Dog Whistle Racism

• Topics: Washington State, Elections,

I received this email from Alex Ramel this evening. I read it, followed the link to Sandy Robson’s article on Searchlight Review and immediately knew this needed to be posted for even more folks to read. Alex gave permission on a phone call. He mailed it to about 3,000 political acquaintances this evening. Here it is. This will not convince those who are blind and deaf to what racism looks and sounds like, but it is a notice to the rest of us that racism is still amongst us right here in our own community. - John Servais

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During the primary, I had the opportunity to get to know the other candidates running in the 40th district—Republicans and Democrats alike. When the results were in, I called both Debra Lekanoff and Michael Petrish, congratulated them and wished them luck. I endorsed Debra. But I hoped to maintain a positive relationship with Michael too, because I believe our politics work best when competition is paired with collaboration.

In late-September I was shown a campaign advertisement from Michael’s campaign. It included a list of four points attacking Debra personally—not her political views. The list used the word “tribe” or “tribal” five times. It was absolutely clear to me that this attack wasn’t about policy, but was a racist dog whistle, attacking Debra’s identity. This kind of attack should have no place in our society or our politics.

I believe people are better able to change course when they are confronted respectfully and in private. I called Michael Petrish, and to his credit he took the call, and talked to me frankly. I told him my concern. I let him know that I thought he was better than this, and that his background in the military during the Bosnian war must have taught him where hateful rhetoric leads. He assured me that his intent was not racist. I hoped that it would end there.

Unfortunately, he has continued. That’s why I’m writing.

Michael Petrish and his campaign are appealing to anti-indian and bigoted sentiments; like too many others he is trying to capitalize on the hateful rhetoric from Donald Trump and other far-right national politicians. He is stirring up intolerance. Racism should have no place here.

The main feature on the homepage of his website includes a lists of reasons to oppose Debra focused on her identity as a member of a Native American tribe. On October 18, at a forum at Meridian High School he said “my opponent represents those who pay no taxes.” I understand this language has been used in several other forums as well. Sandy Robson has done a great job documenting several instances in the blog Searchlight Review. I’d urge you to check it out.

This kind of dog whistle communication is intended to be subtle, to be missed by those who don’t share these views. It festers in the dark. But in the last week we’ve seen the serious consequences when the racist ideologies that these communications represent are allowed to stay in the dark. We all have a responsibility to shine a light, but especially those of us with privilege, who are not the subjects.

My only call to action with this email is to join me in naming intolerant rhetoric and communication when you see it. Let’s work to expose racism for what it is, everywhere it lies. Our community is better than this.


Alex Ramel

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Nov 02, 2018

“...those who pay no taxes.”

I burst into laughter when I read this.  I guess Petrish forgot about the Republican big wigs, the millionaires and billionaires and the members of Congress and the corporations  who spend their lifetimes avoiding taxes and working to enact legislation to assist them in the process of paying nothing at all.

Shame on Petrish.


Gene Knutson

Nov 02, 2018

Alex, Great article!!! They should be ashamed of themselves, It is my hope that next Tuesday we start taking it all away from them. I am appalled at what is going on with our so called leadership. From the White House on down the line the GOP has turned into the TOP “Trump Old Party” The best way to combat this is at the ballot box now and in 2020. This country will not tolerate this kind of hate and fear. We have overcome a lot in our history and we will again, Lets all stand up and say “NO MORE” It all begins next Tuesday, and when the results come in we can start to heal.

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