The use of coded language sends another message to the people of color that these statements concern: that we are not part of the conversation, that our opinions do not matter and that our voices are not heard. And when our voices are silenced, it can have repercussions that go far beyond the world of rhetoric. Alienating people of color in the national dialogue leads to disenfranchising people of color in our political process. Race-baiting speech is being used to advance voter suppression efforts across the country.
Voter suppression policies have been introduced in more than 20 states, and have recently passed in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Minnesota. These policies have been promoted through the worst kind of leadership – building support using coded language about who should be able to participate in our democracy and who shouldn’t among portions of America that want to take control of “their country” back. To provide further evidence of the motivation behind these efforts, Pennsylvania House Leader Mike Turzai remarked during a Republican State Committee meeting in late June: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
Every time politicians use coded racial language and American citizens do not push back, race-baiting remains an acceptable part of our national discourse. When a politician makes an inflammatory statement about the president, another politician, or simply a group of voters and is not taken to task, it validates that statement and implies that it holds truth. When we neglect to call this rhetoric out for what it is and hold our leaders accountable, we implicitly agree with the intolerance being peddled and the harmful impact it has on our communities.
The most effective way to defeat the influence of race-baiting is to do it together. ColorOfChange.org is dedicated to empowering the over 800,000 members of our organization, as well as their friends, family and the entire American community. With platforms like Watch the Race 2012, we are coming together to call out bigotry when we see it. Together, we are standing up against this rhetoric and ensuring that the media covers these stories and their impact on our communities. Together, we will raise our voices and demand that race-baiting – coded or not – be exposed and shut down. And together, we will fight against the discriminatory policies that stem from discriminatory rhetoric.
From the presidential debates to local town halls, we must watch and listen closely for racially-fueled speech and make sure our elected leaders know that we are listening, that we see the subtext of these remarks, and that we will not stand for racism in our political dialogue. If we do anything less, we will fulfill race-baiting politicians’ goals – to keep our voices silent and our votes from counting.
Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange.org With more than 800,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation’s largest black online civil rights organization.