The “articulate” Black man stereotype reared its ugly head again. This time, The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper received criticism for noting that a local Black lawmaker speaks well.
In February, Case Western Reserve University police stopped Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell for walking while Black on the campus, according to Cleveland.com. The police had received a call about a Black man on campus mumbling to himself. After showing identification, the police released the councilman, who spoke out about the incident by calling for more anti-bias sensitivity training for law enforcement officers.
In an editorial published on Thursday (March 22) about the incident, the newspaper chastised the police for not being able to differentiate between a drifter and an elected official. “Surely police ought to be able to tell the difference between the well-spoken Conwell, who was taking his daily walk across campus, and a mumbling vagrant,” the editorial stated.
“First, ‘well-spoken’ is blatantly coded racial language,” the Cleveland Scene, a local news outlet, fired back at the editorial writers, adding that the troublesome statement was surprisingly buried in a larger argument that rightfully demanded unbiased policing.
Being described by White people as “articulate” disparages African Americans. It conveys the message that “you people” are typically unintelligent and too lazy to master standard English. There was a national discussion on this very issue involving our first Black president—who got the “well-spoken” treatment from the political left and right.
In his assessment of President Barack Obama in 2007, before he won the White House, President George W. Bush told Fox News that Obama was not ready to be president. However Obama is “an attractive guy. He’s articulate,” Bush added.
Obama’s eventual running mate, Vice President Joe Biden, came under fire in 2007 for the same thing, while the two lawmakers were competing for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Here’s what Biden said about Obama: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”