Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Articulating further…

It blows my mind how some people are addicted to grievance.

A version of my post about the Barack Obama “articulate” meme is up on the Huffington Post. One peevish commenter says my citations of John Edwards (a white man) being described as “articulate” do not disprove the word’s condescending import. In fact, they confirm it!

“ ‘Articulate’ almost always is the label given to an individual who isn’t expected to be – and John Edwards was a great example of that,” wrote this Pouting Thomas. “This adjective is most often reserved for people of color, southerners, poor people and foreigners.”

Another HuffPost commenter echoed that analysis: “Sen. Edwards gets called ‘articulate’ because our reporters can't imagine that anybody with a ‘Tobacco Road’ accent can be intelligent.”

Ahh. So Obama is the target of anti-black condescension, and Edwards is the target of anti-Southern condescension. Got it.

“Whenever white people describe an individual who is not a mainstream WASP as articulate,” the Pouting Thomas insists, it’s meant to be patronizing.

Of course, it took me two minutes to think of a “mainstream WASP” who is often described as articulate. In fact, it’s yet another Democratic candidate for president.

I speak of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Check it out:

Liza Mundy, Washington Post Magazine: “It's the ideal that permits her supporters to accept her dual role as one of the world's most articulate advocates of women's rights, and, at the same time, a wife who has endured months – years, decades – of emotional mistreatment.” – March 21, 1999

Doris Kearns Goodwin, PBS’s “NewsHour”: “Some of her instincts are great. I think she's incredibly articulate, intelligent.” – July 7, 1999

William Douglas, Newsday: “Marcel Weber, chairman of the Orthodox Union’s board, said Clinton was ‘articulate and well-prepared. Overall it was a positive impression.’ ” – December 15, 1999

Rupert Cornwell, the Independent on Sunday: “[M]entally they [the Clintons] were – and remain – a perfect match. Each respected the other's intellect. She was the decisive one, articulate, business-like and determined. He was charming, disorganised and irresistibly persuasive.” – June 8, 2003

Leslie Heuer, Iowa State Daily: “Barbara Walters… plowed through the tough questions to a poised, articulate and elegantly dressed Clinton Sunday evening.” – June 12, 2003

Blogger Wayne Besen: “I would like to see Hillary Clinton as the first woman president. She is bright, articulate and I think would have a successful administration.” – December 12, 2005

Forbes.com: “She is direct, methodical, thoughtful and articulate.” – September 6, 2006

Kathy Sullivan, New Hampshire Democratic Party chairwoman: "Senator Clinton is a dynamic, articulate leader who will be welcomed to the Granite State stage with tremendous excitement." – December 23, 2006

And on the website votehillary.org, a Marlene Gargan of Lake Villa, Ill., writes: “I have been a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton since she was the First Lady. She is so intelligent, thoughtful & articulate.”

Now, I could be all wrong about this. Perhaps Hillary Clinton is the victim of sexist condescension whenever she’s described as “articulate.” Or maybe, just maybe, Clinton and Edwards and Obama are often called “articulate” because, simply, they’re much better speakers than the average politician.

Alas, it’s a mystery that may never be solved.

UPDATE (01/31/07): The Drudge Report this morning linked to a New York Observer article that quotes Sen. Joe Biden as making this genuinely condescending, offensive remark about Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man."

Well, hell... kinda blows my original premise out of the water, doesn't it?


Anonymous said...

The word articulate is most often attributed, in the case of presidential wannabes, to contrast the stupidity of President Bush.

dez said...

Now, I could be all wrong about this. Perhaps Hillary Clinton is the victim of sexist condescension whenever she’s described as “articulate.” Or maybe, just maybe, Clinton and Edwards and Obama are often called “articulate” because, simply, they’re much better speakers than the average politician.

Hillary's been a victim of sexist condescension in the past, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone says that calling her articulate fits that sexist pattern.

It peeves me that words such as "articulate" or "liberal" are used as weapons of condescension and insult. And it's very annoying that saying a person of color is articulate suddenly makes one a racist. Barack Obama *is* articulate. He's probably well-read, too. Too bad more people aren't.

"Articulate" is a perfectly cromulent word that embiggens us all.

Undercover Black Man said...

dez wrote: " 'Articulate' is a perfectly cromulent word that embiggens us all."

Praise Jebus!

susie said...

David - I am loving reading you here! And I laughed when I read the label on this entry, I can hear you saying Bullllllshit.

And now I'm going to the dictionary so I can look up cromulent and embiggens! I can't wait to use those words in a sentence.


Undercover Black Man said...

Susie, you wrote: "And now I'm going to the dictionary so I can look up cromulent and embiggens!"

I suggest instead you check out some "Simpsons" reruns, Suze.

Thanks for reading me... you can tell it's becoming an addiction. (Hopefully to replace the cigs.) Glad to see you dusted off your blog... I hope you can make time to write a lot more!

dez said...

Cromulent: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/cromulent or http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/cromulent

Embiggen: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Embiggen

(Sorry, don't know how to do the links thang here!)

ItAintEazy said...

Leave it to Joe Biden to expose the dog whistling behind the "articulation" of Obama. However, Mr. Mills, you have succeeded in demonstrating that we shouldn't take every perceived affront at face value.

dez said...

Well, hell... kinda blows my original premise out of the water, doesn't it?

More like it blows Biden's presidential aspirations to kingdom come.

Undercover Black Man said...

dez, you wrote: "(Sorry, don't know how to do the links thang here!)"

Stuff your sorries in a sack, pal. I'm about to change your life.

My recently acquired (and minimal) knowledge of HTML coding covers the links thang. Now I'm a linking fool! Want to learn how? It's easy.

There's a blogger named Chuck who has a real simple tutorial on how to do it. Click here and read his paragraph titled "A Hyperlink, With A Hidden URL"...

Master a few new keystrokes, and soon you'll be as click-happy as yours truly. (Bam!)

SJ said...

Hah, listening to Biden's comments makes me realize why black people can be paranoid sometimes.

ItAintEazy said...

Sorry, you all have to read this post by Steve Gilliard. Jesus, I'm still rolling!

ItAintEazy said...

Oops, guess I posted the wrong link

here's the correct one:


David said...

As you acknowledge, Biden's comments underscore why you were wrong about the use of the word "articulate." Not all use of the word "articulate" is racist, but condescending racists do seem to inevitably stumble across the word. As a practical matter, it's important for people who aren't condescending racists like Biden to avoid even a whiff of association with his type. That means, even if it's practical and they might use it to describe a white person as well, "articulate" is off the table. The word just doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Undercover Black Man said...

David: How sure are you that Biden isn't a condescending racist? I think it's fair to assume he said what he meant and meant what he said: It's something out of a "storybook" to have such an articulate, intelligent, good-looking and "clean" black person in a position to run for president.

But I agree with you that "articulate" is a word best avoided. As a HuffPost commenter smartly pointed out, "eloquent" is a better word anyway. And I don't think it has the taint of condescension.

itainteazy: thanks for that URL. Barack most definitely should rock the mauve shirt, burgundy tie and basketball 'fro. He'd be the Max Julien of Capitol Hill.

dez said...

UBM, I tried that link to learn about linking and got an error :(

Here's a couple of fun things I found when reading Steve's piece & the comments on it:



I've seen the last one before, but had forgotten about it. It's pretty amusing.

David said...

I'm sorry, I was not being articulate at all. I am pretty sure that Biden is a condescending racist and was using the fact that the A-word showed up in his remarks as proof that it's something that people like him are drawn to, and should be avoided by others even if they don't consider themselves condescending racists(and who does?)

The word niggardly is perfectly innocent too, but I know the guys who throw it around (when black people aren't in earshot), and there's no way in hell I'm using it.

Undercover Black Man said...

David: I apologize. What you wrote was perfectly clear, I just read it wrong. (I read it as: "... for people like Biden who aren't condescending racists...")

Feel free to snigger.

That reminds me of a line from "All in the Family," which probably wouldn't be allowed on prime-time TV today:

MEATHEAD to ARCHIE: Don't snigger.

ARCHIE to MEATHEAD: Don't you mean 'snegro'?