One fact about myself is that I have a deep distaste for being controlled. A second fact about myself is that I cannot stand racial injustice. 

This past semester, when my chosen apartment mates from McDaniel College picked at the sum of my parts for their personal pleasure. I was forced to become armed with terminology that only a person of color can gain through the traumatic experience of racism. 

Not Hearing the Dog Whistle 

Terms I had never used in my own personal experience became a part of my everyday vernacular. Words like microaggressions and dog-whistle racism became used daily. 

You might have heard the word “microaggressions” frequently used in mainstream media or in conversation. These potentially unintentional comments or actions can be present anywhere, just like any other racial injustice. 

They can appear in the workplace, at the grocery store or even with friends. Sometimes microaggressions are meant to come off as a compliment, but there is a tinge of backhandedness to the comment. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a microaggression as “a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).” 

The phrase you might not have heard of until recently in political news, is “dog whistle racism.” The simplified origins of using dog whistles goes back to hunting Black people who were enslaved. Then to over policing Black neighborhoods, to the coded speech that most frequently politicians have been using. 

The year of dog whistle politics was claimed to be 2018 with Trump as the primary person using such language. In 2020, one of the most notable dog whistles Trump publicly referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus.”  

The purpose is to get a message across undetected and to suppress a minority group in any set system.


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has two definitions for the phrase “dog whistle”. The first definition pertains to the sound only dogs can hear. The next definition is labeled as a political term; “an expression or statement that has a secondary meaning intended to be understood only by a particular group of people. 

The issue in this label is that there is also a lived experience hidden in that. This coded and strategic method of communication is not only used by politicians running for office. It can be used by anyone.

With enough dog whistles, this coded language can lead to extreme suppression of either a minority individual or entire groups of minority peoples. 

Living with Dog Whistlers

The fall semester of 2022, I lived in an apartment with four other girls; three white girls and one other Latina. For these purposes we’ll name the three white girls Hellen, Georgia, and Martha. The other Latina we’ll name Susan. 

So you get the layout of the apartment, myself, Hellen and Susan were all in singles while Georgia and Martha lived together in a double within the apartment. All four of these girls lived on the right side of the apartment hallway. My room was the only one on the left side along with the two bathrooms and sinks. I shared a bathroom with Georgia and Martha right next to my room while Hellen and Susan shared the other one. 

The First Dog Whistle

When discussing cleaning schedules in an apartment meeting the second or third week of school, the topic of hair in the shower drain came up. Martha noted that there was so much hair in the shower drain, that when she was cleaning, she vomited. This came up again at the next apartment meeting. At that point, Georgia noted how she vomited at the sight of the hair in the drain building up over the course of the week. 

Both times I was called out and told to take out the hair that was “building up in the shower drain.” Both times I was confused about the accusation since I only need to wash my curly hair once a week. That becomes even less if I put my hair in dutch braids or another protective hairstyle. 

The second time it came up, Georgia told me that I should shower with a trash can so when my hair fell out from washing, the trash can could catch the hair. I was told to shower with a trash can. 

Interestingly enough, I only wash my hair once a week since my hair is curly. Logically, there was no way it was my hair. 

The Second Dog Whistle 

With an apartment came perks; like a kitchen! Needless to say, I was excited to cook everyday in my sparkling college kitchen. 

Everyday I cooked or prepared meals that I grew up watching my mother cook. Like anyone, including all four of the other girls, I would frequently use olive oil to cook. 

In each apartment meeting, I was called out for leaving “grease on the stovetop.” During a meeting with a member of Residence Life, the four girls claimed that I was the only one using olive oil, which simply wasn’t true. 

There were five people total cooking in that apartment and olive oil isn’t so “ethnic” that only hispanics use it. Everyone does. Yet the blame was pinned onto me in every conversation regarding this to shame and lessen my cooking frequency.

Interestingly enough, from the first day moving into the apartment, I cleaned off the stove after every time I cooked. I did this despite the fact that we had a monthly rotation of who would clean the floor and who would clean the counters which day. 

Don’t Let the Dog Whistle Blow Past You 

I could go on and on listing more dog whistle experiences from that apartment, because believe me, there are more. 

I questioned whether this was truly racism as the other Latina from the apartment invalidated my experiences, both personally and within Residence Life. Her invalidation and inability to hear the dog whistles was because it wasn’t to control her. 

The rules were not being made for her. They were being made for me. It was no less than a crime in their eyes if I did not comply or if I thought to stand up for myself. 

Residence Life was unable and unwilling to hear the dog whistle. Luckily there are resources such as the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

That office was the only reason I knew what I was going through wasn’t just a figment of my imagination. I was able to submit over ten Bias Incident Reports which allowed my voice to be systemically heard within my campus. 

To truly understand and hear when dog whistle racism is occurring is to know yourself. It is to know that you can’t choose things like your hair or cooking ingredients. 

Knowing what a dog whistle is, is to know what your personal traits are versus the parts of you that make you ethnically and racially yourself. If those parts are singled out and suddenly deemed a “you problem,” not a “racial problem,” maybe take a second look because you might not be hearing the whistle blowing past you.

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Nicole-Antoinette Urbina-Ruiz
Nicole-Antoinette is Wafi Media's Editor in Chief and a senior at McDaniel College. She will be graduating this Spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science specializing in International Studies. She also works at the McDaniel College Writing Center as an Associate Peer Tutor. Outside of her work with Wafi and college life, Nicole-Antoinette is an avid singer, runner and outspoken advocate for the Latine and immigrant community. Nicole-Antoinette is passionate about issues relating to immigration, human rights, social justice, and latino culture. She hopes to attend and earn a JD at law school in order to serve the immigrant community through her practice of law.