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Clean as a Whistle. Sharp as a Tack
January 31, 2007 2:11 PM   Subscribe

According to one colleague, Senator Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." For what it's worth, Senator Biden says that Senator Obama was not insulted by the remark, but no public reaction from his presumably inarticulate or non-bright or unclean counterparts yet. Can we get senators to stop saying stupid things about black people? Can we at least get everyone to stop using "articulate" as the stock compliment for people of color in positions of political power?
posted by Slap Factory (173 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget "well-behaved". That goes over really well.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:14 PM on January 31, 2007


I still have to explain to people why "well-spoken" is an insult.
posted by ColdChef at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2007


Slap Factory, that is a surprisingly cogent and articulate FPP for a factory of slaps.
posted by papercake at 2:18 PM on January 31, 2007


Racial undertones aside, "articulate" for a presidential candidate sounds pretty refreshing right about now.
posted by Saydur at 2:19 PM on January 31, 2007


Re: the articulate thing, you have to admit that compared to Bush, almost anyone can seem articulate, and Obama certainly has the charisma and statesmanlike qualities that Bush lacks. I wouldn't say that Alan Keyes or Colin Powell come close to Obama or Jesse Jackson (sr.) in that category.
posted by mattbucher at 2:20 PM on January 31, 2007


Can we at least get everyone to stop using "articulate" as the stock compliment for people of color in positions of political power?

WTF? Since when did articulate become code for 'states' rights'? Obama and Alan Keyes are articulate (even if the latter is nuts). George Bush and George Allen are wholly inarticulate. This has nothing to do with anything.
posted by psmealey at 2:21 PM on January 31, 2007


mattbucher, that's a very articulate and well-spoken response for a butcher of matts

sorry, i'm terribly bored at work and about to go home
posted by papercake at 2:21 PM on January 31, 2007


"Racial undertones aside, "articulate" for a presidential candidate sounds pretty refreshing right about now."

"Bright" is also a step in the right direction.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:21 PM on January 31, 2007


Pfft, being fully articulate is ancient history. Wake me up when he has kung-fu grip.
posted by cog_nate at 2:23 PM on January 31, 2007 [5 favorites]


Racial undertones can't really be placed aside.
posted by mkb at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2007


papercake, thank you. Thou art clean.
posted by mattbucher at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2007


There seem to be some questions about taking the transcript too seriously. http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/012209.php
posted by lathrop at 2:24 PM on January 31, 2007


The provacative Biden quote appears to be a non-story. Bad transcriptions are bad.
posted by cortex at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2007


Hey Chris Matthews thinks Michael Steele is "unthreatening."

http://mediamatters.org/items/200611070009
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2007


"the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

WTF Senator Biden?!?

Haven't you ever heard of Bill Cosby?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2007


The problem is that people never say that white people are 'well-spoken' or 'articulate' because it's assumed that they are.
posted by empath at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2007


Well, my link is prettier. Nyah!
posted by cortex at 2:25 PM on January 31, 2007


To be fair to Biden, and this has been commented elsewhere... if you add a comma after "African American" it sounds more like a compliment to Obama and a bit ess of a slur on other African-American politicians.

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

I'm not saying that this is necessarily what Biden meant but maybe we shouldn't rush to conclusions here...
posted by mahamandarava at 2:26 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Listen to the audio first. He's not saying that Obama is the first African-American who is articulate and bright.

He's saying that Obama is the first mainstream African-American politician. And that he is articulate and bright.

Listen to the audio before you make any judgements.
posted by bshort at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2007 [3 favorites]


The problem is that people never say that white people are 'well-spoken' or 'articulate' because it's assumed that they are.

I think in this day and age, it's fair to say that politicans are not generally articulate.

But clearly since we're talking about something that may quite possibly be a little racist, we should run in circles, scream and shout.
posted by TypographicalError at 2:27 PM on January 31, 2007


Haven't you ever heard of Bill Cosby?

And Ed Bradley, Martin Luther King. Leon Higginbotham and many millions more.
posted by ericb at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2007


On one hand it was probably a somewhat dumb thing to say, given our unbelievable sensitivity to race in this country.

On the other, does EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN STATEMENT by prominent politicians need to be PARSED DOWN TO THE FUCKING PUNCTUATION?

Thank you, I feel better now.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2007


Will Joe Biden never learn that putting his foot in his mouth is a bad, bad thing?
posted by huskerdont at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2007


"Johnny is generous enough to remark upon how "articulate" I am! That makes me feel good!"
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:28 PM on January 31, 2007


Haven't you ever heard of Bill Cosby?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 5:25 PM EST on January 31


Um, Colin Powell? Ron Brown? Martin Luther King?

And what the hell does "clean" mean? Biden needs to stop watching UPN and MTV, methinks.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:29 PM on January 31, 2007


I wonder what 50 Cent's thoughts are.

Maybe he gonna kill the nigga that say that. He gon' shoot them in they face!
posted by four panels at 2:30 PM on January 31, 2007


Personally, I'm glad Obama's clean. I'm sick of all those presidential candidates who have to be hosed down and scrubbed like circus elephants right before they go on CNN.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:32 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


a salon article [beware of the ad] that comments on the role of calling oneself black, or "black".

One would wish for the people in the US to be able to transcendent the quoted form. ...
posted by jouke at 2:32 PM on January 31, 2007


I've always noticed Obama's beautifully manicured fingernails. Maybe Biden is right.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:34 PM on January 31, 2007


With no particular knowledge of any racial connations, 'articulate' is a word I've used in my own head to think about Mr. Obama... and what a tremendous contrast it is with the current administration.

I, for one, would like a President who can have an idea, describe it clearly, accurately and succinctly, defend it against argument, and demonstrate an excellent command of the language in so doing. I don't care if he's fricking plaid.

Having ideas that are actually intelligent would be a big help, too... in that area I remain unsure of Obama, having heard largely generalities and platitudes. But at least, thank God, the man can speak coherently and, yes, articulately. That's not enough by itself: Clinton had an absolute mastery of English, and I thought he was a terrible president. At least he filled the shoes of the office.

Obama may or may not be able to swim in the deep end, but the guy we have now is like the kiddie-pool President.
posted by Malor at 2:34 PM on January 31, 2007


oh, and that Bill Cosby line was a joke referencing The Cos's outburst from a few years back.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:37 PM on January 31, 2007


I still have to explain to people why "well-spoken" is an insult.

ColdChef, you have to explain that one to me as well. A compliment, in my books.
posted by wilful at 2:38 PM on January 31, 2007


Can we get senators to stop saying stupid things about black people? Can we at least get everyone to stop using "articulate" as the stock compliment for people of color in positions of political power?

No, and no.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:38 PM on January 31, 2007


West Texas Ebonics
posted by jonp72 at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2007


Will people PLEASE quit calling Obama African-American????
He is biracial. BI RACIAL. He has a black parent and a white parent. He is NOT BLACK and he is NOT WHITE.

BIRACIAL.

(On another point mentioned on this thread, the word "articulate" definitely does have a racial connotation when applied to a person of color. As if we white folks have to be surprised a black person can speak well.)
posted by konolia at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2007


Nah, there is this perception among black folks that “articulate” applied to one given black individual is patronizing of the rest of the black community.
Warrented or not it’s there. And I happen to think it’s warrented. We don’t f’rinstance see much lefthanded congratulations of Irish celebs for being “sober” or “peaceful” and such. In Obama’s case the out is that he’s such a stellar performer any contrast is stark. But that vibe is there. I disagree Keyes is at all articulate. He forms words well and clearly, but it’s hard to follow his distorted reasoning. More mouth than brain.
Which is perhaps where the slight in the comment lies - that Obama - or any given black person - speaks well, but in fact is short on brains.
I’m not saying that’s this particular comment. Just that the general usage of the term implies that.
Similarly - I was surprised it was noted that there are two African-American coaches in the superbowl this year. Certainly it’s a good thing. But it shouldn’t have to be.
And that is where the catch-22 on this seems to be. It’s a compliment, but there’s always that “as opposed to what?” question.
“Great, I speak well. Thanks”
“No, really, you’re very articulate”
“Yeah...uh..thanks.”

It’s as if I said ( in inflection) Lovey Smith is a great coach. Subtextually I can imply “for an African-American.” I wouldn’t of course, not merely because of the stupidity of prejudice, but because he’s a Bear. So for me Lovey is a great coach - as opposed to every other coach in the league. Plus he wins.

So too - Obama has a variety of traits which make him an excellent candidate. Which should be the focus for any thinking individual. Senators, of course, are generally excluded from that class, trading more in guile. So the whole “he’s a bright kid” “articulate” etc. - is code for setting him up to fail ‘cos he’s not a ‘savvy operator like us who gets things done’. It’s a swap for real, tangible recognition that has political worth. Sounds like playing it safe. Some validity, the kid is new. But he’s a fighter. Even Joe Lewis was a rookie once.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2007


"the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

I listened to the sound file before reading anything about it, and I got the impression he was talking about African-American politicians and meant that Obama was the first African-American politician to be mainstream (which is pretty undeniable). And there was clearly a pause between "African-American" and "who is", so I had no doubt a comma should go there, which changes the sentence from a complete racial slur into a glowing list of compliments.
posted by matthewr at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2007


He's saying that Obama is the first mainstream African-American politician. And that he is articulate and bright.

And the insult still stands. Joe Biden needs to go back to plagiarizing smarter people and keep his mouth shut. Does this moron really think that he has any chance of winning the presidency? Really?
posted by Dreama at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2007


Chris Rock had a whole bit on this re: Colin Powell: "He speaks so well!"

but to answer the question, no, we will never stop people who are constantly being monitored by the media from occasionally saying something dumb and no, we will never stop people from an older generation (Byrd) from saying things that aren't PC by today's standards, and no we will never stop people who are probably just racist on some level (Lott) from being racist.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2007


Wow. The democratic party is imploding.
posted by srboisvert at 2:43 PM on January 31, 2007


I'm ripping up my ghetto pass.
posted by hal9k at 2:44 PM on January 31, 2007


and I don't really see it as a big deal either way, but how is Jesse Jackson not mainstream? he made a pretty serious run for the Democratic nomination in '88. (I guess he's not all that nice-looking though)
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:45 PM on January 31, 2007


the first African-American politician to be mainstream (which is pretty undeniable)

Ah crap, I forgot, Colin Powell (I'm not American, if that helps). Surely MLK is a civil-rights leader rather than a politician, strictly speaking?
posted by matthewr at 2:45 PM on January 31, 2007


posted by gottabefunky does EVERY SINGLE GODDAMN STATEMENT by prominent politicians need to be PARSED DOWN TO THE FUCKING PUNCTUATION?

Yes, absolutely. It's the only way to decode their carefully-scripted bullshit into what they're really saying.

Anyone remember when, during the 2000 debate, Bush was asked if he supported affirmative action? He answered by saying he supported "affirmative access," and it's just another sign of the decline of American journalism (and Gore's lack of quick-thinking-ness) that no one asked him what the hell he meant by that and why he was refusing to answer the question.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:46 PM on January 31, 2007


Chris Rock on Colin Powell being called 'well-spoken'

"That's some shit you say about retarded people that can talk!"

I think that's why it can be construed as an insult.

However, in every interview I've ever heard/seen with Obama, I've been incredibly impressed by how articulate he is. He is amazingly well-spoken. He gets his point across, clearly, concisely, and he has a damn intelligent point to begin with.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:47 PM on January 31, 2007


Can we at least get everyone to stop using "articulate" as the stock compliment for people of color in positions of political power?

Sure. And for a replacement stock compliment, I propose "subservient." Or "athletic."
posted by pardonyou? at 2:49 PM on January 31, 2007


Wow. The democratic party is imploding.

If by "democratic party" you mean Joseph Biden, and by "imploding" you mean being railroaded by a MSM that loves playing "gotcha" with poorly-phrased but well-intentioned remarks, I am in complete agreement.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:49 PM on January 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


what makes it worse is that Obama is not the first at all anyway, let alone the stupidity and stereotyping of the remark in total.
posted by amberglow at 2:51 PM on January 31, 2007


Biden reminds me of one of my favorite "All in the Family" episodes, Archie talking to Lionel (African-American neighbor):

Archie: Take Lionel, here, he is polite and well-behaved. He ain't out there protestin'. See, Lionel, you were smart.

Lionel: And outnumbered.
posted by CameraObscura at 2:54 PM on January 31, 2007



srboisvert: "Wow. The democratic party is imploding."

Oh, please. They're a political party. Saying stupid shit is their bread and butter.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 PM on January 31, 2007


Some of my best friends are articulate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:54 PM on January 31, 2007 [4 favorites]


Biden's out within a week, i bet--he would have been lousy anyway--he's just a talker and not at all a doer.

The "gotcha" and that this is now a really big story is a warning to all other Democratic candidates--the rules haven't changed since Al Gore and his "earth tones" and "inventing the internet" bullshit--watch out for the big media--they're already demeaning, diminishing, and mocking all of the candidates with D next to their names.
posted by amberglow at 2:55 PM on January 31, 2007


already there's a giant difference in coverage--McCain, Brownback, Hunter, Romney, Giuliani, Huckabee--not one of them is covered the way all the Democrats are. Their actual policies and positions are being covered, not offhanded remarks or "gotchas".
posted by amberglow at 2:57 PM on January 31, 2007


Will people PLEASE quit calling Obama African-American???? He is biracial. BI RACIAL. He has a black parent and a white parent. He is NOT BLACK and he is NOT WHITE.

Ex-fucking-scuse me? I'm sorry, does he not meet your purity test or something?

How long have you been sitting on this information? Perhaps you should tell Senator Obama that, what with him calling himself African-American on his own official bio. I guess he missed a meeting or something.

He must be feel really embarrassed right now for saying something so stupid about his race on a website like that.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 2:59 PM on January 31, 2007


Ex-fucking-scuse me? I'm sorry, does he not meet your purity test or something?

Actually, that's exactly right. I don't subscribe to the one-drop rule.

Plus I have a brand new biracial grandson who has the best of both worlds and should never have to choose a default one.

Maybe it's easier politically for Obama to be "African-American." I am not going to judge him personally for him going that route. But I still think it is inaccurate, racist, and wrong in general.
posted by konolia at 3:04 PM on January 31, 2007


Oh, and on the offhand chance you missed the info, Obama's mother is white.
posted by konolia at 3:06 PM on January 31, 2007


konolia, your grandkid is adorable and I'm glad things are going well with the folks, but I think you might want to reevaluate your sources on this.
posted by cortex at 3:08 PM on January 31, 2007


I think Obama is articulate and bright, too. Does anyone have a problem with that?
posted by effwerd at 3:09 PM on January 31, 2007


"African-American" is a pretty accurate description for someone whose father is from Kenya and mother is from Kansas. The politics of referring to someone as a "X-American" aside, in this case it's about as literally true as it possibly could be.

My children are Mexican-American. Their parents are from two different countries. They even hold dual citizenship. I'd like to think that they'll think of themselves as Americans, given that they're being raised in the US, but they should always embrace the other part of their heritage. It's who they are and plays a major role in their upbringing.

Apparently, Senator Obama feels similarly.
posted by elvolio at 3:09 PM on January 31, 2007


amberglow: what makes it worse is that Obama is not the first [mainstream African-American politician] at all anyway

Seriously? Apart from Colin Powell (who's not elected), I can't think of a single one offhand. I'm counting Martin Luther King as a civil-rights leader, like Gandhi, not a politician per se. I'm not American, though, so I can't judge first-hand who's "mainstream" — is Jesse Jackson mainstream?
posted by matthewr at 3:10 PM on January 31, 2007


How's this?
posted by konolia at 3:10 PM on January 31, 2007


Maybe we can create a Subtext Validation Service.

What would you like to say?

"Obama is articulate."

What ethnicity are you?

"Korean/Irish"

What ethnicity is the target of the communication?

"African-American/Caucasian"

I'm sorry, "articulate" is flagged as potentially offensive given your ethnicity and the ethnicity of the receiving party. You might want to rephrase the statement. Maybe consider complimenting his penis size.
posted by effwerd at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a non-story. It's clear what he meant, the comma changes the meaning anyway.

Listen to the damn tape.
posted by spaltavian at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2007


Um, Colin Powell? Ron Brown? Martin Luther King?

W.E.B. DuBois, too. Also Harvard-trained.
posted by faux ami at 3:16 PM on January 31, 2007


What about Condi?
posted by ramix at 3:18 PM on January 31, 2007


Did anyone else see the weird phrasing in the Reuters article?

"In the growing field of eight Democrats seeking the presidency, Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, is polling behind New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton though his candidacy has generated buzz as he seeks to become the country's first black president as well as some Hollywood money."

Good to know that getting Hollywood money and becoming the country's first black president are about equal in importance.
posted by Paragon at 3:18 PM on January 31, 2007


konolia, who the hell are you or I to tell black people, or for that matter any people, what to call themselves? Who are you to tell a grown man what he should call himself? Because you call your biracial grandson something different? Are all those races too confusing for you?

It's as offensive as the right-wingers who whined that Halle Berry celebrated being the first black woman to win Best Actress because "she's not really black." There's only one person expressing racial ignorance here and it ain't me.

Oh, and on the offhand chance you missed the info, Obama's mother is white.

On the offhand chance you missed the info, Obama's African-American.

By the way, here are excerpts from the first two links in your own Google search:
As he points out in The Audacity of Hope, Obama may look like a black American, but he is actually an African-American—getting to the true meaning of that trendy but woefully misapplied choice of name.
According to the New York Times, Brian Sussman, an evening host at KSFO-AM, made derogatory comments about Muslims and Senator Barack Obama, an African-American politician.
There is a very good chance this might be a good time for you to stop digging.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:19 PM on January 31, 2007


Slap Factory: You wish!
posted by Mister_A at 3:20 PM on January 31, 2007


Paragon,

No, it's saying his candidacy has generated buzz and Hollywood money.
posted by effwerd at 3:21 PM on January 31, 2007


What about Condi?

Shite, how can I have managed to forget Colin and Condi? I give up. At least I can cling to the excuse (repeated) that I'm 3000 miles away.
posted by matthewr at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2007


Would we have spent so much time discussing the "electability" of John Kerry had he been black?
posted by rush at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2007


No, it's saying his candidacy has generated buzz and Hollywood money

Wouldn't it then be put as "though his candidacy has generated buzz as well as some Hollywood money as he seeks to become the country's first black president"? I don't think it's a vast conspiracy, but it's surely an awful sentence construction.
posted by Paragon at 3:25 PM on January 31, 2007


"Would we have spent so much time discussing the "electability" of John Kerry had he been black?"

No, he's not articulate enough.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:31 PM on January 31, 2007


"Would we have spent so much time discussing the "electability" of John Kerry had he been black articulate?"

Fixed that for you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2007


Damn you crash!

["They call me... mr_crash."]
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2007


konolia, who the hell are you or I to tell black people, or for that matter any people, what to call themselves

There are a ton of biracial people who are very offended at being summarily lumped by others into a particular racial category.

Obama can call himself anything he likes. The rest of us better defer to biracial until told otherwise.


By the way, my husband is one fourth Cherokee. So, should he be marking "Native American" on all his government forms?
posted by konolia at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2007


In the growing field of eight Democrats seeking the presidency, Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois, is polling behind New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton though his candidacy has generated buzz as he seeks to become the country's first black president as well as some Hollywood money.

What's this? Obama wants to become some Hollywood money?

I don't think it's a vast conspiracy, but it's surely an awful sentence construction.

You're right. I hate seeing stuff like this in print. Proofread aloud, people. If it doesn't sound right, it probably isn't.

On-topic (and as others have said), the audio makes the meaning clear. And amberglow is 100% right on what the real issue is.
posted by rafter at 3:34 PM on January 31, 2007


And Bill Clinton, it was said, was our first black president--said by an African American.
posted by Postroad at 3:42 PM on January 31, 2007



Seriously? Apart from Colin Powell (who's not elected), I can't think of a single one offhand. I'm counting Martin Luther King as a civil-rights leader, like Gandhi, not a politician per se. I'm not American, though, so I can't judge first-hand who's "mainstream" — is Jesse Jackson mainstream?


Jesse was mainstream, and got a bunch of delegates and ran very well in many places. Barbara Jordan ran too, in the 70s. Outside of presidential: Colin, Condi, Jocelyn Elders, Vernon Jordan, all the African-American Senators and Reps in this and past 40 or so years, all the Governors like Patrick and whatshisface from Virginia, all the local mayors of big and small places and state and county reps all over, all the Judges all over, etc. .... I could go on for days and days with this list. The fact that people think there isn't a very long list is a shame.
posted by amberglow at 3:45 PM on January 31, 2007


Obama has told you otherwise: he's African (cuz his dad was)-American (cuz of mom).
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on January 31, 2007


And Bill Clinton, it was said, was our first black president--said by an African American.

Heh. I always thought this was an insult. Great, even the first black president is white.
posted by effwerd at 3:46 PM on January 31, 2007


I should name Adam Clayton Powell (both of them), and Rangel, and David Dinkins, and Andrew Young, and NY's newest Lt. Gov--David Paterson (black and blind too--how do you like that?)
posted by amberglow at 3:47 PM on January 31, 2007


Heh. I always thought this was an insult. Great, even the first black president is white.

It was a high compliment. I think it was Maya Angelou, no?
posted by amberglow at 3:48 PM on January 31, 2007


I forgot Shirley Chisholm and Carol Mosely Braun, who ran too.
posted by amberglow at 3:56 PM on January 31, 2007


(oh, and Allan Keyes, but he's GOP and insane)
posted by amberglow at 3:58 PM on January 31, 2007


Biden is a tool (of MBNA/Bank of America). Anything that takes him down is fine with me. The most generous punctuation of his comment still makes him sound like a condescending idiot, which is what he is. And a plagiarist. He's not much better than Holy Joe Lieberman. And Obama is going to clean his clock.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2007


Let me add to smedleyman's great explanation of 'well spoken as insult' thing. "Change 'well spoken' to 'hasn't been to prison' -- would you even bring it up if the person X were white? You're either 1) giving praise (or more lavish praise) to a black person for behavior that one would take for granted in a white person, 2) addressing a sometimes off-topic prevalent but unspoken racial stereotype indirectly with (feint) praise "Ms. Woo is quite a good driver, actually!" 3) taking it completely for granted that you're in the position to judge said black person. People who see this as an insult imagine that what's really meant is "Barack Obama is so articulate, you know, compared to what I might have expected given that he's black, even by my tough standards." It helps if you say it in snooty voice.

Let me also say that I think this kind of thinking is helpful to ferret out subtle racism, but can also be stupid and knee jerk. Like what if some of your best friends really are black?
posted by tula at 4:01 PM on January 31, 2007


Did someone upthread say Jesse Jackson is not articulate? If so, what planet are you from?
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:02 PM on January 31, 2007


There's definitely something related to this whole thing in this post the other day regarding the disabled, and their uses to "normal" people.
posted by amberglow at 4:10 PM on January 31, 2007


Can we at least get everyone to stop using 'articulate' as the stock compliment for people of color in positions of political power?

Probably about the same time as they stop praising the "intelligence" of "athletic" black quarterbacks. (Which should never have been at issue in the first place, and should have been dismissed by Doug Williams astonishing performance--18 of 29 passes for a Super Bowl record 340 yards and four touchdowns--in Super Bowl XXII. That was IX years ago.)
posted by kirkaracha at 4:11 PM on January 31, 2007


WE (articulate people) can use that word ("articulate") because WE know what it means!
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:22 PM on January 31, 2007


OK, amberglow: mainstream African-American politicians, apart from Colin and Condi, who anybody has ever heard of?

To be fair, I had no idea that Jesse Jackson was as successful as he was, in the 80s. But articles about him are full of phrases like "fringe candidate" and "most people did not seem to believe that he had a serious chance at winning".

And looking at his list of policies, I don't see how it could be less mainstream... 15% defence cuts, nuclear disarmament, universal health care — how are these mainstream policies by any definition?
posted by matthewr at 4:32 PM on January 31, 2007


Jesse Jackson finished third for the Democratic nomination in 1984 and was second in 1988.

84 was my first presidential election, and Jesse was enormous during the whole campaign (and even bigger in 88)--electrifying and trailblazing. Obama is running easier because of all the ground he readied.

... earned him strong showings in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C. He received 3.5 million votes, enough to secure a measure of power and respect at the Democratic convention.

Jackson's 1988 campaign for the Democratic nomination was characterized by more organization and funding than his previous attempt. With the experience he gained from 1984 and new resources, Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition surprised the media and the political pundits. Initially written off as unelectable, Jackson emerged in the primary/caucus season as a serious contender for the nomination. He attracted over 6.9 million votes ...
posted by amberglow at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2007


amberglow, the context was clearly of mainsteam black pols in the race for President. Powell never ran, and Jackson never had a chance in hell. You're stretching to read the worst possible interpretation of what we all know was an innocuous comment. Obama is the first person of color that has ever had a shot at the White House.
posted by spaltavian at 4:51 PM on January 31, 2007


(Keep Hope Alive, from 88)
posted by amberglow at 4:53 PM on January 31, 2007


He was... somebody.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:55 PM on January 31, 2007


Jackson had a shot, 2x. It's not stretching anything. There are not less racists now than then. There is in fact more overt public racist talk now than there was in the 80s under the fairness doctrine. We are more divided now then we were then, in terms of housing, schools, and politics, and voting patterns. I would say there's actually less chance for Obama to get it than the chances Jesse had.
posted by amberglow at 4:56 PM on January 31, 2007


Ignoring the apologists, the offensiveness of Biden's comment (though the degree of the offensiveness can be argued but the offensiveness can not) is pretty friggin obvious. Obama is not remotely the first black mainstream politician and to say so is to ignore all of the other black politicians. Calling a black person "articulate" and "bright" is demeaning and implies that black people, in general, are not articulate and/or bright. It's offensive in the same way that calling someone "white trash" is offensive, as it implies that white people are AWESOME except for this particular subgroup who isn't doing their part to uphold the inherent awesomeness of having white skin.

I had a friend who would call me "articulate" as a joke, because it's so obviously one of those words that white people use when they want to pay a black person an underhanded compliment. Commas aside (stretch much?), I've listened to the audio and it's still obviously offensive. He didn't call Hilary "articulate," though, I admit this may be because she's so goddamn boring that it's hard to stay awake long enough to notice her use of proper grammar. He used that word because Obama is black. You can pretend that's not so (it's become much harder for me to sustain my youthful incredulity at the rampant wanton inability of large segments of the populous to see obvious truths), but it is.

Now, whether or not Biden should be lynched from the nearest peach tree or hung from the gallows (with a beheading thrown in just because) for this offense is something else entirely. Like Obama himself, I don't think it should be made into a big deal- there are more pressing matters than Joe Biden's idiocy to attend to. And for the record, Obama's nice-looking cleanliness aside, I wouldn't vote for him.

Will people PLEASE quit calling Obama African-American????
He is biracial. BI RACIAL. He has a black parent and a white parent. He is NOT BLACK and he is NOT WHITE.

BIRACIAL.


I have five multiracial nieces and nephews and who knows what they'll want to be called when they get older? Obama, on the other hand, has decided to be labeled African-American so he doesn't require your outrage.
posted by eunoia at 5:02 PM on January 31, 2007


There are a ton of biracial people who are very offended at being summarily lumped by others into a particular racial category.

So we should just do the opposite, because you say so? Because that's what you want to do for your grandson? There are tons of black people who would be offended- far more than vice-versa, I would wager- by your insistence that they're not actually black. You're the one bitching about the status quo not adhering to your personal dictionary.

Obama can call himself anything he likes. The rest of us better defer to biracial until told otherwise.

Until "the rest of us" are told by who to do what now? Or what? I repeat: who the fuck made you the race police?

By the way, my husband is one fourth Cherokee. So, should he be marking "Native American" on all his government forms?

Okay, seriously, that's the second time in this thread you've mentioned knowing a non-white person as some attempt at an excuse for your self-proclaimed right of racial classification, for what reason I cannot possibly fathom. Second, is your husband a registered member of the Cherokee Nation? Does he have origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America and maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment? If so, then yes, since I bothered to actually Google the answer to your rhetorical "gotcha" question before opening my mouth. You might also notice the bit where the Census (like other government forms) actually allows a space for multi-racial identity, meaning that individuals get to decide if they're biracial or not, and (gasp!) not you.

I'm sorry, but the number of things you have said about race in this thread at this point without any factual or practical backing that you are just plain wrong about is overwhelming. Given the multiple times you've used the diversity of your family in your excuses, it appears that you're adamant on demanding that everyone conform to the racial ideology of your own personal views. That's the exact opposite of racial sensitivity.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:04 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can't see how any of the links show that he "had a shot" at becoming President — "8 or 9%" of democratic primaries isn't "mainstream". In 1984 he was roundly beaten by Mondale, who went on to win precisely two states in the election.

His policies weren't mainstream either: "none of these positions (with one exception, South Africa) made it into the party's platform in either 1984 or 1988."
posted by matthewr at 5:08 PM on January 31, 2007


Possibly homosexual yellow journalist with inflammatory weblog fabricates outrage... developing...
posted by interrobang at 5:15 PM on January 31, 2007


My husband is registered, thank you. But as far as the government is concerned he's only 1/16. People lied back then because of racism; it was not seen as "advantageous "to claim "the whole amount." And even that miniscule amount was enough for the Government to insist he was Native American for a semester or two of college. His school asked him not to contest it as they needed the extra government funding.

You prove MY point. Are we white people only white if we are "lily pure" and not "contaminated" with other races? I am sorry-I find that to be racist and offensive in the extreme. I hate to use such inflammatory language, but I feel I must to make a point.

As to my insensitivity, all I meant to point out was that there seems to be a kneejerk response of labelling anyone with Black blood of any percentage as Black, period. Look at Tiger Woods. He's half Thai. No one ever talks about THAT.

If a person cannot be proud of ALL his or her ancestry, I have a problem with that. Using Obama as an example, do we really want to imply that his mother does not matter? I doubt he or his father or his mother would say that.
posted by konolia at 5:23 PM on January 31, 2007


Seriously? Apart from Colin Powell (who's not elected), I can't think of a single one offhand.

In recent news:
Deval Patrick, the current Governor of the Commonwealth of Masachusetts -- elected in 2006.
In past news:
Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, Georgia.

Barbara Jordan, member of Congress from 1973 to 1979.

Et al.
posted by ericb at 5:23 PM on January 31, 2007


Lest my above remarks be misunderstood, I see my husband and he sees himself as part Cherokee-but it would be ludicrous for him to tell people he was Cherokee, period.
posted by konolia at 5:26 PM on January 31, 2007


I think I'd label Obama articulate not because it's so shocking cause he's black but rather because he's a politician and a democrat, and one of those who can convey to a general audience the progressive ideals I hold so dear without making me want to vomit, wince or throw my shoe at the tv is a rare thing.
posted by tula at 5:35 PM on January 31, 2007


I think Joe Biden, along with most people, would define a 'mainstream politician', especially in the context of a discussion about Obama's presidential campaign, as someone who's very well-known nationally, and has a credible shot at the presidency. No African-Americans fitted this description, prior to Obama.

Jesse Jackson was, I'm sure, well-known nationally, but hardly had a credible shot at being elected president. Of course one can name mayors, congressmen and governers, but they're hardly familiar faces to the average man on the street (nationally), with a few exceptions like Schwarzenegger.

I think a good test of "mainstream"-ness in this context is:
"Has the average "man on the street" heard of them, and does he think they have a credible chance of being elected president?"
posted by matthewr at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2007


hey, if only Rodney King had said "My mom's white, I'm not black, I'm BIRACIAL!" the LAPD would have never beaten the shit out of him, that's for sure
posted by matteo at 5:36 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Look at Tiger Woods. He's half Thai. No one ever talks about THAT."

Actually, yeah they do. I'm not going to bother googling "Tiger Woods + Multiracial" and linking that, but I trust that you'd do that, if interested at all in verifying. He's also not half Thai, his mother is half-Thai half-Chinese. His father is Native American-Black-White. He himself says that he is "whoever you see in front of you."
posted by Tikirific at 5:39 PM on January 31, 2007


atrios on Jackson: ... He certainly had, by the only measure which is really important, a hell of a lot more broad mainstream support than did the very serious mainstream Joe Lieberman. I have serious doubts that he'd have managed to actually win the presidency had he won the primary, but he couldn't have done much worse than Mike Dukakis. ...

No one evens questions whether people like Biden or Lieberman or Vilsack etc, are mainstream or not. It's stupid to do it to Jackson.
posted by amberglow at 5:41 PM on January 31, 2007


senator biden was obviously trying to compliment senator obama, and look at all the self-appointed arbiters of race in speech who came out to pile on him. these word cops would prohibit our use of "articulate" and "well-spoken" in reference to a black man, leaving us nothing with which to describe an articulate black man except perhaps "uh, he talk good." these word cops are the real racists, because they relegate blacks to a lesser status than whites as people who are forever barred from an entire class of complimentary adjectives.
posted by bruce at 5:41 PM on January 31, 2007


matthewr, you don't win entire states in primaries unless the majority of those voters do think you have a chance. You don't win millions of votes if people don't think you have a chance.
posted by amberglow at 5:42 PM on January 31, 2007


(also, the average man on the street is actually a nonvoter completely--most people don't vote--so their opinion isn't as valuable as you think.)
posted by amberglow at 5:46 PM on January 31, 2007


According to one colleague, Senator Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." For what it's worth, Senator Biden says that Senator Obama was not insulted by the remark

Biden has said a bunch of racist shit, like "You can't go into a 7-11 without a slight Indian accent" (wtf). If Obama isn't offended, he's not getting my vote.
posted by delmoi at 5:52 PM on January 31, 2007


A fifth of the democratic nomination vote in the 1984, and less than a third in 1989, both of which ended in Republican victories by a huge margin? He didn't come within a mile of the White House. Clearly, the average man on the street (nationally) didn't think he was presidential material.

Whether or not Joe Biden is mainstream or not has nothing to do with it.
posted by matthewr at 5:55 PM on January 31, 2007


konolia: Obama calls himself black.
posted by delmoi at 5:56 PM on January 31, 2007


Look at Tiger Woods. He's half Thai.

At a guess, I'd say that half gets less press because it isn't the half that would've barred him from membership at Augusta National until 1990.
posted by gompa at 5:59 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


You prove MY point. Are we white people only white if we are "lily pure" and not "contaminated" with other races? I am sorry-I find that to be racist and offensive in the extreme.

By all means be inflammatory; it'll be all the more comforting to call you a hypocrite. You don't seem to have any problem finding Obama's blackness "contaminated" or you wouldn't have thrown a tantrum at the beginning of this thread about him being a black man with a non-black parent. And don't try to cower behind some broad example all of a sudden; no one here said only "pure" white people are white. Meanwhile, you didn't say "all people with different-race parents should be biracial;" you specifically said "Obama isn't black; he has a white mother." The only- ONLY person here who has suggested multi-racial background negates ethnic identity is you, so please, kindly take your smug feelings of ethnic awareness and shove them up whatever color ass you have.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:02 PM on January 31, 2007


also, the average man on the street is actually a nonvoter completely

On the contrary. 60.7% turnout.

Unless you're considering the entire population, in which case the turnout was 40% (122m/300m).

If you define 'man on the street' as a man/woman whose opinion has some effect (i.e. they can vote), then things change. To start with, you can discard 0-18 yr olds, which cuts the population to 240m. Then, 122/240 gives 51% turnout. Hence, the average man on the street (for any reasonable definition) is indeed a voter.
posted by matthewr at 6:03 PM on January 31, 2007


Calling a black person "articulate" and "bright" is demeaning and implies that black people, in general, are not articulate and/or bright.

I have no doubt that this is sometimes the case, but only when the person in question isn't particularly more articulate or bright than anyone else, and is only considered so by comparison to a falsely deflated standard. But Obama's two most obvious qualities are that is he very articulate and very bright, and when people mention that, they aren't comparing him to anyone else, they are stating what is objectively so.

It's a really messed up era we are living in if I can't get excited about how articulate and bright a Democratic candidate is without going to the damn thesaurus to find some other way of saying it so someone doesn't think it's some kind of backward smear.

If anyone is being belittled by so describing Obama, it would have to be someone associated with president politics who was noticably inarticulate and none-to-bright. There may be an example, but no one comes to mind at the moment.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:04 PM on January 31, 2007


Wait. I just thought of one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:07 PM on January 31, 2007


But Obama's two most obvious qualities are that is he very articulate and very bright, and when people mention that, they aren't comparing him to anyone else, they are stating what is objectively so.

I don't think Biden is a horrible person, but his statements certainly raise to the level of "impolite"

Pater: Is Obama really that articulate? I'd say he's only a little above average compared to the average politician. There are a few very inarticulate politicos, like Bush, but they're rare.

Obama jams his speech with less-common words, which while impressive, don't really do a better job of communicating. I don't think he's a better communicator then Bill Clinton, or John Edwards, who do a much better job of convening emotion.
posted by delmoi at 6:24 PM on January 31, 2007


I have no doubt that this is sometimes the case, but only when the person in question isn't particularly more articulate or bright than anyone else, and is only considered so by comparison to a falsely deflated standard.

That's just not true. I don't even see why that would be true. Because Obama actually is "articulate," Biden's conscious or subconscious intent by using that word to describe him is automactically a good one? So if a racist called Obama "articulate" it couldn't possibly be meant offensively because Obama actually is? What? That's some weird logic.

And I really don't think Obama is that much more articulate than some other Democratic presidential hopefuls. The fact that it was used to describe Obama, and right after Biden mentioned Obama's African-Americanness makes it more likely, to me at least, that in Biden's head those two things are linked.
posted by eunoia at 6:31 PM on January 31, 2007


Race is pretty idiotic, isn't it? I mean, how little self-esteem do you have to take pride in the fact that your skin is a different color than someone else's?

Which isn't to say folks should be ashamed of their ancestry, but to build it into your self-worth as anything other than an interesting historical note...well, there are a hundred more important things. With racists, pigmentation is the only thing they seem to find worthwhile about themselves. That's sad.

To my eye, it's very much like people who have lived here for ten generations calling themselves "Irish" or whatever. Please. My parents are both immigrants and I don't consider myself anything other than "American" if I have to label myself with a country and "human" if faced with choosing a race (though in my case that's debatable).

More cowbell, less Prussian Blue.
posted by maxwelton at 6:37 PM on January 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Check out the comments today on Joe Biden's blog. I guess they're moderated.
posted by delmoi at 6:39 PM on January 31, 2007


eunioa: Is it your position that it is always inappropriate to call a black person articulate? That that word is forever off that table? That's what it sound like you are saying, and I find it bizarre. I'm not going to get into a debate about who is the most articulate Democratic candidate, but Obama is a really good speaker. His '04 convention address was very well-recieved, and it was largely because of that event that he came to national prominence. (And it was not jammed with less-common words, delmoi.)

I don't know what Biden's conscious intent was, and neither you nor I (nor he, presumably) know what his subconcious intent (if there is such a thing) was. But I am sick of this game where the media spins something a Democrat says in the worst possible way, and the whole country spends the next week either mindlessly believing it or getting sucked into these time-draining debates over what should be minutae.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:48 PM on January 31, 2007


FWIW, Obama's reponse:

“I didn’t take Senator Biden’s comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.”

posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:50 PM on January 31, 2007


Off topic, but googling Obama and "convention speech" led to this letter from Obama to Stephen Colbert. I would have voted for Obama anyway, but now I'll do it twice.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:55 PM on January 31, 2007


I'm saying that if my white rival in the race to be elected my party's nominee for president called me "articulate" and "bright" and "clean," after pointing out my blackness, I wouldn't say "Thanks Joe!" without thinking further about his intent. And, on a personal note, I've had a white person call me "articulate" and it didn't sit well with me. I'm not saying it shouldn't ever be said- that's obviously not my place. I'm saying that, in this context, it's offensive. It's not Kramer offensive, but it's still offensive.

This isn't about Democrats or Republicans for me. I feel no loyalty to any politician or political party (and don't understand people who do). I think that brand of loyalty makes people ignore the fact that this kind of comment should, at least, be questioned, and not apologized for, knee-jerk fashion.
posted by eunoia at 7:17 PM on January 31, 2007


Sometimes Joe Biden sounds like he's smoked more dust than James Brown.
posted by The Straightener at 7:21 PM on January 31, 2007


I remember Jesse Jackson's presidential runs in '84 and '88.

He was definitely mainstream.

He did much better than McCain did in 2000. Is McCain mainstream?
posted by teece at 7:25 PM on January 31, 2007


eunioa: Is it your position that it is always inappropriate to call a black person articulate? That that word is forever off that table?

I'm not eunioa, but I'll say that so long as the observation is being made in direct connection to race, then yes. It's condescending. It's a pat on the head. And even if it isn't meant that way, it's going to be taken that way by a lot of people because, unfortunately, there is a ton of bad history there. Some phrases are just fraught with implications and tagging an African-American with that word -- in most cases, a sloppy shorthand where so many better ideas can and should be voiced instead -- simply carries too much baggage. It muddies the message and instead of being accepted as a simple compliment it becomes a raging debate.

What's needed here is greater precision in language. Isn't it funny that a word which conveys that idea should raise that concern?
posted by Dreama at 7:27 PM on January 31, 2007


When I grow up, I wanna be the first mainstream European-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.

'Cause this is America, goddamnit. Anything is possible.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:40 PM on January 31, 2007


Actually it turns out that Obama is not really black, at least according to some black people.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:52 PM on January 31, 2007


"I'll take 'Mainstream African-Americans' for $200, Alex."
"The answer is, 'He was the first articulate, bright, clean, nice-looking guy.'"
* ring *
"Rob --"
"Who was OJ Simpson?"
posted by rob511 at 7:56 PM on January 31, 2007


(rob511, i'd say Bill Cosby would be the answer, or Sidney Poitier--or maybe Thurgood Marshall or MLK even.)
posted by amberglow at 8:05 PM on January 31, 2007


In 1984 he was roundly beaten by Mondale, who went on to win precisely two states in the election.

actually, i think it was one state and one district. Jackson never had a chance in hell; he was the ralph nader candidate if anything - a protest vote, running to make a point, not to actually win. Like Sharpton. Obama is the first black candidate who really could be the nominee of a major political party, which is a pretty big deal.

And articulate is certainly a word I'd use to describe him no matter what his ethnicity; he's one of the best speakers that's been up for this job in a long time.

"bright", "clean" (!WTF) and "a nice-looking guy" seem much more troublesome to me. "Bright" seems like a way to say "not that stupid" - people use it to talk about kids or young students starting out; you don't call professors or research scientists "bright"...

It's also a little surprising that "inarticulate" is considered a stereotype of black people. It seems to me there are a lot of stereotypes of black culture which emphasize the importance of language use - preachers, rap artists, spoken word. Many famous black americans seem to have been orators. That ability may be considered slightly different from being articulate in a quiet, intellectual way, but even so that isn't the descriptive that throws me.
posted by mdn at 8:13 PM on January 31, 2007


Biden's comments were those of an old fashioned jackass. HOWEVER, let me say a few things.

You know, we go through posts, the Woody Allen show where he sat down with a televangelist, the Gore Vidals and the William F. Buckleys and polite debate and dissent (crypto-nazists aside), and we bemoan the buffoonery of Bush and the empty double-talk of seemingly every modern day politician. "Where is our Kennedy?" has been asked more than once of our generation.

We suffer through the Randi Rhodes and the Ann Coulters of the world bashing heads, inarticulate in their profiteering outrage and self-righteousness. Is it then wrong for us to then say, "thank god for someone who is articulate, and who expresses ideas and ideals similar to my own." When I have to cringe at my own party's leaders bumbling through failed jokes and choked screams, the level of articulation in expressing complex polical ideas that Obama brings is welcome.

To have people shy away from calling any leader "articulate" in this day for being a skilled rhetorician because it might be racist is baffling.
posted by boo_radley at 8:19 PM on January 31, 2007


umm, Amber, I was going for the counterexample there....
posted by rob511 at 8:20 PM on January 31, 2007


but people don't really use the word articulate unless they're talking about Black people. And the overwhelming majority of politicians are articulate--they wouldn't have been elected otherwise, i don't think. It's not remarkable at all. It's the ones who can't speak (like Bush) who are remarked upon, not the ones who can.

As I type, Biden is on the Daily Show.
posted by amberglow at 8:22 PM on January 31, 2007


oh, sorry rob--there's this strain of "acceptable Black men" that i thought you meant--OJ was one of them for decades
posted by amberglow at 8:23 PM on January 31, 2007


Biden's not helping himself at all.
posted by amberglow at 8:24 PM on January 31, 2007


What i find most interesting is that Obama's life is much like many other 1st-generation hyphenated-American's lives more than any other kind of life, generally speaking. Has that made him more acceptable to white "mainstream" society? Is it the differences that aren't due to his own ambition and accomplishments (the pattern of his life, and accidents of birth, and what is expected of most 1st generation Americans in terms of accomplishing a great deal and proving the parent's struggles, etc) and talents, or is it those ambitions and accomplishments and talents that are his alone, which is what Biden was speaking of so badly?
posted by amberglow at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2007


I think there are a lot of politicians who are good speakers in terms of technical merit, no stammering,good enunciation and so no. Not many can say something really inspiring, though, and that's where Obama seems to be breaking rank with his peers.
posted by boo_radley at 8:56 PM on January 31, 2007


Joe Biden forgot all about Shirley Chisholm. She ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972.

So a woman doesn't count, Senator Biden?
posted by konolia at 9:13 PM on January 31, 2007


To have people shy away from calling any leader "articulate" in this day for being a skilled rhetorician because it might be racist is baffling.

That word, while in itself accurate, carries way too much baggage, my friend.

Maybe you have to be old enough to remember how things were back when your skin color dictated where you sat in the movie theater to understand.
posted by konolia at 9:17 PM on January 31, 2007


The lesson: If you call Obama a great orator, you are not a racist, because nobody will dispute his oratory skill. But if you call him articulate, you're a racist asshole, regardless of your intentions.

Yay America. We've made so much progress. Soon kids will be calling each other "articulate" as a playground insult, much like they claimed the word "retarded."

P.S. I am biracial but I don't care so much about race for my identity as I do nationality. That is my right, just as Obama is free to call himelf African American if he so chooses.
posted by bugmuncher at 10:59 PM on January 31, 2007


Articulate is the new black.

Or something.
posted by dreamsign at 1:27 AM on February 1, 2007


It's time to "Ned Lamont" another Joe. While he has a lot of respectable qualities for a Delawarean, whenever he opens his mouth it's a 50/50 chance we will have misspoken.
posted by moonbird at 4:22 AM on February 1, 2007


It's time to "Ned Lamont" another Joe.

It sure showed the first Joe who is boss!
posted by srboisvert at 4:37 AM on February 1, 2007


Chris Rock on Colin Powell being called 'well-spoken': "That's some shit you say about retarded people that can talk!"

Chris Rock, dead-on the vast majority of the time, gets it really wrong here. This sentiment panders to a sort of willful defensiveness, a desire to perceive condescension and insult where none was intended or even exists.

Grinding an axe in this manner makes almost any kind of meaningful discourse impossible (every term you can possible use has "baggage" therefore, we cannot use any of it), and the majority of comments on this thread support that assertion.
posted by psmealey at 6:01 AM on February 1, 2007


IANAA (gf is, FWIW) - being black, or of any race in this country (world!) is something that both self-defined for yourself, and externally imposed. This leads to a reflexively defined identity based on how people VIEW YOU, and act towards you. A bi-racial child, in this country will go through life, having race and racial perceptions applied to him by others, and WILL have to deal with the fact that this happens. Society constructs a racial construct in which you HAVE to deal with and define yourself within. Bi-racial is fine as a term, and an identity, but in reality you are viewed as an African-American, or as a black.*

That is one factor in making people who are "bi-racial," OWN the term African American, you CAN'T IGNORE IT!**

btw this is why MaxWelton's point here is just... wrong, and ignorant of what it means to be of race in this country. You are just American because you happen to be white.

I mean, how little self-esteem do you have to take pride in the fact that your skin is a different color than someone else's?


You HAVE TO, because others DON'T view it positively.

* Plenty of first or second generation immigrants from Africa or Carribean Islands will not self-define themselves as African Americans.

** I knew one person who was half-black and who called himself "bi-racial," and he definitely had serious racial identity issues,
posted by stratastar at 7:25 AM on February 1, 2007



Grinding an axe in this manner makes almost any kind of meaningful discourse impossible (every term you can possible use has "baggage" therefore, we cannot use any of it), and the majority of comments on this thread support that assertion.


Really, would you go up to a black person and address them as Nigger, or Negro?

Perceptions and the history of racism in this country matter, and so baggage is not a non-issue.

I understand you're feelings on the point though. Stuff like this makes discussion of race in America difficult, and is one of the reasons (along with deeply intertwined cultural, social and economic issues) why race in America is such a deep issue.
posted by stratastar at 7:32 AM on February 1, 2007


That's a bit of a strawman, stratastar, I meant to imply no such thing. What I was decrying was that assigning baggage to words that don't necessarily need to be so charged reduces our capacity for dialogue.

** I knew one person who was half-black and who called himself "bi-racial,"

Seems like those terms ("half-black" and "'bi-racial'") are a gigantic step backwards for the efforts to integrate of American society, ongoing since the Jim Crow era. Terms like those hearken to racist and divisive Reconstruction-era nomenclature, like "mulatto" and "quadroon", which implied a different social hierarchical standing. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's hard to see anything positive there.
posted by psmealey at 7:36 AM on February 1, 2007


Seems like those terms ("half-black" and "'bi-racial'") are a gigantic step backwards for the efforts to integrate of American society, ongoing since the Jim Crow era. Terms like those hearken to racist and divisive Reconstruction-era nomenclature, like "mulatto" and "quadroon", which implied a different social hierarchical standing. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's hard to see anything positive there.

As long as we live in a society where racial category matters, these terms will matter.

Frankly, when I am asked what race I am on a form, I generally try to put "human." I would love to live in a day when the question would not even be asked.
posted by konolia at 7:49 AM on February 1, 2007


FWIW I wasn't being aggressive but I don't think that's a strawman argument, at all. I was just taking your point about baggage and extending it to its logical conclusion about words and expressions with baggage. You simply cannot choose that the word has unnecessary baggage, because it evokes a reaction (rightly or wrongly) from someone affected by it.

The words articulate or well-spoken as applied by whites to blacks will ALWAYS evoke reactions for good reasons, and perhaps that is why the baggage-card can be pulled on certain occasions. One simply cannot know the cultural significance of a term to a specific person. (Now there is some point where there needs to be a line drawn on what is or is not appropriate or acceptable discourse but unfortunately I have no idea how to navigate where it should/can be drawn, or by who.)

Discussions of race are interesting because they highlight the limits of language for expressing experience...
posted by stratastar at 7:51 AM on February 1, 2007


One simply cannot know the cultural significance of a term to a specific person.

That is my point exactly. I was stunned to read this thread yesterday and learn that "well spoken" and "articulate" were racist terms when employed in certain contexts. You can deem practically any gesture or statement patronizing and condescending, if that's all you can see.

At what point do the terms "eloquent", "expressive" and "lucid", end up there? So what then? We're reduced to words like "good" and "okay" to describe something about how we communicate with each other?

Not to bang the drum for any anti-PC crusade, but if anyone can declare any term at any given time off limits, then we end up with less and less common descriptive language with which to use and we are all the worse off for it.

Discussions of race are interesting because they highlight the limits of language for expressing experience.

Language is plenty limiting enough, there's no need to give into those who seek to limit it further.
posted by psmealey at 8:02 AM on February 1, 2007


I knew one person who was half-black and who called himself "bi-racial," and he definitely had serious racial identity issues

In what way did he have issues?

If he was half-black he WAS Biracial. That is an accurate term. That IS his identity.

If a person wants to "pass"-in EITHER direction-that is their business. But it is not up to us, or to you, or to racists, to tell him that he is anything other than what he actually is.
posted by konolia at 8:03 AM on February 1, 2007


psmealey, how many times to we notice white politicians singled out as articulate?

Maybe it's just a southern thing. And I don't think most people who use the term mean it as anything but complementary. But it is just that unconscious racism-and make no mistake, that is how it sounds to black people and in most cases IS-that white people are in denial over.

Yes, in most cases we as whites want to and are fairminded. (BTW "fairninded" is also a code term.) But it would behoove us to have a little humility and LISTEN to what black people are telling us about our thought processes.

Let me reach back into my childhood memories and bring back this little bit of info...when I was a wee youngun the stereotype was of black folk who talked in a particular dialect which would be pretty much the opposite of "articulate." I suspect that is why any educated black individual I ran into in those days had the clearest, precisest diction I had ever heard. When one wanted to damn with faint praise one of these individuals, out came the word "articulate."

Racism, particularly Southern racism, is a many-headed hydra that at times has great subtlety. Black people can spot it a mile away. Some of us white folks if we are willing to be honest can see it almost as clearly. Idealists who didn't grow up in this maelstrom might not be able to see a lot of it at all. Doesn't mean it isn't there.
posted by konolia at 8:13 AM on February 1, 2007


psmealey, how many times to we notice white politicians singled out as articulate?

That's where I'm not seeing it. That's precisely the term I would have used to describe most of Al Gore's speeches of the past 6 years, John Kerry's acceptance speech at the 2004 DNC (because that was an exception; normally he is horrendously mealy-mouthed and obtuse), and Tony Blankely's statements on Left Right or Center (not that I ever agree with him).

But I will accept your points on history, context and will plead ignorance on Southern racism, having never spent any significant time in that part of the country.

If he was half-black he WAS Biracial. That is an accurate term. That IS his identity.

Here's where my idealism comes in. Not to begrudge someone how he or she self-identifies, but doesn't the DNA + geneological research work popularized by Dr. Henry Louis Gates and others reveal such designations to be imprecise, wrong and downright silly? Almost all of us in the US are some surprising mix of native american, european and african in our DNA.

Such constructs and labels frustrate me profoundly. The attitudes they carry with them seem to do more to heighten and prolong differences among us than they do to tear them down. Don't we want to get to a place in our dialogue where race is irrelevant, and that these issues are merely distracting sideshows that pander to people's not quite so lofty tendencies?
posted by psmealey at 8:32 AM on February 1, 2007


I'm a little more pessimistic. Some behavioral psychologists think that we have in our brains a deep-seated function that works to quickly designate in-groups and out-groups (useful for back when we were nomads not so useful now).

I think this us/ not us switch that we have makes the changing human perceptions of racial and social group identities very difficult. ALL societies discriminate based on skin color (read up about Brazilian race issues).

This book isn't about race per se but I think it does alot for getting at about identity formation.
posted by stratastar at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2007


Here's where my idealism comes in. Not to begrudge someone how he or she self-identifies, but doesn't the DNA + geneological research work popularized by Dr. Henry Louis Gates and others reveal such designations to be imprecise, wrong and downright silly? Almost all of us in the US are some surprising mix of native american, european and african in our DNA.

Such constructs and labels frustrate me profoundly. The attitudes they carry with them seem to do more to heighten and prolong differences among us than they do to tear them down. Don't we want to get to a place in our dialogue where race is irrelevant, and that these issues are merely distracting sideshows that pander to people's not quite so lofty tendencies


I cannot argue with what you are saying, BUT:

The whole problem I have with this topic has its own historical context. I am sure you have heard of the "one drop rule." Back in the bad old days it was illegal to marry outside one's race-white racists feared race mixing (never mind that there was plenty of white ancestry in black people already, thanks to slave owners taking advantage of slave women, etc.) If one could be proven to have ANY black ancestry, therefore, one WAS black, and could not marry a white person (and these rules apparently were in place for native americans as well-in those days my own marriage would have been verboten.)

True, race is as much a social construct as a biological construct, if not more so. But biracial people do have access to both those cultures as well, more or less.
posted by konolia at 8:56 AM on February 1, 2007


Some of my best friends are articulate.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM EST on January 31

And a few of my best friends are clean.

But forget about Obama's cleanliness-- I want to know more about this terrorist training school he attended as a young 'un.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:11 AM on February 1, 2007


“...the level of articulation in expressing complex polical ideas that Obama brings is welcome.
To have people shy away from calling any leader "articulate" in this day for being a skilled rhetorician because it might be racist is baffling.” - posted by boo_radley

“You can deem practically any gesture or statement patronizing and condescending, if that's all you can see.... Don't we want to get to a place in our dialogue where race is irrelevant, and that these issues are merely distracting sideshows that pander to people's not quite so lofty tendencies?” - posted by psmealey

Both comments technically correct. But this is a double edged sword. In the first place, in consideration of the source, this is the guy who said you can’t work at 7-11 without an Indian accent amongst other things...so there’s that.
Secondly, even if one is technically correct in speaking there is the possibility for the perception to be skewed and offense taken - whether it SHOULD be is a different matter that I’ll get to in a second. For example, someone in my office mentioned buoyancy and varying degrees of it as regards black people. I mentioned that black people do, in fact, have different buoyancy in the water. In fact, everyone does as determined by their fat content and other things. If you dive, you’re well aware of all this.
I was not, at the time, aware of the comments by Dodgers Vice President Al Campanis who had said black men made lousy swimmers because of their buoyancy (I was out of the country in ‘87). However it’s become a part of the black subculture such that it’s a hot button to bring up at all and causes distortion in communication. In this case I would argue that lack of knowlege of the context one’s phrasing on one’s audiance makes one decidedly inarticulate.

Which brings me to Obama himself and whether this should be taken as offensive. It’s interesting to note that Obama didn’t get pissed about it at first. He’s a cerebral guy and for men concerned with the life of the mind such matters tend to escape them. For the African-American community this seems to be a sign that he’s not black enough. Which is bullshit, he’s merely an intellectual. However it’s understandable bullshit. The black community has been betrayed many times by a variety of individuals, so showing allegence is a real issue.
I remember reading Marvel comics...secret wars I believe, and Rhodes was standing in for Tony Stark as Iron Man.
Reed Richards was doing some work on his gauntlet and Rhodes’ hand was exposed revealing that he is a black man. Rhodes asks Richards “Are you surprised there is a black man under this?”
And Richards says “Not at all. I’m well aware Iron Man is not a robot.”
- Context.
I’m sure if Reed Richards gave it some thought he’d realize where Rhodes was coming from, but for Richards it’s a non-issue.
Same thing with Obama. In most academic circles, and in the circles he travels in socially (say - at the East Bank Club - if you have enough money and class to get it, doesn’t matter what color you are - and it is a social circle, people just happen to work out there on the side) he’s taken seriously for his ideas and positions devoid of other considerations.
So Biden says he’s articulate, Obama says ‘thanks’ and it doesn’t hit him until a bit later that Biden is having a jag-off attack. It doesn’t occur to him that someone might seriously say something like that to be offensive. Not because he’s naive, but because it’s so obviously a self-negating comment. And indeed, Obama’s first reaction was sort of how you’d deal with a misbehaving, less than intelligent child: “Yeah, whatever. Ok, he doesn’t know any better.”
Biden is ignorant and addled, but he’s still in the same party.
I think Obama was trying exactly that - to remain in a dialogue where race is a lesser issue. Others seem to want to play up the “Lookit! He’s black!” thing. On a personal level he’d probably get away with blowing it off, but unfortunately you can’t simply dismiss such a thing when you’re playing on the symbol level. Indeed, one of the points of contention, particularly at this early stage, is defining what one is a symbol OF. Others often want to have a hand in that. I dunno, I’d probably have said in response “It’s nice to see Mr. Biden in big boy pants today,” or some such. But one of Obama’s few flaws is that he doesn’t bust balls. I kind of like that tho, because if anyone was a ball buster it was Clinton. Which is probably why he wound up on the hook for such a silly thing.

Anyone else think “Richard Cory” when reading the “clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack” thing?
posted by Smedleyman at 9:23 AM on February 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


If a senator said "GEM is the first mainstream Polish-American who is able to change a lightbulb without assistance from two friends. I mean, that's a storybook!" I'd call him a jerk. I'm not "mainstream" by any means, but you get the idea. Even if his intentions were to compliment my self-sufficiency and mechanical abilities, it would rub me the wrong way.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:02 AM on February 1, 2007


Konalia, I also have one black parent & one white one. I'm black, white & biracial. Personally I'm happy with all those things. It's not really a big deal. If you ever thought you could say that I'm not black I'd feel completely free to tell you exactly what I think you are.

Why don't you break down what the "best[s] of both worlds" are for us? Would you ever use that "best of both worlds" phrase with your grandson? You think he'd love to have you break down the plusses & minuses of his black (or white) heritage for him and how it's reflected in him?

So the default pigeon-holing of mixed folks into "black" is bogus, but to respond to that by saying so-and-so "isn't black" is completely out of line.
posted by Wood at 11:16 AM on February 1, 2007


stratastar, I apologize if I was offensive, I didn't mean for my comment to be.

I was trying to point out how sad "white pride" is--and by extension it's sad that there's any need for "black pride." That there is a value to the latter in our society, given our class and racism divides, was not something I meant to belittle.

Accidents of birth shouldn't be a source of pride any more than having a liver should be. However, my point is hopelessly naive and again I'm sorry if it was offensive.
posted by maxwelton at 11:59 AM on February 1, 2007


a salon article [beware of the ad] that comments on the role of calling oneself black, or "black".

Good article imo on the subject of skin color and identity.
posted by jouke at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2007


Wood, perhaps I should rephrase that to "black is not all he is."

And who wouldn't want the best for a grandson? Do you think I want him to face racism? (or for that matter, for my son-in-law to have to deal with the fact my parents refuse to meet him simply because he is black?) Do I want him to ever be rejected by others because "he isn't black enough?"

I want him to be able to embrace both sides of himself. Just as I embrace my English and Greek heritage. Just as my husband embraces his Irish and Cherokee heritage.

Fair enough?
posted by konolia at 12:27 PM on February 1, 2007


(Oh, and the grandson is one month old as of today. So I doubt racial identity means much to him at the moment.)
posted by konolia at 12:29 PM on February 1, 2007


Slight derail, but, whatever the upshot, I notice no one protests the “well-hung” appellation applied to anyone. I mean if Biden said Obama was really well hung I doubt there’d be much protest: “Senator Obama is an articulate and bright, nice-looking guy. And oh yeah, he’s got a cock like a horse.”
Speculation, perhaps, as to how Biden’d know that (maybe he showers at the East Bank Club), and relevance of course, but rarely does anyone get put out of kilter over that one.
“Hey man, quit going around telling people I’ve got a big dick!” - is a phrase rarely turned in anger.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:27 PM on February 1, 2007


Why does Biden hate Barbaro?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:31 PM on February 1, 2007


Max, no offense taken, and no offense taken personally. Race is a big issue for some people and sometimes you have to remember why it is like that, wishing it away just kinda struck me...

Summing up the conversation it really comes down to intent and perception...



...and being well hung.
posted by stratastar at 4:44 PM on February 1, 2007


related--a new survey: ...Many young blacks believe they are treated as third-class citizens in the U.S., ignored by a government that considers them the lowest of the low, researchers said yesterday.
The most comprehensive survey of black youth for years has found a community that sees itself as ravaged by poverty, crime and poor education - and kept down by leaders who represent only white America.
The University of Chicago survey found 48% thought even new immigrants are treated with more respect than blacks are. ...
posted by amberglow at 6:59 PM on February 2, 2007


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