Here’s a thought-provoking essay from the NYT about Joe Biden’s use of the word “articulate” last week to describe Barack Obama (free registration required).
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 â€œtoughâ€ or â€œa rational decision-maker.â€
â€œWhen people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate … for a black person,â€ (Anna Perez, the former communications counselor for Condoleezza Rice) said.
Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the â€œcomplimentâ€ is notably different from other black people.
It’s the cultural equivalent of the “You speak English so well!” line that so many Asian Americans have heard all our lives.
It’s subtle, it’s racist, and it’s always there.