A Brief Look into Racist Tropes and Dog-whistling

Other | Thursday 16th May 2019 | Nick Gordon

Note: this article contains graphic imagery


When BBC Radio 5 Live host Danny Baker used a chimpanzee to depict the arrival of the newest member to the royal family, many couldn’t see what the problem was. After all, it was simply a joke and those who saw it as racist must themselves be part of the problem.


Whether he genuinely meant it as just a joke and not a racial attack, I’ll leave for others to speculate over.


However, what is certain are that “jokes”, comments and acts – such as black football players having bananas thrown at them – that promote the demeaning of black and brown ethnicity, are indeed racist. And here’s why.




I’ll begin with a simple question: How do you make one human inflict degrading violence and suffering upon another?

Such as, tying a man to a stake, castrating and stuffing his genitals into his mouth, that is then sewn shut, (women had their breasts cut off) before setting him or her alight in front of a large, enthusiastic, braying crowd as entertainment. With the 5-hour ordeal ending with their charred remains taken as prized souvenirs.


First, you have to demote that person to the rank of sub-human. This is done principally by likening them to animals, vermin or insects, or using outlandish caricatures.

Coon; monkey; gorilla; or plain old animal are racial epithets that serve this purpose. Our sexual reproduction likened to that of cockroaches – “they breed like 'roaches”.

This is how violence and genocide begin; with dehumanisation. That is why racially-charged animal comparisons cause such offence, because it is the known precursor to something quite abhorrent. To replicate it is, at very least, to trivialise the pain and suffering of the African diaspora and their descendants, at worst to endorse it.


Crowd attends the lynching of an African American


Aiding Warfare and Torture


Skinny; Gook; Raghead, Nip, Zipperhead etc. are further examples of dehumanisation, this time at an industrial level - that industry being warfare.

During times of military conflict, such teminology is used with the single purpose of overriding human empathy and compassion, and for the enablement of torturing and/or killing your enemy. As seen when, in 2004, it came to light that US soldiers were committing degrading acts of violence and torture against prisoners held at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.


Abu Ghraib prisoner placed in stress position with a hood over his head


Racist Dog-whistling


Dog-whistling is the go-to tactic that utilises a statement or slogan that conveys a controversial, secondary message understood only by those who support it.

Dog-whistling is a very useful tool for racists, especially those in the political arena (the Clinton's are well known for this). It not only gets its intended message across to its target audience, but has the added benefit of setting the public against one another, as it won’t be understood by those who know nothing of its origins and deeper meaning. They in turn will accuse black people, and people of colour, of being overly sensitive.


For instance, when Donald Trump said he’d bring back “law and order” to America, white nationalists, such as former Grand Wizard of the KKK, David Duke, knew exactly what he meant, racing to give Trump his support.


"Law and Order" (and the Formation of the US Police)


This term has deep ties to the slavery-era because slavery was seen as law and order, and the freeing of slaves seen as a danger to white America - as depicted in the highly controversial 1915 film The Birth of a Nation.


The formation of the police force in America began from slave patrols and night watchers for the explicit purpose of controlling the behaviour of black people and returning the escapees to their owners.

The abolishment of slavery did not bring about an end to the suffering of black America. Some have argued it made things worse, as lynch mobs formed to hunt and kill black people falsely accused of criminal activity. All to preserve law and order.


Poster offering reward for the capture of a slave


Understanding – A Lack Thereof


The lack of understanding by those who so easily dismiss our claims by telling us that we’re the racists for thinking of ourselves as apes, is pure magical thinking designed to absolve the offender and preserve the dignity of whiteness, even as ours is stripped away. It speaks to arrogance and an unobtainable experience – blackness – that white people, particularly men, (with exception to the Irish) cannot begin to contemplate.

I cannot recall a white woman explicitly telling me that racism is no longer a thing, but I’ve had my fair share of white men tell me how black people have it good or better, or that racism no longer exists!

And when viewed through this lens, makes Baker’s half-hearted, clumsy apology all the more worse when he called those who found his tweet offensive, “diseased.”


To some degree, I understand why white males have trouble comprehending our situation, as it is one that must be lived, the same way I cannot fully appreciate the shit women or the gay community goes through living under a patriarchal society.

However, the difference is, I’m damn well trying, and not simply dismissing their lived experience, or telling them they’ve never had it so good.

Instead, I'm listening to my girlfriend and her mates, and adjusting my behaviour and attitude accordingly.


To those who would dismiss us as being overly sensitive, I would advise they do the same by understanding racism and all the tropes that comes with it.