I Hope the Articulate Bill O’Reilly Reads This

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Bill O’Reilly and Glen Beck are still covering the Biden/Obama/”articulate” flap that I think a lot of people — including me — wish would just go away. O’Reilly and Beck are highlighting it because they feel the whole situation illustrates the plight of beleaguered white people who can’t have black friends (honest, this is their argument) because they are afraid they might slip up and say something, maybe even a compliment, that unbeknownst to them is insulting to the black person in the room. The subtext here, of course, is this: “Well, gosh, us white people just try to say nice things about black people, and sometimes black people get all worked up, and we just don’t know why, and man, white people just can’t get a break.”

Look. Just don’t be stupid. Is that really so hard? Here’s what the New York Times wrote about the issue: “When whites use the word [articulate] in reference to blacks, it often carries a subtext of amazement, even bewilderment.” Okay, yes, exactly. Barack Obama is a man of many talents, who has accomplished more in his life than most Americans ever will: If the most you can say about the man is that he doesn’t sound like some gang-banger, you’re not giving him much of a chance. And you’re damning by faint praise. Bill O’Reilly must understand this, and if he doesn’t, he would if thought about it for a half-second. As a commenter on this blog wrote in response to one of our previous posts, “When was the last time someone said Chuck Schumer was “articulate”? Or Bill Clinton, or Chuck Hagel? They all are, but people have moved beyond how they talk and onto their other qualities.”

The Times continued, “Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the ‘compliment’ is notably different from other black people.” Again, this should be obvious. If you are amazed that one black man doesn’t sounds like a gang-banger, you’re letting your assumptions show: You assume that all black men speak Ebonics (or, as I suspect Glen Beck would call it, “jive”). Anyone who doesn’t is the “exceptional Negro.” (Link again goes to the NYT article, which is well worth reading.)

Allow me to requote a passage I quoted earlier from the Chicago Tribune:

Well-spoken black people hate it when white people call them “articulate.” It’s the modern-day version of what white people used to say back in the day when they thought that by saying “He’s a credit to his race” they were saying something that a black person would welcome hearing.

Those dated words, like Biden’s comments, were patronizing at the very least. And they also appeared to carry some pretty negative assumptions about the majority of the race.

The smart, accomplished, and successful Bill O’Reilly is bright enough to understand this, and I suspect he’s just playing a dumb-like-a-fox routine. But if he keeps pretending like he’s an idiot, I’m going to run out of adjectives to use when blogging about him. I guess the only thing that would left would be…

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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