Letter to the Editor: Black Attitudes Matter

Example B. (credit: Courtesy of Zachary Hinton) Example B. (credit: Courtesy of Zachary Hinton) Example A. (credit: Courtesy of Zachary Hinton) Example A. (credit: Courtesy of Zachary Hinton)
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Dog whistle politics and the “angry black person” narrative is the 2015, millennial form of racism. Taegan Goddard explains dog whistle politics as “a type of political speech using code words that appear to mean one thing to the general population but have a different meaning for a targeted part of the audience” (Goddard). Dog whistle politics, alluding to a dog whistle that produces a high frequency sound that only dogs can hear, is used subliminally throughout media to express racism and prejudice toward minorities.

Dog whistle politics happens everywhere: in politics, in the media, and often conservative fields in the workplace. But what surprises me is the prominent use of the tactic to disregard or invalidate people of colors’ feelings at such a progressive and forward-thinking school like CMU. Even though I’ve only been a graduate student at CMU for four months, I have already been a victim of these encoded words - whether by the student who felt “uncomfortable” going to a party where the majority of people were black, or my professor who asked me to give the “black perspective.” Too many many black students, including myself, have been called “angry” or “sassy” when we are simply defending ourselves or just speaking up against wrong-doings. For example, in a group meeting for one of my projects, a classmate made an offensive statement. In response, I told that classmate his statement was racist and offensive. Instead of apologizing and correcting his offensive statement, the classmate quickly called me “angry” and told me to essentially stop complaining. If you’re reading this and have trouble understanding why this situation is problematic, let me break it down for you. Imagine someone calls your mom ugly. You try to explain to that person that you are offended and their words are hurtful. In response this person tells you to stop being “angry” and that the word “ugly” isn’t offensive, essentially invalidating your feelings.

Now, not every black person is angry or sassy — and if we were, we would have perfectly good reason to be, but that’s another topic for another article. When you say minorities are angry, sassy, or mad, all you’re doing is putting them in a box and furthering stereotypes. This method of labeling a black person creates a frustrating cycle for blacks that goes something like Example A.

Our emotions are essentially trapped and I strongly believe CMU is too supportive and progressive of a school to allow this to continue to happen. So what can we all do to fix this problem? Instead of the continuous cycle above, the offense could be a resolvable sequence like Example B.

Even if you’re not the person offending, you could stick up for the person being offended. While we can’t always prevent insults, we should try our best to make CMU a safe and inclusive campus for all students.

Zachary Hinton
Masters Student
Human-Computer Interaction Institute