America reached a kind of consensus around race after the street fights and legal battles of the 1960s. The naked racism of the previous generation was banished. The likes of the John Birch Society were made outcasts in our politics. But that didn’t mean that prejudice was stripped from the national discourse. The guardrails were simply shifted.”Niggers” were replaced by “welfare queens,” and defenses of segregation gave way to concerns about crime and affirmative action.
Such coded speech and racial dog whistles allowed Janus-faced politicians to decry bigotry in one moment while exploiting hatred and fear in another. Their softened tone obscured what still lurked beneath: the belief that the country belonged, and always will belong, to white people.