Dog Whistle Politics

The legal scholar Ian F. Haney-Lopez has recently published what looks like a useful explication of what I think many people recognize already:  Dog Whistle Politics:  How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class — describes how racist discourse has been reconstructed in public political speech over the past 50 years, but he also shows how the same discursive devices have been used to racial social programs in general and undermine essential elements of the state.  I haven’t read the book yet — just out — but there’s an extended podcast of a lecture last fall available at

Also, his website at Berkeley has links to pdfs of a number of works that might be of interest to anyone interested in education policy, critical race studies, or racism and its consequences.:

“Dog whistle politics” is a term that’s been around — from a brief bit of google-searching it looks as though it may have originated in Australia — but the meaning should be clear:  It refers to the use of ‘coded’ language to signal race (or religion, class, ethnicity — though in the American context racist dog whistles seem most effective in calling up the hounds).  Terms like “states rights,” “welfare queen,” “illegal aliens,” as well as images, or certain descriptions applied to prominent people of color like President Obama — are used by politicians to invoke race without actually using the term.  In the podcast Haney-López traces this back to Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign (or perhaps to George Wallace’s 1958 campaign) and provides what I found to be a convincing narrative of the ways implied racist discourses have worked their ways into basic political discourse in the country (actually, I think Haney-López may gloss over some of these issues in New Deal politics as well — Ira Katznelson’s recent book shows how Roosevelt bent over backwards to accommodate the racists in the Democratic party in order to get the new deal legislation passed).  AsI note above, what’s particularly interesting about Haney-López’s work is that he also shows how social programs in general – the basic elements of the social safety net — have been racialized.  Thus, it turns out (you can also find a related discussion in Skocpol & Williamson’s  recent national study of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism) that the main members of the Tea Party are in fact older whites, who, like a number of people nowadays, are being supported by the very welfare programs they’re trying to destroy:  why?  In large part, their belief that such programs are being exploited by ‘illegal immigrants’ and other undeserving minorities  (if you don’t have time to read Skockpol & Williamson’s — it’s worth a read — here’s another podcast link, of Skocpol speaking at Oxford:

These books are not explicitly about schooling — but I think they have obvious implications, as the school population rapidly becomes ‘majority minority’ (as it already is in some states and many large cities), attacks on the very idea of ‘public’ free education will become more open, and gain support.

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