Politico has an article up about dog-whistle politics and Prez. Obama's subtle/not-so-subtle way of deploying it in his speeches.
It includes a video, clips of him speaking to black and white audiences, including a hilarious bit of him telling the cashier at Ben's Chili Bowl, "Naw, we straight," when she asked him if he wanted change.
Now, I became familiar with the dog-whistle during the Clinton years because the man was a master of communication, and we all know that now. He could go into a black church, or a room full of intellectuals, or a meeting of blue-collar union workers and have everyone thinking he knew where they were coming from. He knew how to turn his southern accent up or down.
I suppose we all have tells that disclose to people our true selves. One could argue Obama's two biggest are 1) Michelle and 2) his affinity for Newports.
But aside from that, this caught my eye:
John McWhorter, a linguist at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said that he believes that in Obama’s case coded messaging, which can be a matter of words, sound or grammar or all of them, is partly conscious because “he knows it arouses black audiences.”
“Black English, especially the cadence, is becoming America’s youth lingua franca, especially since the mainstreaming of hip-hop. Its sound conveys warmth, authenticity and a touch of seductive danger not only to blacks but many whites, especially ones below about 50,” McWhorter said. “Obama’s tapping into that cadence helped win him the election. Imagine John Kerry or Hillary Clinton saying, ‘Yes, we can!’ It would have sounded phony — only in what I call a ‘black-cent’ can it sound prophetic and arousing.” (emphasis mine)
I wouldn't say "Yes we can" is anything like "naw, we straight," but seriously.
I love how McWhorter says the cadence of Obama's voice is seductively dangerous, like he's got us all hypnotized because he said "naw, we straight" in a black-owned restaurant.
But what bothers me is that this man says, "Black English" and thinks it's ok. Of course I know what he meant, but it conveys this idea of other-ness to the way black people speak, as if the way black people speak English isn't really English at all.
Plus, well, all black people don't speak like that!
I mean, even in some southern states where people manage to mangle the English language beyond recognition, it's still called English. No one walks around talking about "Southern English," even when the people speaking it sound backwards and uneducated at worst, or like Blanche DuBois at best.
It's still just "English."