What follows in this book is an effort to understand racism as it works in American society, and especially as it has evolved and impoverished the whole country over the last five decades.
Ian Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class
I think I have arrived at a new understanding, and a slight suggestion. Whenever anyone says “I am not a __________,” just assume that they are in fact a “_________.”
This is especially true when the phrase is “I am not a racist.”
Most of the books I write about on this blog are business books. But, once a month, I prepare a synopsis of a book dealing with social justice issues (poverty; racism; et.al.). I make these synopsis presentations at the Urban Engagement Book Club for CitySquare.
Today, I am presenting my synopsis of Dog Whistle Politics. The premise of the book is simple: racism has gone underground, but it is still so very real and everywhere present.
What do I mean by “underground?” In the old days, many white people were overtly racist – they openly used racially charged vocabulary (the “n” word, and so many more). Even in print; even in our best publications; the language was so racially offensive, and commonly accepted. (I’ve run across the “n” word in mystery novels from decades past). One note from the book:
For instance, in November 1953 the New York Times ran a headline that blared “WETBACK INFLUX NEAR THE RECORD
But, today, the language is more subtle. So subtle that, at times, people using the language do not realize how racist it is. Using such language is part of a strategy now labeled “dog whistle politics.” From the book:
Its racial entreaties operate like a dog whistle—a metaphor that pushes us to recognize that modern racial pandering always operates on two levels: inaudible and easily denied in one range, yet stimulating strong reactions in another.
Here are four of my lessons and takeaways from the book:
#1 – There has always been racism – and, probably, always will be. Thus, there must be constant vigilance. And, yes, it is about race!
#2 – Even if a person seeks to not be racist, those around that person might still use “dog whistle” approaches…
#3 – The “indirect” approach does not seem to work. Racism needs to be called out!
#4 – The “targets,” or “examples,” might change – but the “other” will always be attacked, and always used strategically for political advantage.
I think the book is worth reading. Not fun reading – but worth reading.
And I think that until we truly get honest about the lingering, enduring reality of racism, we are trapped in our own racist past and present — and yes, ongoing racist future.
(We meet for the Urban Engagement Book Club on the third Thursday of each month, at noon, at
CitySquare’s Opportunity Center:
Bldg. 200, Multipurpose Room,
1610 S. Malcolm X Blvd.,