Politics & Race
Four Political Dog Whistle Phrases You Should Know

As the 2016 campaign season reaches its contentious climax, candidates from both sides of the aisle are ratcheting up their political rhetoric. While most of the American voters have already chosen their sides, the contestants seek to rope in the holy grail of political capital – the undecided voter. You will begin to hear these ambitious candidates sneak certain phrases into their stump speeches that you might not recognize, but will resound with a certain constituency of the American electorate–elusive moderate white male undecided voter. We are here to translate these phrases into plain English so you will recognize what these candidates are talking about when they are blowing the “dog whistle” to communicate their true intentions without riling up the “Spidey Senses” of Black America. 

1. Big Government – This is the most ubiquitous phrase in all of Dog Whistle politics. Their philosophy is that the government has no business telling free, hard-working Americans (pronounced wyt pee-pull”) what to do, because big government is evil, incompetent and wasteful. Conservatives hate “big government”–but only when it doesn’t work in their favor. They hate entitlements for the poor and underprivileged–except when they help midwest farmers (pronounced “wyt peepull”) or large corporations. They believe in personal liberty–except when it means a woman can choose what she does with her body or a person can marry whomever they want. They hate government interference in education (e.g. “common core”)–unless it a teacher tries to teach about slavery, the civil war, the Native American holocaust or any other transgression by our American forefathers. Big government is evil because big government freed the slaves. Big government repealed Jim Crow laws. Big government decided Roe v. Wade. Big government outlawed “separate but equal.” Big Government instituted a system to  stop voter disenfranchisement. Every right minorities fought for and achieved were codified by government interference. Whenever you hear a politician disparage “big government” what they’re really disparaging is a set of rules that everyone in America has to play by. Rules protect the rights of the minority from being trampled by the majority.

Dog Whistle Translation: Big Government=Rules. Why should you have to abide by rules like everyone else?

2. Freedoms – Whenever anyone uses the word “Freedom,” start running. When Hotep too-woke militants use it, they are probably seconds away from going into a rant that includes the gratuitous use of the phrase “my people” and “oppression,” but when a politician adds an “s” onto the word “freedom”– beware.  He is usually about to launch a diatribe to gin up white fear. The spooky brown terrorists hate us because of our “freedoms”. The gays are attacking God-fearing Christians’ religious “freedoms.” Whether it is Starbucks coffee cups replacing the memory of baby Jesus with snowflakes, the Homosexual illuminati trying to promote the “gay agenda” or Southern heritage enthusiasts reminiscing about when they could fly their confederate flag without consequence, their “freedoms” are always being attacked. The bellyaching phenomena of the oppression of the average American (by now you should know how it is pronounced) begins with his “freedoms.”

Dog Whistle Translation: Freedoms=Privilege. Everyone deserves freedom, but I’mma pluralize yours, White male voter, because your “freedoms” should outweigh everyone else’s.

3. We need to go Back To Traditional American Values – The hairs on the back of your neck should immediately start tingling whenever any politician starts romanticizing the past. What are “Traditional American Values,” anyway? The Founding Fathers’ slave-owning ethics? The belief that only white, male landowners should be allowed to vote? Separate but equal? Lynching homosexuals and rabble rousers? When you hear Donald Trump say he wants to Make America Great Again, you should wonder what “again” means. Was that during the time of Jim Crow, segregated schools and neighborhoods or during the era of mass incarceration?  They masturbate to memories of Reagan when corporations ran with reckless trickle-down abandon, unemployment ravaged poor communities and the answer to the drug war was cracking down on Brown boys standing on street corners and  just saying “no.” While the past looks like old episodes of “Leave it To Beaver” and smells like  apple pie on windowsills to white people, Black people tend not to romanticize anything from the past except the unity of the civil rights movement and that one birthday party they thew at Club Whispers (there was a Black club named “Whispers” or “Secrets.” in every city in America). That party was in 1998. Anything before then was sketchy.

Dog Whistle Translation: We Need To Go Back To Traditional American Values=I kinda liked 1986. And 1956. And 1856.

4. States Rights – This is the oldest of all the dog whistles. Whenever a disadvantaged minority seeks advancement, you can be sure they will roll out the decaying carcass of the “States Rights” argument. Conservatives have used this argument to justify everything from slavery and banning refugees to miscegeny and homosexual birthday cakes. According to the Constitution, every American deserves equal protection under the law–unless some old, Presbyterian white dudes in the Alabama legislature don’t like it. Politicians love to trot this argument out to convince their Christian voters that they are trying to stop their town from being inundated with drive-thru abortion clinics and transvestite child molesters kicking in their daughters’ bathroom stall doors, because… White fright. Politicians use the states rights argument the same way my mom used her authority when I asked her why I couldn’t get my ear pierced:

Because they said so.

Dog Whistle Translation: States Rights=I don’t care what the Constitution says. As long as you’re living in my house, under my roof, you’re going to do what I say.

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot

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