Oct 10, 2012

By: Jimmy Williams

I am a son of the South. I was raised Republican, to be a God-fearing Christian and taught from a very early age that black Americans were lesser than me, beneath me as a white man. My southern, patrician daddy taught me a public lingo to help me walk through my early years, a few choice words to be used in public like “boy” and “welfare queen” when referring to blacks.  Behind closed doors and in private was a different matter. I had a smaller dictionary: “ni**er” and “darky” sufficed. And while I shudder today at the thought of saying those words, owning my past is part of my present penance and very much the key to my future.

I waltzed into my teenage years and figured out two things very quickly: that the woman who was raising me to be a gentleman with a firm moral code was, in fact, a black woman named Bertha. I also figured out that I was very different from most of my white male friends, that I was a young gay man growing up in that conservative South. And I hid it from the people that mattered most to me. I “butched it up,” so to speak, so no one would know who I really was. There were code words for me: “sissy,” “queer,” “f*g,” “gay” to name a few. I’d hear things like “he’s a little light in his loafers” or “I know which side his bread is buttered on.” It felt terrible to hear them and to cope, I transferred my hurt towards the only group of people I could find more vulnerable than me: southern blacks.

This time frame was the late 1970s and early 1980s and while much of the nation was edging towards to the late 20th Century, the South was still stuck in the 1960s. So here I was, a little “sissy” coming to terms with who I was and a little bigot coming to terms with my own racism towards the people around me. Looking back, this was the loneliest period of my life where everyone around me was different: my skin color was different from that of my nanny, my sexuality was different from all the other boys in my neighborhood, and I couldn’t tell a soul. I mastered the delicate art of living in both worlds, black and white, gay and straight. And I mastered the art of hearing and speaking the dog whistle.

After college I moved to Washington, DC and went straight into a career of politics. It was a natural fit, I soon learned, because the art of politics is the ability to stay afloat, to walk that fine line between two worlds: what the public thinks and reality. The art of the dog whistle came into prominence with the advent of the Southern Strategy and was distilled into today’s modern political playbook by a fellow South Carolinian, the late Lee Atwater.

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1 comment:

  1. To confirm what everybody knows is fine but in a lot of ways pointless. The fact of the matter is aside from using the most vitriolic language and explicit/direct insults, those talking in "code" will deny any malicious intent. They will deny the racial implications. Those who will support such individuals are in denial too or the racially coded language simply does not bother them. We know what exactly what it is. The code was cracked a long time ago. Maybe the hope is that constantly pressing them on it, the offenders will ultimately admit to it. Like Colonel Jessup in a Few Good Men, it probably kills them on the inside that they cannot openly state their disdain and own it. They want to show that they are big and bad enough to say what they think. But they also know that to do so would be at their own peril. Society accepts coded racism, but blatant racism is not accepted and to be a blatant racist, even though they hate to be stifled, would be to their detriment. So they talk in this supposed code and deny up and down that it is code. Then we are having this conversation 100 times over.