15 January 2017

"Dog whistle" politics defined

"Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup. The phrase is often used as a pejorative because of the inherently deceptive nature of the practice and because the dog-whistle messages are frequently distasteful to the general populace. The analogy is to a dog whistle, whose high-frequency whistle is heard by dogs but inaudible to humans.

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible...

U.S. law professor and author of the 2014 book Dog Whistle Politics Ian Haney-López described Ronald Reagan as "blowing a dog whistle" when the candidate told stories about "Cadillac-driving 'welfare queens' and 'strapping young bucks' buying T-bone steaks with food stamps" while he was campaigning for the presidency...

Obama was accused of dog-whistling to African-American voters by using a blend of gestures, style and rhetoric, such as fist-bumps and walking with a "swagger — a rhythmic lope that says cool and confident and undeniably black," that carefully affirmed and underscored his black identity."


  1. "dog-whistle messages are frequently distasteful to the general populace"
    I understand how Reagan's not-so-subtle racist references are distasteful, but calling Obama's fist bump a dog whistle is a stretch.

    1. That was my thought too. But someone said it in print, so Wikipedia's within their usual bounds to reference it. "Dog whistle" usually means someone saying something crappy, but with a veil of plausible deniability over it. (And if you call them on it, then they get to do the outraged "you thought that was racist? But I never said (insert race here), so you're the racist one!" I have exactly zero patience for that argument.)

    2. I agree, a fist bump (or his walk? Seriously?!) doesn't have any hidden meaning, it's not exactly a secret that Obama is black..... How is "acting like an African American", when he is exactly that, a coded message? Ridiculous.
      People are just mad because he has the audacity to acknowledge African Americans as part of society.

    3. "People are just mad because he has the audacity to acknowledge African Americans as part of society."

      Or completely erase that part of his culture. It's called code-switching when you go from one culture into the other and fit to their norms.

  2. As a rule of thumb, I've found that whenever an article or speaker refers to President Obama as Barack Hussein Obama, then they tend be closed minded bigots of varying degrees. Some even drop the Barack and only call him by his middle name. Others in speech love to emphasize or draw out the middle name. It is pretty obvious to me that they are trying to draw attention to his Arabic middle name, implying that he must be some strange foreigner with dangerous idea and disingenuous loyalties. In this case, I find that the word "Hussein" seems to be their favorite dog whistle.


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