This New York Times article about the thoughtless racism of describing a black person as “articulate” (prompted by a US Senator’s cringeworthy tribute to fellow Democrat and presidential contender Barack Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”) was done funnier by Black People Love Us, plus it fails to highlight the incomparable contribution of black people to the oratory art of having flow, but it’s still an interesting read.


  1. Great links, Michelle, thanks.

    I’m not sure the “your English is so good” thing is racist in quite the same way. It strikes me as an example of benign ignorant racism rather than condescension or malice — e.g. I have no idea what the people of, say, Tibet, speak, though I would suspect it isn’t English, and if I met a Tibetan person who spoke English well I would be mildly surprised (though I might not necessarily remark on it). It’s not because I look down on Tibetans — in particular I certainly don’t think not expecting people to speak English amounts to looking down on them! If you never encounter someone of a particular ethnicity or from a particular region in your life generally there’s no especial reason to expect you to know anything about them. Why should anyone know that we speak English in Singapore? Especially if you’re quite old or provincial?

  2. I certainly didn’t, when I first met folks from Singapore at University. And I got told “So’s yours” on at least one occasion. It only took once though.

    And it wasn’t ‘ignorant racism’, benign or otherwise. It was just plain ignorance. If you’d said you were from Singapore and your skin was any colour you like and you had a slightly unusual accent to my then-parochial ears, I’d have said the same thing.

  3. Yes, I’m more with Jolene and Matt in the view that the 2 situations aren’t much the same.

    Barack Obama’s situation is a classic “is it ‘cos I is black?” situation. For an Asian in a Western country, what sparks the comment is that you speak English with an accent which isn’t the same as that of the native-born Asians of that country. More of a “is it ‘cos I is forrin’?” situation, if you will.

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