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Coded and loaded: Language is still a weapon

A world without language of any kind would simply be dysfunctional. But what would a world without coded language be like? While the idea of coded language is nothing new to American culture, it appears to be wreaking more havoc as it continues to sneak around and find itself in modern discussion.

A world without coded language would change history because it would change politics. Coded language is similar to microaggressions, but on a macro level. Microaggressions typically occur within an individual conversation. While coded language can be in an individual conversation, it thrives on a larger and more public platform. Coded language is a common occurrence in the political realm and it even has its own term in political jargon. It goes by the name of dog whistle politics. Dog whistle politics, and generally coded language itself, is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It sounds innocent at first, but further analysis would say otherwise.

Coded language has also been labeled as strategic discrimination or strategic racism because of the methods in which it is used. Similar to the function of an actual dog whistle, dog whistle politics is a strategy used by politicians  as a means to reach a specific sector of their audience. Rather than saying outright racist or discriminatory words, politicians express discriminatory ideas that are coded in language that cloaks the idea to make it seem more acceptable. It has been used by both the right and left to further political gain and push policies that only benefit their respective audience. It is scary how effective it still is.

Let’s take a trip back to a pivotal time in history during the Civil Rights era when the Southern Strategy was all the hype in American politics. It was during this time that current politicians like Nixon, amongst other subsequent Republican counterparts, strategically utilized racist ideas against minorities in order to appeal to southern voters. At the time, it may have seemed normal, but nevertheless it led to more divide. If the Southern Strategy was not a concept, there would not be movements such as the War on Drugs, which disproportionately targeted poor communities and communities of color which still affects our incarceration rates today.

A world without coded language would be idealistic of course. It raises the following question: what would happen to our precious free speech? While there is no amendment in the Constitution that explicitly states coded language is bad, the ambiguity of the first amendment is what allows coded language to persist.

It was coded language that seemingly changed the demographic of political parties forever. It was coded language that made petty level crimes seem worthy of a punishment for a violent offense. It is coded language that still allows us to get away with associating terms like “welfare” and “inner city” with marginalized communities. It is coded language that creates the image in your head when you hear words like “thug,” “super predator,” or “criminal.”   The power of coded language cannot be underestimated. It is like a silent killer that continues to reinforce negative cultural stereotypes.

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