February 08, 2007
"He speaks so well"
Choose and Lose '08
Are we so far gone as a country that we can't acknowledge the fact that black people tend to be, on the average, less articulate (meaning able to speak) than white people? If they (we?) weren't, then why would people get so upset everytime some prominent black person is referred to as articulate?
(This New York Times story from the other day gets into the issue.)
I remember the last time this was as much of an issue was back in the mid '90s when Colin Powell was considering a run for president; but of course now it's been thrust back into the forefront since Barack Obama has become an exploratory candidate for the '08 election.
Indeed, people can't seem to get over how articulate the guy is. It seems to be mentioned in most articles about him. Delaware (heh) Senator Joe Biden even went so far as to call him the first black candidate who was "clean," which I actually took to mean light skinted.
Which would seem to be more of an issue to me, but PC types couldn't get over the term articulate, which he also used. Their argument is generally, "Well, why wouldn't somebody who was president of the Harvard Law Review or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or whatever be inarticulate?"
The answer, of course, is because they're black. So many of our people struggle with the English language, as if it wasn't our first language, that it's genuinely surprising for many to see one of us with even a decent handle on it, let alone an impressive command of it.
Obviously, I should know.
Which is not to say that so many black people are inarticulate because black people lack the innate ability to speak English. It's just that for whatever reason (poverty? institutional racism? a cultural predilection for anti-intellectualism?) we just won't.
I think the thing that's especially bothersome about the term articulate, when it's used to describe someone like Barack Obama, is that people basically take it to mean white. And of course it doesn't help matters that Obama's own background isn't what you might call traditionally black. When white people call Barack Obama articulate, it's taken to mean, "He's not very black," as if being black and being articulate are mutually exclusive.
Oh, but they aren't. People tend to associate being articulate with being white because there is a strong correlation between the two. Most articualte black people do tend to talk like white people, but a black man could very well be articulate and still talk with black speech patterns. The popular example of this these days is the Reverend Al Sharpton. And of course there's plenty of cracka-ass crackas who aren't very articulate at all.
So on the one hand, I can see why so many people get upset when a prominent black person is said to be articulate. It calls to mind a whole range of nasty issues having to do with race and intelligence and class and so on and so forth. But on the other hand, I'm not sure what good it does to throw yet another Kkkramer-style bitchfit. The truth of the matter is that a lot of black people speak fucked-up English. Pretending that they don't will hardly help matters.
If anything, maybe we can embarass a few of you jigs into affecting a faux-English accent!
Byron Crawford a/k/a Bol is the celebrated author of several books, most recently NaS Lost: A Tribute to the Little Homey.
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Posted by Bol at 02:27 PM | Permalink
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