I was watching Hallie Jackson’s segment on MSNBC this morning as they announced Cory Booker was officially throwing his hat into the ring for President. As I watched the mostly White, predominantly female panel break down the pros and cons of Booker, I was holding my breath believing surely none of the White liberal panelists would make the same mistake Joe Biden made when describing the then-Senator Barack Obama’s finest qualities. You know, that age-old mistake of judging the quality of Black folk by how well they speak in front of mixed company (meaning White folks).
And just like clockwork, the very first White panelist used her time in front of the camera to describe Senator Booker as “articulate.”
It was the very first word that came out of her mouth. My partner and I just shook our heads and looked at each other crazy. White folks, even the most liberal-learning can be so petty sometimes, and yet so predictable when it comes to their soft kind of bigotry.
Here it is 2019 and after having a President Obama break any and every misconception White folks could have about Blackness and the potential of Black leadership in good places and spaces, the first words that come to mind when many White folks describe Black folks running for office are that “He’s/She’s very articulate.”
What are White people, word, grammar and language Nazis? Do words in their minds define a person’s character? Does it determine the quality of a Black person’s ability to lead? Do you need words to comfort you? Are the actions of Black men and women not more important?
Why in the fuck are White people still gauging the quality of Black politicians and community leaders by articulate we speak? It’s so old and so racist, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you’re on. MSNBC is a pretty liberal-leaning news channel, so to have White folks sitting on air still judging a Black person by the way they speak is a disgrace. It makes the person speaking the words look ignorant.
By the way, I can’t find that clip of White female pundit with her foolishness anywhere. She’s been nicely been cut out to avoid social media backlash no doubt. I know what I saw and I know what I heard, and I am so damned tired of hearing it.
Black folks are intelligent. Black folks are magnificent. Black folks are highly-qualified to lead White folks and anything else in need of leading, we are hardworking, and we are industrious. Please stop policing us by how we talk with and to you.
You see, “articulate” is just another word that’s code for Whiteness to express overt and covert racist stereotypes in reference to Black folks. Too many White folks, especially White liberals, are very comfortable using without shame. It’s especially used when describing Black men who are fully capable of making it to and navigating in lily White sanitized places of privilege.
When White people use the term “articulate” to describe Black folks, it means we’re smart, nice, and non-threatening — because god forbid a White person is threatened and made to be afraid by Blackness. Articulate says Booker can speak the words they want to hear and has just the right amount of Whiteness to assure them he’s a good guy. His light-skin makes him more palatable, so light-skin and articulate go hand-in-hand, as White folks have long thought darker-skinned Black and Brown folks are ignorant, especially if they have chosen to not speak their preferred King’s English.
Articulate is a loaded word. Using it to describe highly-qualified Black candidates running for office while not using the term to describe Whites at all is racist.
So stop doing it.
If the only thing you can think of when you see or hear a Black person speaking is that they are articulate, then you’re racist, and you need to unpack your own racism so that it’s not used to label or harm other Blacks trying to do good things for all people, not just Black people.
To learn more about how bad it is to use the word when describing Black people, read wonderful essays describing the topic written by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Eugene Robinson- “The Inarticulate Kickoff”, “He’s So Articulate- What That Really Means, by A. Gordon, a civil rights attorney, or Lynette Clemetson’s - “The Racial Politics of Speaking Well.”
The word articulate describes a whole host of racial cues that coincide with White appeasement, but it’s not an appropriate metric to measure Black people. And because it’s inappropriate (and RACIST), it shouldn’t be used, so please stop White people. Black people, if you’re doing it too, please stop. You are co-signing the soft bigotry.
Don’t judge the Black book by how articulate it is. You may be missing out on wonderful wisdom, kind people, and people who can help you because your metric for approving Black people is based on policing our language.
People misjudge books and movies every day because they fail to take the time to watch them, read them, and investigate them on their own to determine the quality. Discounting Black people because of how we speak is yet another way White privilege and White Supremacy rules over people. It’s time to stop with the racist code, especially in progressive and liberal circles.
Check liberal and progressive bigotry before it begins. Getting rid of the term articulate when describing Black men and women is a great start.
Marley K, January 2019