I first heard the term “dog-whistle racism” a couple of years ago on twitter and was instantly curious about what it meant. Its name is a pretty good descriptor for what it is: “us[ing] coded words and themes that to appeal to conscious or subconscious racist concepts and frames. For example, the terms “welfare queen,” “states’ rights,” “Islamic terrorist,” “uppity,” and “illegal alien” all activate racist concepts….”
I saw a great example of it today in a local real-estate blog, DC Mud.
I read it quickly at first, curious about the pending development because it’s a couple blocks from where I live. I was talking about it with a coworker who mentioned he wasn’t thrilled with how the whole post started, so I read again, paying more attention:
Though it may be hard to believe, U Street still has a few rough edges without the pizazz of chic bars and swanky loft apartments…
And then I knew exactly what he meant. “Rough edges” is racist dog whistling. The area has been “in transition” for years. It’s an historically Black neighborhood that borders two predominantly white areas – Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan – and is getting gentrified like crazy, even in the face of the housing bust.
If you have any doubt that these code words trigger racist concepts, read the comments.