Memo: I Speak Well!

It’s like an educated black person is a rare sighting, like seeing a spotted egret. We’re viewed as a fluke. How many flukes simply constitute reality?
Reginald Hudlin, president of entertainment for Black Entertainment Television.

My friend Cat, recently forwarded a New York Times article to me regarding Senator Joseph R. Biden’s assessment of Senator Barack Obama. Biden seemed struck with amazement when he referred to Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” OH ME! OH MY!

You know, very rarely do I get political on my blog, but statements like this make me flinch. Comedian D.L. Hughley couldn’t have put it more beautifully when he said,

"subtle words like this are more insidious. It’s like weight loss. The last few pounds are the hardest to get rid of. It’s the last vestiges of racism that are hard to get rid of."

Statements made by people like Senator Biden get under my skin, because I experience similar, back-handed compliments just like it… and often. Some white people look at me, they see the color of my skin, and they expect sheer and utter trash to come spilling out of my mouth. They must be, if they’re that taken aback by my diction.

At times, much to my amusement, they’ve read something I've written, and will comment, “You speak just like you write!” They’re aghast that I can string together complete sentences, or engage them in intelligent discourse. I remember once, I visited a graduate studies course on blogging and media, where students and their journalist professor wanted to interview me, about this very blog. I remember this one man, while he was extremely kind, kept on commenting on how “well” I spoke. I was a slightly agitated, and thought to call him on it, but didn’t.

While I’m sure Senator Biden didn’t mean any harm, covert bigotry is so much more insulting… damaging even, because it dictates that Black people can’t be intelligent, cultured, articulate, and that people have low expectations of us. It takes a page out of the book, The Bell Curve and it measures intellect on a scientifically bigoted scale. It perpetuates this ridiculous notion, that Black people can’t be beautiful, successful, attractive, or smart without all these prerequisites and quite frankly I’m tired of it.

“Oh, she’s sooo pretty for a Black woman.” “Wow, I didn’t know you were a physicist! You’re so tall, I thought you played basketball!” or my favorite, “He/She must’ve gotten into Harvard Law, because of Affirmative Action.”
President George W. Bush (of all people) has also described Obama as being “articulate” during interviews.

People who don’t experience this type of back-handed, concealed (and oft times harmless and unconscious) bigotry may read this entry and roll their eyes, but understand that it can’t be understood, if you don’t experience people having a low opinion about your capabilities to begin with, because of your ethnicity or skin color.

It’s the same feeling I get when men (especially white men) expect less from me, because I’m a woman. Or they become exasperated and call us nasty names that rhyme with witch and hunt, because we won’t acquiesce or dumb ourselves down, to placate them.

Biden would later go on The Daily show and expound on his comments, “Look, what I was attempting to be, but not very artfully, is complimentary. This is an incredible guy. This is a phenomenon.” Intellect covers a wide spectrum... race, sex, and ethnicity notwithstanding... and so does ignorance and stupidity, apparently.

My question is; Why not say, to begin with, “Barack is dynamic, an incredible and charismatic man!” rather than insinuate he’s a rare, extinct breed of Negro?? And just for the record, he is NOT the FIRST mainstream African-American who is articulate, bright, and clean...


Anonymous said...

Oh fer the luva . . . usually I like what Biden says, but that's really annoying.

All the same: Sterotypes are placed upon any deviation from the white male norm. "The Other" is to made two-dimensional so that the white man can better generalize, and therefore manage, "his" world.

For instance, they place women in either/or categories: Fuckable or Not. Smart OR Pretty. Virgin or Whore. Can't be a combination, because that would be too complex and all their little heads would explode or something.

Unknown said...

Biden would later go on The Daily show and expound on his comments, “Look, what I was attempting to be, but not very artfully, is complimentary. This is an incredible guy. This is a phenomenon.”

OK, WHAT is a phenomenon - the man himself or this AFRICAN-AMERICAN man!??!?! IMO he just dug himself an even DEEPER hole by trying to explain himself.

I get a ton of these backhanded compliments all the time regarding my knowledge of sports. People are shocked that I know so much about, say, hockey, BECAUSE I'M A WOMAN.


2007, eh? Really? Pfft. ;)

Brunhilda said...

I got something similar to this once. Being from Indiana, I suppose I am supposed to be a country bumpkin. I had to arrange a project with someone over the phone and they gave me this "compliment." You're so articulate and you ennunciate so well. Did you go to college? I told them I did and they asked if I was an Enlish major. I replied that I was. They said it showed. What the hell. Was I supposed to be a bumbling idiot based on location alone?

TexInTheCity said...

I don't have any thing to add to what you said because once again you hit the nail right on the head.

Anonymous said...

I knew this article was something you had to read! You've made some amazing points and the comments have been great, too! You all do so well for a bunch of women of diverse backgrounds...did any of you try to further your education levels? You all write so well...hahahahahah I think many things can be improved in this life, but we just can't seem to eradicate stupidity from the general DNA pool...

- Cat

Amadeo said...

Ahh yes...articulate, clean and intelligent. This is why I do things like keep my shades on or wear motorcycle boots. Let them underestimate me as much as possible. I will laugh last...and then I'll lift my glasses and wink.

Unknown said...

Amadeo said...
I will laugh last...and then I'll lift my glasses and wink.

4:34 PM

That's hot.


Anonymous said...

Well, I simply could not resist commenting on this one because my husband and I were JUST talking about him last night and I said "He's the first politician we've seen in a long time that can speak so intellectually, unlike our current President who MAKES UP WORDS". Of course, nothing in our conversation ever mentioned race.....that's just absurd!!! I think he'd make a great President. My hubby seems to think that Hilary will beat him and be the first woman President...OH BOY, won't that stir some shit in their pot....LOL

Melissa said...

oh holy god, what a moron. I'll tell ya coffee, this is one of the reasons I love living in california. I have been all over the US and lived in numerous states and I have to say that out here is the place where I encounter this idiocy the least. hubby's family in texas doesn't understand why I would even mention that as a benefit to living here. ugh.

in any case, this also reminded me - have you watched the boondocks? the whole "you speak so well" thing reminded me of the very first episode. that is a GREAT great effing show, in case you haven't already experienced it.

Unknown said...

i get these snide remarks as well

"he is so intelligent" like i am some friggin' zoo freak ...