CNN’s “Why “Articulate” Is Insulting”

Posted: February 5, 2007 in All, Blogroll, Controversy, Life, Motivation & Inspiration, politics, racism, rants, Religion

I’m watching CNN’s Paula Zahn, and they’re starting out their show with Biden saying that Obama is articulate.  They’re discussing about whether or not that was a racist thing to say.  I don’t know that the race card is necessarily the appropriate card to throw on this one.  I grew up poor, no name brands, small house, single parent, abused, low self-esteem.  I encountered “wealthy folks” on many occasions. I was told by 4 or 5 of those “wealthy folks”, in a surprised tone of voice, “Oh, you’re so articulate.”  The way I perceived that, even as a child was, “Oh, you’re a poor person who knows how to speak well, how surprising.”  I’m white, they were white.  Often times, people who come from money, power, or prestige are very surprised when people different than themselves are “well spoken” , or possess any other quality they can relate to.  It’s not necessarily a race thing, it’s a social class thing as well.  Sometimes people are so involved in their own little worlds, with their own “type” of people, they are surprised when they find something so familiar in someone so completely different.  The same thing with poor or blue collar workers.  It is just surprising when they come across a “wealthy” person who has a little redneck in them.  Social Class discrimination is just as real as racial discrimination.  It’s not always about the color of your skin, who you crawl into bed with, man or woman, or what religion you practice or don’t practice.  People can be very naive, close minded, and elitist.  People are people, and unless we take a moment to step outside of ourselves, if only for a moment, we will continue to be surprised by differences we perceive to be so extraordinary. I’ve said it before, I’ll keep on saying it until people get it….Come on people, peace can prevail if we open our minds to a new way of thinking!!!!

  1. iread says:

    Paula Zahn was actually taking her cue from an article that ran in the New York Times yesterday. (Full text can be found here : )

    Racism and classism are not necessarily two separate issues as you seem to imply. Race and class are tightly intertwined in America since, on the whole, far more of the total black population lives in poverty than the total white population. I don’t think anyone can provide a truly accurate analysis of either without knowledge of both.

    That said, black people of all classes are far more likely to be condescendingly called “articulate” than whites. In the New York Times article the black people reporting instances of being called “articulate” were all senators, CEOs, and other high ranking authority figures. The point the article was making was that we call a well spoken person “articulate “when we are surprised that they are. When, for whatever reason, we don’t expect them to be. The article was not claiming that no one else ever gets called “articulate” in a condescending manner. Yes, lower-class whites ARE condescendingly called “articulate” since most people don’t expect them to be out spoken. Children under a certain age get the same treatment. However, it is possible to move up the class ladder. It never occurs to anyone to refer to a middle or upper class white person, even one who did not grow up with money, as “articulate.” It’s just assumed that they will be. Same goes for children. They grow up, and as adults are assumed to be more, well, articulate than they were as children. But, what the NYT article pointed out was, no matter how rich, old, distinguished, educated, or renown, black individuals continue to be called “articulate” because white people are still surprised that black people can be.

  2. Manymeez says:

    Thanks for passing on the NYT article. It’s an interesting subject. I think you reiterated what I was “trying” to say, but in a more meaningful way. Thank you! At the time I wrote this post, I had not read the article in the NYT. My post was a complete response to What Paul Zahn was implying. The story on CNN reminded me of how all people can demonstrate this same sort of behavior in different circumstances. The point I wanted people to think about was not that way too many white folks are surprised when an African American can speak well. I’ve seen it happen many times, and it was insulting to me just witnessing it. The point I would like for people to think about is that most everyone is surprised when they see something familiar in someone very unfamiliar. The sad part is, it’s so ingrained into people, most of the time they don’t even realize how condscending they sound. When I was a 21 year old college student, I decided to clean houses in between classes. Most of the houses I cleaned were huge houses. The owners treated me horribly, but some were surprised by how “well spoken” I was considering I was cleaning houses. I was so offended by so many rich, white folks…I didn’t do that job for more than a couple of months. It just angers me how secluded people can be. Why can’t we all just get along? Thanks again for the comment!

  3. Austin says:

    Not to ride the fence here, but I think both points are valid while being totally separate issues. Iread is right about this new wave of racial slurs in Washington. Does anyone say this about white politicians as regularly as it is said about those with an ethnic background? Nope.

    Manymeez has a point too when she said many are unable to see past their own identity. If a person sees things from one angle then when something they don’t expect pops into their line of sight they start popping off condescending compliments. People don’t expect those outside their circle to behave like those inside their circle but when they do they’re totally thrown off. In this instance is it so much about race as it is about having a narrow line of sight.

    I believe that classism exists in the US. I believe it strongly but I also believe that there are various reasons for condescending remarks, some based on racism and others based on the inability to see beyond one’s own reflection.


  4. Manymeez says:

    Thank you Austin. I agree 100%! As I have said, and will keep saying, Peace can prevail if we open our minds to a new way of thinking. If people would just step outside of themselves for just a moment, and think about how it would feel to be someone else…we wouldn’t have half the problems we have in the world.

  5. steadycat says:

    I think calling an educated black man/woman articulate is indeed insulting. Especially if they are running for public office and it is based on skill, education, work ethics, etc. Yep. It’s an insult.

    Thanks for the article. 🙂

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