Don’t make ‘dog-whistle’ statements

By Karly Dunn

(Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)
(Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS)

An episode of “30 Rock” in 2010 captured characters testing an app that released a certain sound whose tone only people over 40 could hear. As a joke, writer Frank used this app to poke fun at the age of his coworkers. In the same sphere, many can compare this to a dog whistle which people blow: the sound waves are only detectable by dogs.

Analogously, the deliberate word-coding of an opinion to make sure the person releasing information is heard by the group they have targeted is referred to as dog-whistle politics.

For example, one of the most famous dog-whistle statements was made by Ronald Reagan in 1980, when he expressed his belief in “state’s rights.”  In the context of desegregation, this statement is famously known for Reagan’s indifference and even support of segregation of whites and minorities in the United States. Without even saying he was tolerant of segregation in southern, formerly heavily-slaveholding states like Mississippi, Reagan used word coding to announce he feels it is ‘state’s rights’ he is in support of.

Labeling of blacks as ‘thugs’ has become a more common and indirect way to racially profile, while terms like “criminals” and “rapists” used by presidential candidate Donald Trump in reference to Mexican immigrants can have similarly damaging effects.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump was recently guilty of dog whistling himself with comments he made about his unfamiliarity with white supremacist and former Klu Kluk Klan grand wizard David Duke. Trump’s supposed unfamiliarity with Duke was more important than releasing a statement saying he did or did not accept Duke’s endorsement. This ultimately feels more like Reagan’s indifference and nonchalance of racism in an America that is supposed to be “post-racial.”

The casual racism that dog-whistling protects is the reason why so many people can get away with publicly stereotyping and profiling other races.  It’s the same reason why these people can release their prejudices on social media outlets and get away with it by proclaiming them as ‘opinions.’

Accusing others of taking a statement out of context is just like insulting someone and later telling that person he or she is not allowed to be offended because it’s not what you meant.  In fact, that’s exactly what it is. You do not own anyone’s emotions associated with the words you target toward them, and if you mean one thing, you should not say another.

The act of protecting one’s integrity and character by strategically choosing specific key phrases to hide what one truly wants to say is more or less a cowardly way of, in a lot of cases, being a racist in the public eye.  One can defend his or her judgmental and harsh statements as taken out of context, when in reality he or she seems to be embarrassed over being caught in the act.

Some advice for the dog-whistlers who will claim I am too politically correct or think my emotions drive my politics: if you know the words you say are remotely racist or discriminatory, don’t shield them with flowery phrases. Say what you mean. If you feel your raw thoughts and statements will be perceived in a way that the audience you have targeted might find offensive, it’s more likely because the words are actually offensive. Dog-whistling protects you for about as long as the time it takes for the words come out of your mouth or put onto a screen.

Karly Dunn is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]