We Heard Charlottesville Coming Months Before Election Day

As you may know, I am currently in graduate school at the University of Minnesota for Strategic Communications. Back on November 10, 2016, I submitted the following essay to my professor.

I hope you read it and I hope you take this away from it: Listen to minorities. They sense things you’re clearly missing if Charlottesville came as a surprise.

Observation Essay: Who Hears Dog Whistles

There’s this trope in movies that animals can sense something before humans do. Some of it is based on reality (earthquakes), some is not (ghosts). It was a funny thing my brother-in-law kind of echoed once, maybe a year or so before the recession, when he still worked in construction. “We feel it before anybody else does. When the economy starts to go, people stop building, and we don’t have work or we have less of it. We haven’t had much for a while now.”

If birds can predict earthquakes, cats can sense ghosts, construction workers can sense economic slowdown, then I have my own hypothesis: Minorities can sense hatred years before it is actually ever visible. If you believe “dog whistles” are heard only by racists, you’re wrong (in several ways).

Latinos, black folk, etc. are perhaps the only folks who are not as absolutely shocked as everyone else by the hatred present in the United States that was either leveraged or overlooked to elect Trump as our new president. During our fall forum, the speaker played “defining” ads for the Trump and Clinton campaigns. They were both about Trump. The first was “Role Models,” the fifth most viewed video on Hillary Clinton’s YouTube page. It shows children watching Trump on TV while he says things that most would consider inappropriate for a political leader to say.

The second was Trump’s “Great Again TV Spot.” It starts by naming “politicians” (image of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama standing side-by-side) as afraid to address terrorism, “But Donald Trump calls it ‘radical Islamic terrorism.” The voiceover says this while this image appears on screen, with video of body bags being taken away in the background:


This one seems a little “Intro to Political Ads 101,” but as this is an essay, I will spell it out: The video implies Muslims are violent against non-Muslims. While Islam is a religion, not a race, it is implied that these “brown” people (possibly of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent) are obviously Muslim. (“Brown” is a term that has been used as shorthand online for non-white people, usually not of northeast Asian descent.) They are not named. They are abstracts. They are archetypes of Muslims for both genders, with the headscarf prominent. This is just in the first four to ten seconds of the video.

The image then fades to another:


The image is of a busy airport’s customs section. The voiceover says, “He’s calling for a temporary shut-down of Muslims entering the United States, until we can figure out what’s going on.” This is the first time in this video that Trump’s campaign used a misleading image to symbolize immigration. Customs at an airport would be passed by all international travelers, not just non-citizens or tourists. The message is direct, but the race-based message isn’t 100% explicit: Brown people should be filtered out from entering the United States, even if they’re citizens, because otherwise we could die.

The second time is more than just misleading, it is not even an image from this country.


With his call to build a wall and stop “illegal immigration,” the Trump campaign used video footage from Melilla in Morocco (Emery and Jacobson, 2016). The footage is used to give the impression of an endless flow of unauthorized immigration from Mexico.

Though “Mexican” is a nationality, a large percentage of its population would be considered “brown,” a point the ad makes clear just a couple of seconds earlier:


The implication that brown immigrants (of all statuses) were potentially dangerous was how Trump famously launched his campaign, stating: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” (Here’s, 2015).

As a Latin American immigrant, I feel like this overtly xenophobic and implicitly racist video should have been enough to disqualify him months ago. Not “gotten him into hot water,” not an internal “campaign meltdown” (Dumenco, 2016). To me, it didn’t seem “editorial” to call the advertisement racist. It’s what it was on its face. We studied this in high school, forget graduate school. I thought? Yet somehow, the implications on policy were overshadowed Clinton’s emails (Boehlert, 2016).

And he is our president.


Boehlert, E. (3 November 2016). The media isn’t for Hillary Clinton: Her emails have been covered more than all policy proposals. Salon. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from http://www.salon.com/2016/11/03/the-media-isnt-for-hillary-clinton-her-emails-have-been-covered-more-than-all-policy-proposals/

Dumenco, S. (13 October 2016). Time Updates Its Trump ‘Meltdown’ Cover to ‘Total Meltdown’ — Watch the Animation. AdAge. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/watch-time-magazine-updated-animated-trump-total-meltdown-cover/306277/

Emery, C. Eugene, Jr. and Louis Jacobson. Donald Trump’s first TV ad shows migrants ‘at the southern border,’ but they’re actually in Morocco. (4 January 2016). Politifact. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/jan/04/donald-trump/donald-trumps-first-tv-ad-shows-migrants-southern-/

Great Again TV Spot. (4 January 2016). DonaldJTrump.com. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from https://www.donaldjtrump.com/media/great-again-tv-spot

Here’s Donald Trump’s Presidential Announcement Speech. (16 June 2015). TIME. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from http://time.com/3923128/donald-trump-announcement-speech/

Hillary Clinton. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLRYsOHrkk5qcIhtq033bLQ/videos?view=0&flow=list&sort=p

Johnson, Jenna. Donald Trump now says even legal immigrants are a security threat. (5 August 2016). Washington Post. Retrieved 10 November 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/08/05/donald-trump-now-says-even-legal-immigrants-are-a-security-threat/


One thought on “We Heard Charlottesville Coming Months Before Election Day

  1. Carlos

    Excellent! But don’t worry, sooner or later this nightmare is going to end. Do you remember the days when republicans freaked out because Michelle Obama wanted kids to eat more vegetables? Oh! Those good old days….

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