What “articulate” means

Many publications are examining Sen. Biden’s “compliments” of Sen. Obama, specifically his use of the word “articulate.” Though this isn’t about a book or author per se, it is about the use of language and worth taking a look at.

From Black Star News:

So, a cadre of leaders was called upon to prove that Blacks were sub-human. Pseudoscience mixed with assorted fallacies was used by prominent whites from all walks of American life to debase and dehumanize Blacks. Here are a few examples.

First, there is that of Francis Galton the so-called father of the eugenics movement. A cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton in his 1869 work “Hereditary Genius” stated that “the number among the Negroes of whom we shall call half-witted men is very large—I was myself much impressed by this fact during my travels in Africa. The mistakes the Negroes made in there own matters were so childish, stupid and simpleton-like.” Galton also said that “the Negro race occasionally, but very rarely, produced men such as Toussaint L’ Ouverture.” Sound similar to Biden’s definition of “articulate” if you ask me.

The NYTimes:

When whites use the word in reference to blacks, it often carries a subtext of amazement, even bewilderment. It is similar to praising a female executive or politician by calling her “tough” or “a rational decision-maker.”

“When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate … for a black person,” Ms. Perez said.

Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the “compliment” is notably different from other black people.

“Historically, it was meant to signal the exceptional Negro,” Mr. Dyson said. “The implication is that most black people do not have the capacity to engage in articulate speech, when white people are automatically assumed to be articulate.”

Anna Perez is the former communications counselor for Ms. Rice when she was national security adviser.

Michael Eric Dyson is a professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.

From the Boston Herald:

An articulate African-American?
“That means sounds white,” says Ralph Martin, former Suffolk County district attorney, now chairman of the Board of Directors of Boston’s Chamber of Commerce.
“It drives we articulate black people crazy,” says local TV commentator Callie Crossley. “Some people are a little smarter now and they do, ‘well-spoken.’ It’s a whole code thing of, ‘You cleaned up nice and can put two sentences together.’ ”
“It’s an insult, because if the same exact person was sitting in my chair and was white, no one would say it,” says NECN sports anchor Chris Collins. “It’s almost like they’re surprised, and it shouldn’t be a surpise. I sit at my dinner table and hang out with my friends and I’m not shocked when I can understand them.”


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