Book Review: Dog Whistle Politics

Paris Apodaca, Editor-in-Chief

Is racism hidden in plain sight? In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney Lopez, explains how politicians exploit race to their own advantage.

As society progresses, racism changes and adapts. Rather than a heightened sense of violent racism, racism has become subtle and subverted. Lopez defines political dog whistles as “Coded racial appeals that carefully manipulate hostility toward non-whiteness.”

Lopez is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at University of California Berkeley. He specializes in race and constitutional law. In the intro to his book, Lopez explained that he had the preconception that America was moving in the right direction in regards to racism. Until Lopez was able to study with Derrick Bell.

Bell taught that “Those Herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary ‘peaks of progress,’ short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance.” (5)

Although society progresses, it still holds onto subconscious messaging through the media and politicians. As a society we will always need to fight and strive for equality due to subconscious and systematic racism. As free citizens it is our obligation to protect the rights of others.

Lopez characterizes dog-whistle politics as a form of strategic racism. Strategic racism is “…purposeful efforts to use racial animus as leverage to gain material wealth, political power, or heightened social standing.” (46) Thus, using other people’s racial identities for political gains.

An example that was made was Clinton inviting Jesse Jackson and Sister Souljah to the White House as a publicity stunt. Clinton’s “intended audience was not in the room, but rather were the white voters whom Clinton hoped would see him “standing up “ to blacks by pushing away rather than embracing the Reverend and his supporters.” (108)

On the outside perspective, Clinton’s invite to Jesse Jackson and Sister Souljah could be seen as a move in the right direction by understanding social and racial issues that plague our society. While, the inside perspective is that Clinton used Jesse Jackson and Sister Souljah to rally white conservative voters. A dog-whistle to the white conservative voters.

Lopez suggests that the common person can combat Dog-Whistle politics by thinking about race consciously, speaking out about racial issues, challenging the strategic racial narrative and “Being smarter about whom we support.” (227) These concepts and ideals from Dog Whistle Politics can help individuals understand today’s political climate and work toward a just world.