Learning to Hear the Dog Whistle

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Dog whistles are intended to be silent for everyone except for a select few listeners. But in his best-selling book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford University Press, 2014), Ian Haney López seeks to transmit a message all real estate professionals should be listening for.

Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

The term, “dog whistle politics” describes communications that can only be heard by the intended audience (the dog). It’s used to talk about code words and phrases sent through the media that are intentionally designed to be understood by a select group of the world’s population. In the book, López offers a vivid account of how politicians, secret societies, and commercial advertisers employ these slick tactics to send racial messages. These veiled messages are generally used to garner support and persuade white voters to support policies that favor rich, conservative constituencies.

The goal of the dog whistle, or loaded language, is to appeal to the greatest possible number of electors while undermining democracy. If voters have different conceptions of what they are hearing and supporting during a campaign, they will seemingly support the same thing while promoting institutionalized segregation and racism.

For instance, while 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. Reagan never needed to mention race, because he was blowing a dog whistle. He was sending a message about racial minorities on an inaudible level, though it was clearly heard on another level. López exposes coded messages with racist leanings that we hear every day in the media, often those that support policies that favor the extremely rich and oppose any that threaten their interests. The author peels back the many racial schemes used to drum enthusiasm and weaken unions, and highlights tainted political agendas that support rising inequality.

This book is especially important for real estate professionals to check out as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Though the National Association of REALTORS® is now on the right side of this debate, we weren’t always the bastions of fairness that we are today. It may even help agents and brokers identify and root out loaded language still lurking in our industry.

Moreover, Dog Whistle Politics is also at home at the kitchen table and the public policy classroom. It will incite lively discussions about how racial politics destabilize the American middle class.

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The 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

This review is part of Books in Brief: Lighting the Path to Housing Equality, the Weekly Book Scan’s series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. Learn more about how fair housing makes us stronger at fairhousing.realtor.

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