What’s StopDogWhistleRacism.com?

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.

9 Responses

  1. This is awesome – my dad would have loved a site like this (and the fever of this election)! Congratulations! Pulling a wealth of information like this must have been no easy task. Thanks for keeping us informed.

  2. Okay…thinking abou this one. Racist comments could be about anyone period.


    the list could go on and on?
    Some people HATE FAT people? and vice versa?

    still trying to understand this….

  3. These are interesting times.
    We have a candidate who claims to be “post racial” but uses racist accusations as a weapon in his campaign…
    We have blacks turning against people with a track record of fighting for them, in favor of someone with no record, simply for the color of his skin…
    A candidate who, I might add, famously said he was “not that invested in the fights of the 60s and the 70s” and endorses Reagan’s views about the “excesses of the 60’s” – which are both code words for the civil rights fights.
    All this shook me to the core in a “I have seen the enemy and it us us” kind of way. Some of my reactions here

  4. Get a grip, folks!

    The need for this discussion is obvious given that McCain’s and Palin’s recent speeches are triggering audience responses to kill Obama. I do not care what you political persuasion is…that should ABSOLUTELY NEVER happen in America.

    Don’t believe me? Go to the Alabama Moderate:

  5. We commend you for your work!! We are organizers of AWARE-Los Angeles, a group of white people working to end racism in ourselves, our communities and the world. We also launched a similar blog to document race and racism this election season at http://www.doubletake08.org. We’re invigorated by your efforts and stand proudly side by side with you!

  6. great site. keep ’em honest

  7. in re: luvs2boat

    yeah, you’ve got it. though it is still a lot more acceptable to express even overt prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping of those with large bodies. nevertheless, like racial attitudes, there are implicit and unconscious aspects of the rejection of the overweight that have been measured and can be activated or “primed” by mention of certain key terms, pictures of the obese, etc.

    thanks to the center and thanks for including the most thoughtful and insightful sites of both the right and the left. the only way our culture will change is if we recognize that we share common norms of proper behavior and democracy no matter what our political loyalties.

    after the election, i hope that gender and sexuality based prejudice will be incorporated. body image doesn’t impact politics so much, but it is also an area of symbolic prejudice ripe for exposure.

  8. Thanks, dogwhistle, for your important work.

    It is true that even the imperialist and militarist Barack Obama must be defended from racist attacks. Equally important is the defense of all people of color when Obama himself trades in anti-black racism, as in his famous “race speech” given some months ago.

    Obama’s speech appeals to liberals and moderates not only for its genuine insights into racism in the US, but because it contains much to appeal to racists. Sometimes Obama’s racism is allusive, coded, or implicit, as when he refers generically to “the welfare mom” and “the former gang-banger,” or when he evokes ghetto stereotypes in “the erosion of black families [that] welfare policies may have worsened,” families living in a “cycle of violence, blight and neglect.” But there is also in-your-face-racism in Obama’s denunciation of the politics of his former pastor, which is the heart of, and the occasion for, the speech.

    Many of us would find commonplace pastor Jeremiah Wright’s condemnation of the US genocide of Native Americans, the Hiroshima bombing, and the ravages of US imperialism around the world. (Texts of his sermons are readily available on the net.) Naturally, Obama rejects Wright’s (and our) understanding of history as “profoundly distorted” and further declares, quite falsely, that white racism is not endemic in the US.

    Some consider such denials of history and fact to be racist in themselves. Regardless, it is undeniably racist when Obama dismisses Wright’s political views as the distortions of an angry black man damaged by his experience of past racism: “For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. … many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons[.]” Obama also likens Wright’s views to Obama’s own white grandmother’s racism: “I can no more disown [Wright] … than I can my white grandmother … who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

    Obama attacks Wright’s political views ad hominem, pathologizing and infantalizing black political dissent and placing it on par with expressions of white racism. This too must be denounced.

  9. […] (or, better yet, a “Muslim socialist“) when he most certainly is not: It’s right-wing code for “African- American person”. They know that they can’t openly admit to opposing him because of his race, so they pretend […]

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