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The Codewords of Race #Race2012

Race 2012 - a documentary broadcast on PBS and now available online

Race 2012 - a documentary broadcast on PBS and now available onlineI’ve been blogging about Race leading up to the Presidential Election as part of a team of bloggers inspired by the PBS documentary Race 2012. And one of the things that I felt was most striking in the documentary was when they talked about the codewords of race.

I could immediately think of hundreds of examples.

People will almost never come right out and say something blatantly racist, although unfortunately, I can think of a few people who never bothered to learn any code.

Most people will say things like “The neighborhood is really changing,” or “He just doesn’t look Presidential,” when what they are getting at is really about Race.

This Time article by Touré talks about the word “welfare” as a code for black – and poor – and that’s it’s been used by Republican candidates since Ronald Reagan to evoke fear in the White electorate. And to get our the vote.

There was a story on KPCC about the role of Race in the Presidential Election where two African-American men in Inglewood were interviewed – and they talked about the code as well. They mentioned the birth certificate controversy that still comes up for President Obama and how recently Mitt Romney made a joke that he was born in Michigan and you wouldn’t have to look hard to find his birth certificate. That’s code.

Or, “We need to bring America back.” More code.

Those men felt, and I think it’s clear, that those words, those phrases don’t come right out and say we don’t want a Black President, but they say it in another way.

In the documentary Race 2012 there is a clip that is amazing and horrifying of all these politicians and pundits using their codewords.

I hear codewords in my own world. As I’ve said, my kids attend a school where they’re the racial minority, and when prospective parents – White parents – ask me about whether they should send their kids, they get very tentative, and they say things like “I wouldn’t want my child to be only blonde in the school,” or “I just don’t know if my child will be able to make friends,” which is crazy, of course, since kids don’t see any problem with Race; they make friends with anyone.

How does the old song go? “…You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, you’ve got to be carefully taught.”

Please check out the other bloggers who are bravely joining the discussion of Race – all listed here on Monica’s Tangled Web.

And if you missed the broadcast of the Race 2012, you can watch it on PBS anytime. Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter @PBSRAce2012 as well.

Sarah Auerswald is the CEO and co-Founder of MomsLA, a Community of the Top Mom Bloggers in Los Angeles and Orange County.


Sarah Auerswald (598 Posts)

Sarah Auerswald is the CEO and Co-Founder of MomsLA. She writes about life in LA while raising her 2 sons and is the founder of She was an English Major at Brown University, and yet nowadays feels free to ignore grammar rules anytime she wants. Like Now. She's married, uses a Mac, and grew up in Hawaii.


  1. Monica 30 October, 2012 at 22:18 Reply

    Great post, Sarah. Another code word I’ve heard in reference to the president is when he’s described as un-American. John Sununu said he needs to “learn” how to be American. I shiver each time I hear that.

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