When Paul Ryan talked about a "real culture problem" in "our inner cities in particular"this week, he wasn't the first American politician to be slammed for using racially coded language to get a point across. Far from it.
Ian Haney López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, says it's not just the promotion of old-fashioned racial stereotypes that we need to worry about. Rather, he argues, it's the manipulation of racism in service of very specific goals.
López's book focuses on elected officials' ability to tap into bias without being explicit about it, all to gain support for what he calls "regressive policies," which, ironically, hurt working-class white people as much as people of color.
"This sort of coded speech operates on two levels," he says. "It triggers racial anxiety and it allows plausible deniability by crafting language that lets the speaker deny that he's even thinking about race."
It's disturbing and frustrating, and more than ever, it's what racism sounds like and how politics works.