The Multicultural Center Theatre hosted a lecture by UC Berkeley Professor of Law Ian Haney-López on the “coded” racial appeals used by politicians to get voters to unconsciously support racially and economically discriminatory policies last night.
Haney-López’s talk focused on his upcoming book, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, in which he discusses ways that politicians use race without explicitly mentioning ethnicity, much like a dog whistle that makes no audible sound to some but still resonates with its target audience. Haney-López began his talk by detailing a history of racial politics in the United States, beginning with the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
During that era, according to Haney-López, politicians’ explicitly racist appeals to accumulate votes and pass legislation were in decline in the wake of the controversial Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which called for the desegregation of public schools in 1954. He argued that after the landmark case, conservative politicians found they could only get elected by making race the center of their campaigns, but could not do so without looking like “racist buffoons.” So Haney-López’s lecture illustrated how coded appeals allow conservative politicians to enact race-oriented policy without explicitly mentioning race. As an example of such tactics, he discussed the victory of former Alabama governor George Wallace — a hard-line segregationist Democrat — in the 1962 Alabama gubernatorial election.
“He understands the importance of racial appeals, but he doesn’t want to look like what one of his biographers called him: ‘a redneck poltergeist,’” Haney-López said. “So … he does not talk in the open language of racial hatred.”
While Wallace sought to implement policies enabling segregation, he could not do so without looking racist so he used coded appeals. Specifically, he argued for states’ rights because the Brown v. Board of Education made segregation federally illegal after 1954, so the only way that policies supporting segregation could pass were if they were at the state level, Haney-López said.
Haney-López also blames this use of race in politics for the success of politically conservative movements such as the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, which he said contributes to the continual decline of the middle class.
“I am here to suggest that they are intimately connected — that if we want to understand what’s happening in the economy and the crisis in the middle class, we really need to think about how race has been used ever since the Civil Rights era, as a way to turn against an activist government that is good for everyone,” Haney-López said.
The lecture is sponsored by the Office of the Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Academic Policy and is the latest event in the MultiCultural Center’s quarterly Diversity Lectures series. According to Ricardo Alcaino, director and Title IX coordinator at the Office of Equal Opportunity & Sexual Harassment/Title IX Compliance at UCSB, the lectures are designed to spotlight relevant issues.
“The whole idea is to encourage the community with discussion. Make it contemporary, current, fresh and pertinent to what’s going on,” Alcaino said.
Haney-López’s talk concluded with a 30-minute Q&A session in which he fielded questions from audience members, most of whom were UCSB students. Event Programmer Ruby Mojarro said she was happy to see students attend and learn from the esteemed author.
“A lot of students were asking questions, people were engaged and I think that’s really important to have someone who is engaging,” she said.
Alcaino said that although the MultiCultural Center has no fixed plans for lectures in upcoming quarters, the series may focus on African American issues and politics in the Middle East.
Diversity Series lectures are free and open to the public.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of November 13, 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.