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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Pallas

The Dog Whistle: How We Got Here

When it comes to political messaging it is important to understand the intent and power of a ‘Dog Whistle’. Only the dog hears the sound. Humans cannot hear it. A dog can be trained to do an action, obey a command, without question. The political Dog Whistle works in a similar way. Only the intended audience ‘hears’ the intended meaning. It is a code. The others hear only the actual words, which on the surface seem to represent common sense.

A well-known political Dog Whistle is the phrase “law & order”. It sounds like common sense to the general public, but to a specific group, it means something different. The famed major league baseball player known as the first Black to “break the color barrier” in baseball exposed the use of “law and order” as a Dog Whistle. In 1968, Jackie Robinson called out the Republicans “I think most White Americans have their head in the sand when it comes to race relations. White America is saying, ‘law and order’. But in their hearts, law and order simply means holding Black men down” – source: Ken Burns 2016 documentary.

In the 1960s, White voters made up the voting majority, and Republicans appealed to them through the use of Dog Whistles. Their Political Racism worked. Nixon won and powerful elites held power, controlling government policy-making.

The message that some people hear when politicians use the phrase “law and order”, is that Black people are violent and White people are victims. Dog Whistles are weapons designed to create division while pretending to honor racial equity. Others hear only the words “law and order” and think, “Yes, who isn’t for law and order?”.

The key point here is that Dog Whistle Politics is Political Racism, and we witness its use throughout history with “welfare queen”, “crackdown on crime” and the latest “critical race theory”.

Learn more about how to respond to Dog Whistle Politics in a three-part discussion series: Message Vision Not Division brought to you by Liberal Leadership League with content from the Race-Class Academy:

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