Study: The Language of Race in Politics

Rep. John Conyers (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Rep. John Conyers (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

You don't have to be a D.C. insider to know that when politicians say "urban," they normally mean "poor and black." And it's no surprise that Republicans use the pejorative "illegal aliens" more often than Democrats.

Advertisement used Capitol Words — a project that catalogs all the words recorded on the House and Senate floors — to crunch the numbers on these terms and others in a study of what elected officials are saying about racial-justice issues and, just as important, the language they're using to say it.

Here are some of the findings:

“Profiling”:  Last month, “profiling” got a boost after Michigan’s John Conyers introduced the End Racial Profiling Act. But since 1996, three out of four times the word is being used it’s uttered by Democrats. And there’s no straight analog for the word coming out the Republican party — a sign that very few believe that profiling is a policy worth discussing.

Ethnicity descriptors: Search for the words “black,” “African,” “Asian,” “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “Native American,” and you’ll find that Democrats are the ones using them three times as much as Republicans (though “Muslim” is equally popular). Republicans might take this as proof that that Democrats are obsessed with race—but conservatives’ inability to discuss race in a formal setting reinforces how out of touch they can be with the reality of racial injustice.

“Racism”: Granted, no one really wants to talk about racism aside from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Immediately after Sept. 11, the word “racism” was used fairly frequently — at least compared to now — likely in an attempt to quell anti-Muslim sentiment. But these days it’s become the dirtiest of words. Members of Congress said the word only 46 times this year. In the month of September 2001 alone, it was mentioned 50 times.

Read more at ColorLines.