Barack Obama is AWB: articulate while black

by guest contributor Philip Arthur Moore, originally published at TheThink

Why do I keep finding news articles about Barack Obama that conspicuously mention how “articulate” he is?

Reality check: ‘Barry’ Obama attended Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and was the first ever black American to be elected president of the Harvard Law Review. His educational biography is impressive, to say the least, and when he stormed into the national spotlight at the 2004 Democratic National Convention (part 1, part 2), we should have taken note of how “articulate” Obama was with the English language (his native language, by the way) and moved on. Instead, writers, taking adjectives from the same play book and arranging them just slightly differently, are harping on how well Barack Obama can speak about as much as they harp on how well George W. Bush mangles the English language (which, incidentally, is also his native tongue).

Take, for example, the following news snippets that have come out in the past several days alone:

“Barack Obama and the Pertinent Precedents” (, January 18, 2007):

The way in which he resembles George W. Bush — his thin resume — is not one that will help him. It may be cancelled out, though, by the ways in which he conspicuously contrasts with the outgoing president — notably, being thoughtful, articulate and seemingly open to opposing views. Bush is the commander in chief. But it’s Obama who gives the effortless impression of command.

“Much buzz, many questions over Barack Obama’s bid” (Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 2007):

But his biggest advantage could be his persona – young, attractive, articulate, a fresh face.

“Iowa Blogger Thrilled At Obama’s ‘08 Ambitions” (KCCI 8, January 17, 2007):

“We have someone in Obama who is a wonderfully articulate speaker, and we should never underestimate the importance of public officials being able to move people,” Goldford said. “The danger for somebody like Obama is: he rouses such high hopes. I mean, it’s the puppy love. The crush phase.

“Obama may find his newness both help and hindrance in campaign” (The Financial Express, January 18, 2007):

Obama’s appeal as an articulate, intellectual, multi-racial candidate prompted supporters such as fellow Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to urge him to run in 2008. So far, Obama’s easy-going charm is the only thing most voters know about him.

Members of the blogosphere have also taken note of the word “articulate” being mentioned with Obama’s name.

The guys and gals over at recently had a post entitled “Intelligent, articulate, who is Barak [sic] Obama?”, bringing to light a CNN profile that mentions Obama’s speaking ability.

And, as much as I tend to disagree with nearly everything she writes and especially the tone she takes in writing it, Lashawn Barber of all people has even noted the overuse of the term “articulate” in reference to Barack Obama:

I have a few ideas. First, Obama is “articulate.” No big deal, right? Well, for a black person, it seems to be. At least that’s how I perceive it. Back in 2004 when I was still working a day job at a heavily Democrat-voting organization, the word “articulate” was uttered frequently as white co-workers described Obama’s big speech at the Democratic convention. It wasn’t so much what he said, as I discovered when I read the text of his speech, but how he said it.

I could continue on with this game until 2008 comes, but I’d rather not. I simply would like to draw more attention to the gross overuse of the term “articulate” when Barack Obama’s name comes up in newspapers, television shows, or conversation.

For those of you who do not quite understand what is so problematic about the word “articulate” being used on Barack Obama, it would do you well to talk to a group of educated black Americans to understand how this seemingly harmless compliment can be perceived as something entirely different than a positive characterization of one’s oratory abilities.

Or, you can always enter in the phrase “you speak so well” +black into a Google search query to see what I’m talking about.

Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder also tackled the subject in the first episode to ever air (part 1, part 2) for the animated television series, which shows young Huey Freeman at an upscale garden party being congratulated for how well he speaks, despite the radicalism in his message…

…which scares me if I think about how this situation might apply in real life.

If no one is listening to the words Barack Obama are saying — “Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can’t tackle the big problems that demand solutions.” — and only paying attention to how “articulate” he is, I fear that in the next year and a half the “puppy love” and the “crush” phase that America has with him will die out strong and hard. After all, you can only look at a pretty face for so long before you start to wonder if there’s any substance behind it. I hope the media gets over how “articulate” Obama is and starts challenging him on his views a.s.a.p. so that this infatuation with how well he speaks dies down and we can really start seeing what he’s made of.

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Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

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