Racial Code Words Obscure Real Issues

Juan Williams, The Hill, January 30, 2012

Two weeks ago at the Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., I asked each GOP presidential candidate some pointed questions about the racial politics that will play a big role in the presidential campaign.


The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are “entitlement society”—as used by Mitt Romney—and “poor work ethic” and “food stamp president”—as used by Newt Gingrich. References to a lack of respect for the “Founding Fathers” and the “Constitution” also make certain ears perk up by demonizing anyone supposedly threatening core “old-fashioned American values.”

The code also extends to attacks on legal immigrants, always carefully lumped in with illegal immigrants, as people seeking “amnesty” and taking jobs from Americans.


Last week a passionate Republican told GOP candidate Rick Santorum: “I never refer to Obama as President Obama because legally he is not [president]. He constantly says that our Constitution is passé and he ignores it. … He is an avowed Muslim and my question is, why isn’t something being done to get him out of government? He has no legal right to be calling himself president.”

Santorum did not blink. The man who recently said he meant “blah people”—when the world heard him say “black people”—as  he spoke about parasitic Americans who get better lives by taking “somebody else’s money,” did not correct the assault on the truth. Instead he agreed that Obama is attacking the Constitution and said: “Well, look, I’m trying my best to get him out of office.”


But the question that caused the most controversy was the one I posed to Gingrich.

The former Speaker has declared that black people should demand jobs instead of food stamps. And he has proposed having poor students work as janitors in their high schools. Regardless of how they were intended, poor people and minorities sense that with those comments Gingrich is winking—some call it “dog whistling”—at certain white audiences by intimating that black people are lazy, happy to live off the government and lacking any intellect.

Gingrich did not answer my question but rather threw red meat to Republicans in South Carolina, a state with a long history of racial politics.

He used the same rhetorical technique of the segregationist politicians of the past: rejecting the premise of the question, attacking the media and playing to the American people’s resentment of liberal elites, minorities and poor people.


The problem is not a lack of work ethic on the part of the poor, who are disproportionately minorities. The problem is there are few good jobs for blue-collar people with the best work ethic.

Let’s have an honest debate about why this is the case and what we can do to fix it.

But I regret that our political discourse has become so fragmented and combative that the point I was trying to make was obscured by pro-wrestling theatrics and post-debate spin.

Poverty, unemployment and the hopelessness that pervade minority communities are real issues that the GOP nominee, and President Obama for that matter, should address in this campaign.

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  • I disagree with Juan Williams, both in context and intent. 

    However, he has an unintended point worthy of pondering: American culture was founded by White people for White people (posterity). Acknowledging particulars of our nation’s origins is impossible without paying homage to its European moorings. 

    Observed Marcus Garvey (1887-1940): “This is a white man’s country. He found it, he conquered it, and we can’t blame him if he wants to keep it. I am not vexed with the white man of the south for Jim Crowing me because I am black. I never built any street cars or railroads. The white man built them for his convenience. And if I don’t want to ride where he’s willing to let me ride, then I’d better walk.”

  • Oh well,  I guess this is the same as the racial code that Obama used when referring to people who,  to paraphrase, “bitterly cling to guns and religion”. I think he made that remark in rural PA.  I’m sure blacks and white urban liberals lapped that up too.

    • Anonymous

      He was referring to people in Pennsylvania, but Barry Soetero (or whatever his name is) actually pronounced those words among his friends at a fundraiser in San Francisco.

  • Dear Juan Williams,

    Remember when?


    Then for some inexplicable reason, besides the fact that he’s a racial panderer, or he was poking the eyes of the libs who wanted NPR to ditch him, Roger Ailes gives him a new contract with extra moolah.

    Those of us who cite blacks’ narcissism are spot on.  None of the supposed code words cited here have anything really to do with blacks per se.  It’s just that they’re so wrapped up in themselves that they think you’re as obsessed with them as they’re obsessed with themselves.  If a Republican Presidential debate dealt with capital gains taxes on silver mining in Lithuania, Juan Williams would find a way to make that “racial code” for hating blacks.

  • What passes for conservative in the early 21st century……

  • No, he’s invited on conservative talk shows as the token liberal black.

  • Oil Can Harry

    Don’t tell me this intellectual lightweight is still whining over the verbal beatdown he received from Newt Get-rich!

    Since I’m rooting against Newt I was alarmed at the way Juan kept serving up softballs over the plate to Gingrich at the South Carolina debate. Juan was so inept that for a minute I wondered if he was secretly trying to help Newt; then I remembered that Williams was just another low-IQ affirmative action hire. 

  • Anonymous

    Racial code words have come into use because of sanctions against discussing racial differences. Orientals, whites, Hispanics, and blacks really do have different average IQs, crime rates, and illegitimacy rates. Until it becomes safe to discuss these candidly and publicly, along with the likely biological reasons for them, code words will remain in use. 

    • anon

      Hispanics and blacks don’t fare as well as Asians or whites because while young white men and young Asian men are planning for college and getting a good career, black and Hispanic ‘youths’ are already fathers (of multiple children to different women).  They drop out of school to support it doing whatever they can, they repeat the mistakes and society has to pay for it.  Meanwhile, liberals and race hustlers will blame these disparities on whites for why blacks and hispanics are poor and in prison and being irresponsible and self destructive with their lives rather than trying to correct the culture of blacks and Hispanics.

  • Anonymous

    What we really need is an honest debate about why it is that over forty years after the civil rights legislation was signed blacks still have a rate of violent crime that is eight times the white rate, a rate of illegitimacy that is three times the white rate, and why the race gap in academic performance and test scores is as wide as ever. 
    Those who maintain that these facts are due to the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination should certainly have the right to do so. Those who maintain that these facts are due to genetic differences, which in turn have been caused by different population pressures in the past should have the equal right to present their arguments without being afraid of losing their jobs. 

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there are a lack of jobs for blue-collar workers.  So why, if this is the case, would someone like Juan Williams *not* want a moritorium on immigration–particularly illegal immigration?  It is impossible to look at black unemployment numbers and not blame cheap immigrant labor somewhat–especially if you won’t blame the welfare state or the black man’s poor work habits.

  • Anonymous

    Black activists, even “moderate” ones like Juan Williams, have made a cottage industry out of unmasking all manner of “code words” for racism.  The best way to fight these people is to simply ask, “Your point?” 

    Here’s a couple of related questions:  Why has this clown been appearing on “The O’Reilly Factor” as a regular guest?  Can’t the “conservative” Fox News Channel find a foil for Bill O’Reilly who is possessed of genuine intellect? 

    • http://www.vdare.com/articles/freedom-of-association-heard-of-it

      One such denouncer is pundit Bill O’Reilly, who screamed about the wickedness and backwardness of the white students for days. In a recent column, [Prom Night – All White, May 08, 2003] Mr. O’Reilly pontificates about how helpless he, you, the federal government, the courts and presumably the United Nations all are in preventing the prom or punishing the students.

      “You can’t sue because the event is being held off-campus. It’s a private party, and no person of color is welcome. Yet the party is being held under the banner of Taylor High’s junior prom. Yes, there is an alternative prom where everyone is welcome, but still a number of your classmates do not want to celebrate with you.”

      It’s terrific that Mr. O’Reilly recognizes that there are limits to the power of the state to interfere with private social events, and so does Mr. Shapiro, who sadly acknowledges, “Authorities are powerless to interfere” with the white prom.

  • Anonymous

    Juan Williams got his halo by having a problem with NPR.  But he is still a liberal and still a Negro.

    • Anonymous



      • Anonymous

        When I weas a child, in the Northeast, I was taught to say “colored people” rather than the ” n” word which was current.  Years later I was told I could not say colored people and should say negro.  Now I am told only black or African-American will do.

        I am frankly sick of being told how to speak and believe.!

      • Anonymous

        If a white racialist site cannot tolerate the word “negro”, calling things what they legitimately are, I don’t belong here. Goodbye!

  • Anonymous

    He can’t rewrite history to his liking.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    The language of GOP racial politics is heavy on euphemisms that allow the speaker to deny any responsibility for the racial content of his message. The code words in this game are ‘entitlement society’, ‘poor work ethic’, ‘food stamp president.’

    Wow, Juan!  Congratulations for cracking White Racist Code Speech with your purloined White Decoder Ring!!

    You’ve reaped millions, Juan, by masquerading as a journalist and whiny race baiter.  You trash the same system that has allowed you to rise via Affirmative Action and has dished out trillions of dollars of freebies to “your” people.

    Just think, Juan, if it weren’t for the  Founding Fathers there would have been no Constitution and no “Civil Rights” and you’d still be in Africa.

    Even the Daily Kos, in Juan Williams Is a Toilet called you a paid pinata for white conservatives:

    Juan Williams is/was a repository for the fecal matter of white conservative bigotry, and a need to maintain superiority over negroes who dare not to step off of the sidewalk when white folks pass.” Or Williams is actually ‘coprophagic’, he eats feces.

    Want it to end?  Turn off the Faux “Newsnetwork” AND 0bama — that’s what the FF or OFF buttons on your TV remote are for — it will also do your blood pressure a whole lot of good.