According to former Republican House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, President Obama is the food stamp king. During a Republican presidential debate Monday, the same day the country celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s birthday, Gingrich said “More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than by any president in American history,” in response to a moderator questioning his statements that Obama is the “the food stamp president.”

But Newt should not be patted on the back for speaking truth; he should be called out sounding the dog whistle of racial division. It is a trick the Republican Party has used since the 1970s and was perfected by South Carolinian Lee Atwater.

It was no coincidence that Ronald Reagan, the champion of using the phrase welfare queen – a term describing an African-American female who refuses to work and instead collects cash and food assistance from the government – announced his 1980 presidential candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activist were lynched in 1964. Reagan’s presidential platform was protecting states’ rights. No hidden message there, right?

The tactic involves using subtle messages that many in the general public do not recognize on the surface; however, when used correctly, the message can evoke hidden negative emotions. For those Republican audience members at the debate, the ones who cheered Gingrich’s racist statement and jeered the moderator’s questioning of it, it was music to the ears. To someone watching on television, Gingrich’s statement was just that, a statement; but to Republicans, he said ‘Obama is a lazy black guy handing out your tax money to other lazy blacks.’

It can be uncomfortable calling out such actions because race is a sensitive issue. But the only way to make cockroaches scatter is by turning the lights on. Such disgraceful actions by Gingrich and his fellow Republicans must continue to be illuminated. By bringing awareness to such tactics perhaps we can shame the politicians who use them into stopping. Of course, they are politicians.