Social Question

JLeslie's avatar

Do you know older white men who call other white people articulate or well spoken?

Asked by JLeslie (65414points) December 10th, 2019 from iPhone

I was just watching The Real, and they were talking about Bloomberg saying Cory Booker was well spoken. They said there is a history, or an assumption, that black people don’t speak well, and so it is insulting, or like a backhanded compliment, to say a black person speaks well. They also said white people don’t say it about other white people. I know I have. I’ve said it about white, Hispanic, black, if someone speaks well I’ll dole out that compliment.

If it’s offensive to black people I take that seriously, but I don’t find it true that white people don’t notice someone who is well spoken regardless of race or ethnicity.

Plenty of people are criticizing Biden for stumbling over his words, and Bush for mispronouncing. I know Biden called Obama articulate years ago, and Obama gave great speeches, but in interviews Obama would practically stutter. Obama certainly hesitated on some words, and there seemed to be a total void of people pointing it out. Not that I think it has to be pointed out, but I found it ironic that people went on and on about how well he spoke. Or, I guess they went on about his speech giving skills? Is that it?

Like I said, I take it seriously that someone might be offended by people calling them well spoken or articulate, but I think they are off in their thinking that there is some sort of assumption by white people that a black person won’t speak well. All these politicians are surrounded by all races and ethnicities in their social circles who have similar education level and wealth. Those two things have more to do with how articulate and well spoken someone is than anything, and even those things are not perfect predictors of course.

I don’t mean someone needs a higher education to be articulate, I don’t think that at all, I just mean having a higher education means it’s more likely the person has a good command of the English language. They still could be a terrible orator, nothing is for sure.

Cory Booker went to Yale and Oxford, and has been a political presence in the the NY metro area, and both politicians have helped each other in political races. I doubt Bloomberg is even thinking about what color skin Cory has.

I’m starting to get suspicious. I feel like so much of this sort of thing is boys on social media. Articulate, taking a knee, Bloomberg’s girlfriend being de facto First Lady, it’s all stuff being stirred up for nothing. I guess I’m becoming a conspiracy theorist.

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23 Answers

josie's avatar


When I hear comments at all, I am usually hearing how stupid, inarticulate, insensitive, sexist and racist white people are. Nothing offensive.

I would love to be called articulate and well spoken, at least occasionally.

Demosthenes's avatar

There is an old racist trope in this country of saying that someone is articulate for a black man, meaning that black people are usually not articulate so it’s surprising and impressive when they are. But it is an old trope and I wonder how many people really know about it or whether it’s even in someone’s mind when they call someone articulate. I guess you’d have to find examples of Bloomberg or others saying it about white people to prove that it’s not racist, but I doubt that it is and it’s sad that we just assume racism right off the bat. It’s not a conspiracy theory to recognize that there are people actively trying to sow discord and division in this country by making molehills into mountains.

SergeantQueen's avatar

Oh my god this this the dumbest thing ever. I call people well spoken, although I am not a middle aged white man but still. It’s a compliment and it means they communicate well. Who cares that Cory is black? It’s a compliment?
I would argue that not all people in politics aren’t very well spoken. I’ve never heard Bloomberg or Booker talk but I think it is a good compliment considering many people tend to be a little on the informal side from what I’ve seen. President Trump for example, Joe Biden, Mitt Romney and his fake Twitter persona, lots of politicians aren’t as well spoken and professional as they were, I don’t know, during a time when people listened to debates over the radio, so professional vocabulary was crucial?

Point is, it’s a nice compliment and I’m getting sick of people making it seem like I have to walk on egg shells and constantly monitor what I say so as to not offend somebody. Complimenting a black man on being well spoken is racist? Come on.

“If it’s offensive to black people I take that seriously” I take it seriously too. I try to be sensitive to peoples thoughts and emotions and I don’t want to tell others how they should feel at all. I know that is sort of what I am doing now, I just feel like there are others things to get upset about and a (most-likely) good-intention compliment shouldn’t be flipped around as “bad” just because the receiver happened to be black?

You can feel how you like but I find it best to choose your battles wisely.

SergeantQueen's avatar

@Demosthenes yeah there are a lot of sayings like that. That’s a backhanded compliment “You’re ___ for a ___” but just flat out saying “Hey you are well spoken” sounds to be innocent and good but I don’t truly know what the intentions were.

gorillapaws's avatar

I’ve heard it said about Butidgege as a contemporary example.

JLeslie's avatar

Just out of curious, is there video or literature showing it being used in a derogatory way in the long ago past?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Obama wasn’t stuttering. His brain works so fast that he has to pause to makes sure what just came to mind is an appropriate thing to say, and how to say it. I sure miss that.

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III He often doesn’t speak smoothly in interviews. It doesn’t affect the content of course, I’m not criticizing him, I’m just stating it as an observation. It might not technically be a stutter, but it’s not smooth. Plenty of people pause when organizing their thoughts without the seeming difficulty of getting their words out.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Did you read what I wrote? He doesn’t speak smoothly because he’s thinking so fast. He is very carefully considering his words as well. He is articulate enough to say the same thing in 10 different ways, and he takes a moment to figure out which is the best way under the circumstances. The words are arranging and rearranging themselves at the speed of light in his brain. MOST people don’t have the brain capacity to do that.

JLeslie's avatar

^^Sorry, but most very smart people speak smoothly. You can try to twist it, or put it in a favorable light, but it doesn’t change it. I interact with many geniuses, or borderline geniuses, and they don’t speak like that. It’s not about IQ. I don’t judge someone’s IQ or knowledge based on how smoothly they speak, but rather the content of what they say.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

I remember a lot of teleprompter jokes/comments in regard to Obama.
I tend to agree with @Demosthenes’ answer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Most smart people speak quickly. Obama is smarter than most smart people, and he was the President of the United States, and he knew what a massive impact his words could have on people. He didn’t take that responsibility lightly.

raum's avatar

Speaking smoothly isn’t indicative of IQ. I’ve met several highly intelligent people who speak somewhat erratically because, as Dutch pointed out, they are thinking so fast.

JLeslie's avatar

It doesn’t change that Obama does it. We are talking about people being well spoken and articulate, not how smart they are.

raum's avatar

As for the actual question, I don’t think it’s always intentionally meant as a backhanded comment.

But when there is a higher occurrence, it’s a good opportunity to step back and re-examine our biases.

JLeslie's avatar

What if I tell an immigrant their English is excellent? Is that offensive? Is it different because African Americans are born and raised in America? Or, specifically because of the history of the compliment? I still have yet to actually see a citation of the historical reference.

@raum Do you think it ever is meant as backhanded? In the last ten years?

raum's avatar

I was responding to:
Sorry, but most very smart people speak smoothly. You can try to twist it, or put it in a favorable light, but it doesn’t change it. I interact with many geniuses, or borderline geniuses, and they don’t speak like that.

raum's avatar

Don’t think I can make a sweeping remark about what people’s intentions have been for the last ten years.

I’m guessing it’s a mixture of both.

johnpowell's avatar

Remember Ebonics? I sure do.

Saying a person of color is well-spoken is a old trope. It is racist.

I have said David Mitchell is very well-spoken. And he is. But he is exceptional. But to pretend the situations compare is total nonsense. It is like if I walked into a mobile home in West Virginia and said, “Your place is lovely, I noticed there isn’t any spaghetti in the bathtub.”

History, stereotypes, and context are all important.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Smart people talk fast. Wise people know when to slow it down.

Zaku's avatar

I think some people are attempting to take political advantage by conflating contexts.

Speaking skills, and a certain amount of noticeable intelligence and understanding used to be almost necessary to get elected to public offices, even in the USA. That started to be clearly no longer true when Reagan was elected in 1980. It got worse and worse with G.W. Bush and now the monstrous fool.

And yet, it’s not hard to find greater fools on Internet forums who will try to argue adamantly that Bush and Trump are smarter and more articulate than Obama.

It seems to me that it is not actually racist to observe that anyone is well-spoken, unless there is a sub-text of “despite being of a race that’s usually inarticulate”... and that while one might choose to avoid saying that for risk of being mis-interpreted, really the sub-text may often be conjured in the minds of listeners over-eager to mis-understand and criticize, when the speaker had no such intention.

The US popular media and political discourse may be depraved enough that in that context it’s impossible to say a black person is well-spoken without it being taken as racist, but that’s a defect in that social context and culture.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The thing about Obama is he is SO well spoken it’s hard not to take notice. I think he may be the most eloquent president we’ve ever had.

JLeslie's avatar

@johnpowell So, is the problem that it’s the truth? Black people speak in Ebonics? My black friend hated that Ebonics article when it was published years ago. She thought it was total rubbish, and harmful. Couldn’t we argue an article about Ebonics is just as condescending as saying a black person is well spoken? Ebonics is basically saying some black people aren’t using the commonly spoken English.

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