On matters of racial identity, many observers in the African-American community say he benefits from what's known as “dog-whistle politics." His language, mannerisms and symbols resonate deeply with his black supporters, even as the references largely sail over the heads of white audiences. This is part of the reason that as a candidate, Obama won intense support among African-Americans while never being branded, in the fashion of a Jesse Jackson, as a candidate defined by race.In January remarks about the economy, Obama made a reference to “American dreams that are being deferred,” a phrase black audiences understood without a citation as black poet Langston Hughes’. First lady Michelle Obama often cites her upbringing in the “South Side of Chicago.” On Election Night, the winner promised that “we as a people will get there,” an echo of Martin Luther King Jr. made more powerful by not expressly invoking King’s name. Or a year ago in South Carolina, when he tried to swat down the persistent rumors that he is Muslim. “They try to bamboozle you, hoodwink you,” Obama said that night, in what many listeners heard as an unmistakable reference to activist Malcolm X, as portrayed in Spike Lee’s movie.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
In Epic Journey, we discuss the president's skill at "code-switching," the practice of moving between variations of languages in different settings. A recent article in The Politico (h/t to Tina Hossain) elaborates on the point: