Newt Gingrich and the Art of Racial Dog Whistling

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Jeffrey Goldberg of “The Atlantic” does a wonderful job of describing what he refers to as racist “dog whistling” by leading Republicans.  The writer explains the manner by which America has walked away from blatant race-baiting, but is fully willing to elect a candidate who engages in “dog whistling,” or referencing race in ways that allow him to avoid accountability for the harmful effect of his remarks.

Golberg references the antics of Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who has taken dog whistling to another level.  In the world according to Gingrich:

Black people have lost the desire to perform a day’s work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them something because they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps. And the pathologies afflicting black Americans are caused partly by the Democratic Party, which has created in them a dependency on government not dissimilar to the forced dependency of slaves on their owners.

There is something beautifully educational about the presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich.  The fact that his tactics are working serves as a clear reminder that racism is alive and well in America, and I rarely find anyone who (like three years ago) tries to convince me that we live in some kind of post-racial society.   The subtle racism that has frustrated many millions of African Americans for decades is being laid out on the table for all to see.  Like the five-year old who snaps a photo of the boogeyman under his bed, black people are able to point to right wing reactions to President Obama as all the proof of racism they need.

What we’re also seeing in America is a bit of a civil war.  The irrationality of racial hatred runs so deep that there are some who would rather see America crash and burn than to see a black man standing proudly in the White House.   The talk of assassinating our leader and defying the federal government has rarely been greater than it is right now.

Simultaneously, the battle against racism leads many black people to blanketly support any policy of the Obama Administration as if they are trying to score points for a basketball team.  Democracy has been thrown out the window in exchange for a state of racialized Martial Law, where people are not voting for Obama as much as they are voting against racist Republicans.  Like slaves huddled up in fear of their masters, we are terrorized by those who seek to use Republican racial animosity as a threat to get us to run for cover with the Democratic Party.

All the while, there is hope for America.  When a doctor gives you medicine to cure a virus, the disease typically flares up before it disappears.   When a vicious wild animal is being killed, it fights for its life before it dies.  The disease of racism is being directly confronted by the mere existence of a bi-racial president.  Like any disease, America’s racial virus has flared up and those who hold onto to the ideologies of our past are fighting like hell to keep those ideas alive.

What doesn’t kill a nation usually makes it stronger. One only wonders if this difficult period in our nation’s history is going to have a positive or negative long-term effect on our country.  Men like Newt Gingrich are naturally able to fuel the fire of racial animosity that burns inside those with a threatened sense of entitlement.   The evidence that America continues to heal is the fact that for millions of Americans, Newt Gingrich’s racial dog whistling simply does not work.

It is for all of these reasons that Gingrich’s racial politics may earn him a few fans in the south, but it won’t get him anywhere near the White House.  America is becoming a better country because of the Obama presidency, whether we like it or not.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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