Even as late as the 1950s, it was commonplace for American politicians to lace public discourse with racial epithets. While direct references to race make relatively few appearances today, it’s clear that inciting racial division has hardly disappeared from politics.
In his book published earlier this year, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, Ian Haney López, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, outlines how politicians and plutocrats attract white votes by deploying veiled racial messages.
Here are six examples of code words, some mentioned by Lopez and others not, but all used in American politics to publicly transmit racial messages.
Lopez notes that welfare programs were broadly supported during the New Deal era when it was accepted that white Americans could face hardships in their lives that sometimes required government assistance.
Fast-forward to the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson demanded a racial justice component to public assistance. “Then it becomes possible for conservatives to start painting welfare as a transfer of wealth to minorities,” says Lopez.
Remember those speeches by President Ronald Reagan about “welfare queens”? Today, says Lopez, we hear “food stamps” used similarly.
Fox News contributor Juan Williams wrote in a 2012 column published in The Hill:
“The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are ‘entitlement society’ — as used by Mitt Romney — and ‘poor work ethic’ and ‘food stamp president’ — as used by Newt Gingrich.”