Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dog Whistle Racism Explained By An Insider

On the heels of writing about racial coding and dog whistle racism in America, I happened to read this article about Paul Ryan trying to backtrack from his assertion that all poverty stems from Black people being lazy (or something like that, it's kind of hard to follow his logic).

But more to the point, the piece uses a fantastic quote I'd been trying to dig up for a while from Alexander P. Lamis' book "The Two-Party South." At the time the book was published (1984) the quote was simply from an anonymous source identified as a Reagan confident, but is now known to be famed conservative operative Lee Atwater. It's especially important because often people who discuss racial coding are accused of reading too much into the words used, or projecting their own ideas on to the speaker.

But this quote from Atwater is not someone interpreting his words, or projecting words on to him, it's just him straight-up explaining exactly how Republicans have intentionally used racially coded language to make racist appeals to their white, Souther voting base while maintaining the plausible deniability of supposedly not talking about race.

But enough with the set up, here's Atwater in his own words:
"You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N—-r, n—-r, n—-r.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n—-r’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N—-r, n—-r.'"

So no, when Ryan and his ilk talk of "inner city laziness" and the need to stop "fostering dependance on government assistance," social scientists are not "reading too much into it" when we note that these are obviously racist statements designed to rile up racist white voters. All we're doing is saying in public what Atwater was more than comfortable admitting behind closed doors...

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