That is the core of the issue. When whites use the word ["articulate"] in reference to blacks, it often carries a subtext of amazement, even bewilderment. It is similar to praising a female executive or politician by calling her “tough” or “a rational decision-maker.”
“When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate ... for a black person,” Ms. Perez said.
Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the “compliment” is notably different from other black people.For other racial/ethnic minorities, these stereotypes and assumptions are sadly all too common. One of my biggest pet peeves is when White folks patronize People of Color with their compliments such as, "Oh, you speak English so well!" (I know many, many Asians born and raised in the US who have been subject to this, as well as Asian immigrants who were educated in the US or lived here for quite some time). The message is, "You're not expected to speak English because you are a perpetual foreigner in this country." The other day, I received a compliment from a woman about looking like I am hapa haole (Hawaiian for part Caucasian/white) because of my compartively light skin for a Filipina. Now, I am not saying I have anything against those who are biracial, nor am I against compliments but damn, did that piss me off...so that means being closer to White makes me more attractive? I couldn't even get my bearings to tell her why it was so irritating. What about my brother who is a very handsome young man, but happens to be very much darker in skin tone? This is going in a bit of a tangent from my original intention but I must get into it...what irritates me the MOST is when People of Color fall into this trap of internalized racist messages and take on the belief that White, Eurocentricism = better. Brown and black and yellow are beautiful! Assimilation is not the only option for survival, success, and happiness in the US (there is an entire body of literature on acculturation in the social sciences).
Okay, enough of that for now. I am planning on spending the rest of my life studying this stuff, so I guarantee there will be more to come.
The lesson of this blog is that before you praise someone, check yourself first: what are the underlying assumptions of what is "normal" or valued in your statement?