Book Review: Dog Whistle Politics

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle ClassDog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney López
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Release Date: January 13, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan told stories of Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. In trumpeting these tales of welfare run amok, Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle: sending a message about racial minorities inaudible on one level, but clearly heard on another. In doing so, he tapped into a long political tradition that started with George Wallace and Richard Nixon, and is more relevant than ever in the age of the Tea Party and the first black president.

Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney López offers a sweeping account of how politicians and plutocrats deploy veiled racial appeals to persuade white voters to support policies that favor the extremely rich yet threaten their own interests. Dog whistle appeals generate middle-class enthusiasm for political candidates who promise to crack down on crime, curb undocumented immigration, and protect the heartland against Islamic infiltration, but ultimately vote to slash taxes for the rich, give corporations regulatory control over industry and financial markets, and aggressively curtail social services. White voters, convinced by powerful interests that minorities are their true enemies, fail to see the connection between the political agendas they support and the surging wealth inequality that takes an increasing toll on their lives. The tactic continues at full force, with the Republican Party using racial provocations to drum up enthusiasm for weakening unions and public pensions, defunding public schools, and opposing health care reform.

Rejecting any simple story of malevolent and obvious racism, Haney López links as never before the two central themes that dominate American politics today: the decline of the middle class and the Republican Party’s increasing reliance on white voters.
Dog Whistle Politics will generate a lively and much-needed debate about how racial politics has destabilized the American middle class — white and nonwhite members alike.

I found Dog Whistle Politics utterly fascinating, horrifying and heartbreaking all at the same time. López defines dog whistling as “inaudible and easily denied in one range, yet stimulating strong reactions in another.”López dissects how dogwhistling started in the 1960s and let to the Republican party becoming the white man’s party. He is even handed though and takes Democrats to take as well.

His explanation and analysis of why being “color-blind” is actually harmful is one of the best I’ve ever read. My biggest take away from this book is what Lopez states repeatedly throughout – racism does not equal malice. It is our narrow, modern day definition of racism as overt words and deeds that have led many to believe that we are living in a post-racial society.

In the wake of recent race linked events, like the killing of unarmed suspects by police, this would be an excellent book to recommend to your friends that you would like to educate on what white privilege is and how being color-blind is actually not helpful. I consider myself pretty versed on race issues and I still learned a lot. Highly recommended for everyone.

(I received this book courtesy of the Amazon Vine Voice program.)

  • rhapsodyinbooks

    Every time I read something on this subject, it makes me too mad. I don’t know if my blood pressure could take another book! It sounds good though, especially for people who are new to these observations.

  • ChaosIsAFriend

    And the frustrating thing is that the people who need to read this book the most are the people who will refuse to read it.