Boy oh boy, the blogosphere is buzzing over the Biden-Obama brouhaha concerning the a-word.
Philip Arthur Moore, whose “Articulate While Black” post at Racialicious prompted me to sound off in the first place (here and for the Huffington Post), was triumphal on Wednesday. Moore’s follow-up post on his own blog was titled: “Joe Biden proves my point about Barack Obama. (David Mills, what say you now?)”
Yeah, I deserved to get called out. So this morning I posted a comment on Moore’s blog and ate my humble pie. Indeed, Sen. Biden provided a perfect demonstration of what Moore was talking about: the condescension of white people who praise black folks as “articulate.”
I shouldn’t have called “bullshit” on the man. Regardless of the word’s occasional use in describing John Edwards or Hillary Clinton, “articulate” can totally be a backhanded insult when applied to blacks.
In my comment, I tried to refine my main point. I asked Mr. Moore:
“Can we agree on a middle ground? To wit: as Freud said, just like a cigar is sometimes a phallic symbol and sometimes it’s just a cigar, couldn’t the word ‘articulate,’ even when applied to Obama, sometimes be a patronizing put-down but sometimes be a valid, value-neutral descriptor? … Is EVERY use of the word ‘articulate’ re: Obama an insult? Or just some of the time?”
Philip Moore posted a gracious reply, which reads in part:
“Admittedly Biden’s comment was a bit of a gimme that proved my point, but I’ve heard the word ‘articulate’ thrown around again and again, and it’s usually with a different tone than when it is in regard to Edwards or Clinton. But, I can surely meet you on the middle ground.”
A civil exchange on the Internet… how about that?
Meanwhile, a commenter at the Huffington Post yesterday wrote:
“Let’s try golf: Google ‘Tiger Woods’ ‘Articulate.’ Then Google ‘Jack Nicklaus’ ‘Articulate’ – hell any well-spoken white golfer for that matter. Still think it’s not a tad racist?”
This guy must not know about me. I can play this game all day long. It’s more fun than Sudoku!
Instead of comparing Tiger Woods with a white golfer, how about another white pro athlete… say, baseball pitcher Curt Schilling?
Dennis Manoloff, Baseball Digest: “Schilling, 36, can speak on a variety of subjects, and people will listen. It helps that he is one of the more intelligent, articulate players in any clubhouse.” – August 2003
Seth Stevenson, Slate: “He’s articulate and funny, and he’s dorky enough to play online fantasy games like EverQuest…” – December 3, 2003
Letter to the Boston Globe: “Why subpoena Curt Schilling for the congressional steroid hearings? Because he is outspoken and articulate? That isn't fair.” – March 15, 2005
Michael McCann, Sports Law Blog, on the congressional steroid hearings: “Curt Schilling: Most articulate and most comfortable, by far.” – March 17, 2005
Jonah Keri, ESPN.com: “Talented and cerebral, ornery and articulate, the big righty snatched the spotlight from his team's other ace starter.” – July 28, 2006
Like I said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
At Blackprof.com, they’re getting real deep. The comment sections at Blackprof consistently host some of the feistiest, frankest discussions of race to be found online. This topic was made for those folks.
“Malik” commented yesterday: “It's simple really. ‘Articulate’ is shorthand for, ‘gee, you don't sound at all like I expect a black person to sound. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine you were white!’”
But “anthony” wrote: “With all due respect to fellow blacks who were insulted or offended: please lighten up! We have too many substantive things to be insulted and offended by to waste time fulminating against Biden based on tortured inferences drawn from his comments. … We are made of sterner stuff. But this thin-skin furor reflects a hypersensitivity that's almost embarrassing.”
I’ll give the last word to “D”: “I have decided to stop caring. Not about white people's comments, but about black people's ones. All the shit we have going on in our community. All the problems. And yet all we can focus on is whitey. Whitey didn't make my cousin get pregnant at the age of 18… I'm sick of it all. Black folks WAKE UP”