StopDogWhistleRacism.com is a non-partisan research project of the Center for Social Inclusion that examines the way that race figures implicitly in many political discussions. For 50 years, political figures have introduced tacit appeals to racial hostility – references to “law and order,” “welfare queens” and other implicit evocations of racial stereotypes – into political discourse. But while there has been much commentary and analysis around specific instances, rarely is there an effort to educate the public about the pervasiveness of the problem.
The aim of this site is to document the full scope of symbolic racism in our political discourse by bringing collecting and preserving news and commentary on Dog Whistle Racism, elections, and policy.
Dog Whistle racism – also known as symbolic racism – is political campaigning or policy-making that uses coded words and themes that appeal to conscious or subconscious racist concepts and frames.
All too often, images, symbols and language are used intentionally and unintentionally in our political elections and policy debates. These trigger unconscious racial stereotypes. The viewer or reader isn’t even aware that he or she is responding to unfounded judgments based on stereotypes rather than facts.
For example, the concepts ‘welfare queen,’ ’states’ rights,’ ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘uppity,’ ‘thug,’ ‘tough on crime,’ and ‘illegal alien’ all activate racist concepts that that have already been planted in the public consciousness and now are being activated by purposeful or accidental campaign activities, media coverage, public policy and cultural traditions.
But when symbolic racism is exposed, many people reject it and return to a debate on real issues, not imagined fears. Both research and experience makes clear that when made visible and conscious, symbolic racism loses its power.
In the electoral sphere, appeals to racism have been an historic and explicit strategy for Republicans and Democrats in the South. In an earlier era when white supremacy was taken for granted, explicit appeals to racism were frequently used to attack political opponents. Beginning with Richard Nixon, during the era of the civil rights movement, overt appeals to racism became covert appeals to racism, as the core of the infamous “Southern Strategy”. Studies show that in competitive elections, candidates are more likely to use implicit racist messages, usually depicting Blacks as violent criminals or lazy welfare recipients. From Ronald Reagan’s 1980 ‘states’ rights’ speech in Philadelphia, MS, to the now infamous “Call Me” ad used against Harold Ford in the competitive Tennessee Senate race in 2006, symbolic racism remains all too common.
Equally important, policy debates are fertile ground for symbolic racism. The majority of welfare recipients in the US were white when the Reagan administration began its attack on social safety net programs. Reagan’s invocation of the “welfare queen,” even without overt racial language, was a powerful symbol of the lazy, lying Black woman who did not deserve her benefits. This helped build support for dismantling safety net programs that benefited all Americans.
These messages are sent in secret, affecting us even when we are unaware of them. But when they are exposed, most of us reject the manipulation of race and return to a discussion of the facts. Direct challenges to the use of symbolic racism are effective. By making frames visible and calling them into question it is possible to change the public discourse to a productive one.
None of the opinions or positions expressed or advocated on this site reflect the views of the site itself, and inclusion of any item does not reflect support for or opposition to any candidate for political office.
So, what’s dog whistle racism? It’s pure political theater to push buttons to win elections and policies. StopDogWhistleRacism.com is here to identify, expose and help you to track it. Join us.