As is well known, Republican politicians and pundits frequently use words like “European,” “Chicago,” “golf,” “skinny,” “angry,” and “welfare” to subtly remind voters that President Obama is black. This leads people who would otherwise support President Obama to oppose him. Perhaps the best example came during the Republican presidential primary, when Rick Perry described the national debt as a “big black cloud” hanging over America. More recently, a Romney aide called attention to the president’s race by referencing America’s “Anglo-Saxon heritage.”
But in his acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney went even further, delivering a shockingly racist address. Below I will enumerate some examples (follow along with the transcript here):
“Mr. Chairman”: This is a reference to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. Just two years ago, Priebus replaced Michael Steele, an African-American, as RNC chairman. By mentioning the current RNC chairman, Romney is reminding voters that Priebus is not Steele, and therefore not black, which reminds voters that Romney is not Obama, and therefore not black.
“delegates”: Next, Romney mentions the convention delegates, a reminder that most of the delegates are white (unlike Obama).
“I”: The word “I” reminds people of themselves. Racists, upon hearing the word “I,” are reminded of who they are — which reminds them that they are white, which reminds them that Obama is not. Critics may claim that Romney is talking about himself here rather than about the listeners — but Romney, too, is white, so a word like “I,” urging voters to focus on Romney, also reminds them that he is white and Obama is black. The shape of the word “I” also recalls a tall, thin person, and, as mentioned earlier, “skinny” is a well-established racist dog whistle.
“accept”: This word sounds just like the word “except,” which evokes the idea of exclusivity. Blacks are excluded from white-only country clubs.
“your”: Like “I,” this word asks voters to think about who they are — i.e., white.
“nomination”: Two people are being nominated for president on major-party tickets this year. One is black. By referring to the nomination, Romney is reminding people which one they shouldn’t vote for — for racial reasons, of course.
“for”: This word is a reference to the Gettysburg Address, which began with the word “four.” This is a cynical use of Civil War imagery, particularly in light of the fact that the convention was held in Florida, which was part of the Confederacy.
“President of the United States of America”: This reminds voters of the current president — and his race.
“I”: see above.
“do”: This is one of the most obscure racist allusions in Romney’s speech, but it appears to be a reference to the song “Do the Conga,” which was performed by the British band “Black Lace.” This is doubly racist: not only does it remind people that Obama is black, it also recalls Great Britain, suggesting to people that Obama was not born in America. (Though no one thinks Obama was born in Great Britain, an effective racist dog whistle is subtle and involves misdirection. Anyway, Kenya is a former British colony.)
“so”: While Romney was giving his speech, Hurricane Isaac was ravaging New Orleans, on the anniversary of the end of Hurricane Katrina. In that context, the word “so” reminds people of Wolf Blitzer’s famous description of Katrina’s victims as “so poor [and] so black.”
“with”: Any word that means “together” is a call for white racists to stick together against the black outsider.
“humility”: Another reference to a foreign band, Humble Pie (again, British), who were known for their cover of the song “Black Coffee.”
“deeply”: Everybody knows the phrase “Beauty is only skin deep.” Therefore, the word “deep” is associated with the word “skin,” which reminds people of Obama’s skin color.
“moved”: This word asks racists to recall how upset they are over black people moving into their neighborhoods.
“by the”: When hearing these words, one immediately thinks of the song “Down by the Bay,” whose next words are “where the watermelons grow.” Here, Romney is evoking the stereotype of black people eating watermelons; it’s a very underhanded tactic.
“trust”: MSNBC recently proved that Republicans are trying to link Obama in voters’ minds to the philandering ways of Tiger Woods. The word “trust” is an overt and reprehensible callback to that theme.
“you”: See above.
“have”: The GOP caters to the haves while ignoring the have-nots. As with “welfare,” this word is strongly associated with the racial aspects of income inequality.
“placed”: The two most important flatfish in Europe, according to Wikipedia, are the plaice and the sole. Romney is asking Republicans to think of themselves as the former, while the latter is obviously meant to represent black people, as it recalls soul music (clearly intentional, given the musical theme of the speech established by the earlier references to two British bands and a children’s song).
“in me”: Continuing with the musical theme, this references the song “The Revolution in Me” from the rock group Black Country Communion. Though the band is American, its name is a clear shout-out to the so-called “birthers” in the audience. “Communion” is also reminiscent of church and the president’s former association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
I’m running out of space, but I think I’ve made it clear that Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech was full of racist dog whistles. There are simply too many of these code words in the speech for all of them to be unintentional. If you look hard enough, you’ll find even more examples in the rest of the speech. I know I did.
Daniel Sterman lives in Jerusalem, Israel, with his wife and two children.