assume, or should I?
Maybe not. Lopez uses the word "minority," a word that suggests that there is the main body of people, the "majority," as opposed to the "minority," them, those who are Indigenous, Black, Brown, and women. A pretty large minority!
Let us move on. The discussion does well to point out to younger audience members that the use of racially coded language in the US is not new.
The compromise between FDR, Democrats, and Southern politicians meant that the New Deal would do little to help Black and Latino/a Americans, as Lopez points out. But this compromise was a response to what, really? What is it (because it is still with us) that sought to constrain the struggles of poor and working class Blacks and Latino/as then, forcing many to witness the progressive rise of white Americans, subsidized thanks to government programs?
The agitation of racial anxiety, Lopez argues, was key to the Southern Strategy in the 1960s. When politicians looked for ways to get elected, he explains, race was put on the ticket. George Wallace loses his first campaign for political office to a man who "out niggered" him. But Wallace came back, did he not, as the Wallace so many Blacks recognized in the faces of their white neighbors and bosses, particularly if they were not content to be so constrained by what they could see in those faces?
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton employed racially coded language, says Lopez. While the discussion singled out Reagan, his "Welfare Queen" red flag, and his Paris, Mississippi speech, it said little about Clinton, friendly, smiling Clinton, surrounded by his white American liberals and Black middle class supporters, playing his saxophone, and not long after, capitulating to what cannot be a malady afflicting only Republicans or right-wing fanatics when so many average middle class Americans remained silent as the prisons filled up with Black and Brown Americans.
Today, Lopez continues, racially coded language is used to "denigrate" members of the Muslim and Latino/a communities. "Politics now is occurring in coded terms, like a dog whistle." We hear racial agitation but, if challenged, Lopez argues, we are presented with "plausible deniability."
Race! Who is talking about race?
"Why," Lopez asks, " so many [Americans] would vote to slash taxes on the rich, favor deregulation, slash social services, if not partly or primarily because of the racial narrative employed with dog whistle politics."
Despite blatant bailout funds to corporations at the expense of the majority of citizens, huge and inhumane cuts to social services, the problem still remains. Lopez recalls Newt Gingrich's pronouncement: Look! President Barack Obama is "putting " more people on food stamps! And what is this absurd statement to conjure up if not the image of a "Black" president, sitting at the Oval office desk, personally adding lines of "Black" citizens to the food stamp rolls.
And what has prevented this Black president from uttering the word "race"? What forced him to participate in the public denigration of his pastor and friend, Rev. Jeremiah Wright?
Lopez: Gingrich's statement "triggers racial anxiety," but he can deny he is saying anything about race.