Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S.

by H. Samy Alim, Geneva Smitherman
     
 

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Barack Obama is widely considered one of the most powerful and charismatic speakers of our age. Without missing a beat, he often moves between Washington insider talk and culturally Black ways of speaking--as shown in a famous YouTube clip, where Obama declined the change offered to him by a Black cashier in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with the phrase, "Nah, we…  See more details below

Overview


Barack Obama is widely considered one of the most powerful and charismatic speakers of our age. Without missing a beat, he often moves between Washington insider talk and culturally Black ways of speaking--as shown in a famous YouTube clip, where Obama declined the change offered to him by a Black cashier in a Washington, D.C. restaurant with the phrase, "Nah, we straight."

In Articulate While Black, two renowned scholars of Black Language address language and racial politics in the U.S. through an insightful examination of President Barack Obama's language use--and America's response to it. In this eloquently written and powerfully argued book, H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman provide new insights about President Obama and the relationship between language and race in contemporary society. Throughout, they analyze several racially loaded, cultural-linguistic controversies involving the President--from his use of Black Language and his "articulateness" to his "Race Speech," the so-called "fist-bump," and his relationship to Hip Hop Culture.

Using their analysis of Barack Obama as a point of departure, Alim and Smitherman reveal how major debates about language, race, and educational inequality erupt into moments of racial crisis in America. In challenging American ideas about language, race, education, and power, they help take the national dialogue on race to the next level. In much the same way that Cornel West revealed nearly two decades ago that "race matters," Alim and Smitherman in this groundbreaking book show how deeply "language matters" to the national conversation on race--and in our daily lives.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Sociolinguists Alim and Smitherman bring dual backgrounds as educators and activists to this metalinguistic analysis of “racially loaded cultural-linguistics controversies” about Obama, or as they so deftly say, “we’re gonna talk about the talk about the way Barack Obama talks.” Even as their style and tone reflect their command of and respect for the vernacular, their substantial research reflects an equal affinity for the professionally academic; thus, for example, Obama “knows how to ‘drop it like it’s hot’” and, in linguistic jargon, “monophthongize his diphthongs.” They are particularly informative in placing Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermon in the context of both Puritan jeremiad and traditional African-American sermons; in examining Obama’s uses of and departures from that genre in “A More Perfect Union,” (the race speech); in elucidating the fist pound (not the fist bump: “But first, y’all, before we go anotha fuhtha, let’s git the nomenclature right”) and hip-hop controversies; and reviewing the swirl around the term “articulate.” It takes some patience to hang in with the authors’ own vernacular, but the reward is a heightened sense of “the complexity and richness of Black language” and significant insight into Obama’s “mastery of Black cultural modes of discourse” that were “crucial to his being elected... president.” (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Articulate While Black brilliantly dissects the politics of language as embedded in the politics of race...The beautiful thing about [the book] is that it breaks down Obama's oral signifying...and helps us to navigate the complexities of Black linguistic habits and the complications of Black rhetoric writ large... Alim and Smitherman do a great deal of switching themselves, sliding from dense academic prose to streetwise vernacular, proving they are brilliant examples of the very practice they dissect...In the process, [they] leave little doubt about the cogency of their argument: that without being a past master of Black (American) rhetoric, Obama wouldn't be president of the United States."
—Michael Eric Dyson, University Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and author of Debating Race

"A fabulously original work! Two of America's leading authorities on Black Language and Culture draw on their expertise and extensive scholarship to profoundly reshape the national conversation on race—by "languaging" it. In complicating compliments about President Obama's "articulateness," they brilliantly analyze his artful use of language—and America's response to it—as a springboard to consider larger, thought-provoking questions about language, education, power and what Toni Morrison has referred to as "the cruel fallout of racism." Few sociolinguists tackle these complex issues with as much insight, sophistication, and downright directness as Alim and Smitherman. As they firmly conclude, it's time to change the game - and this book does just that."
—John R. Rickford, J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor of Linguistics and the Humanities at Stanford University, and co-author of Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English

"A sweeping ethnographic and linguistic tour de force that moves between popular culture and political culture with unprecedented academic verve. Daps to Alim and Dr. G."
—T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor, Vanderbilt University, and editor of The Speech: Race and Barack Obama's "A More Perfect Union"

"The game done changed, and it looks like the iconic figure of Barack Hussein Obama read through the formidable critical lens of leading sociolinguists H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman. Trafficking in the very linguistic style-shifting that the duo charge President Obama with, Articulate While Black is a groundbreaking and definitive exploration of the cultural meaning of the nation's first Black President."
—Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University, author of New Black Man

"Sociolinguists Alim and Smitherman bring dual backgrounds as educators and activists to this metalinguistic analysis of 'racially loaded cultural-linguistics controversies' about Obama, or as they so deftly say, 'we're gonna talk about the talk about the way Barack Obama talks.' Even as their style and tone reflect their command of and respect for the vernacular, their substantial research reflects an equal affinity for the professionally academic... It takes some patience to hang in with the authors' own vernacular, but the reward is a heightened sense of 'the complexity and richness of Black language' and significant insight into Obama's 'mastery of Black cultural modes of discourse' that were 'crucial to his being elected... president.'"—Publishers Weekly

"...Obama's mere presence in the White House inspires national conversations about race and citizenship. H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman's new book, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. offers a refreshing take on how language informs those conversations." —Truthdig

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199812981
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
10/01/2012
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
599,315
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

H. Samy Alim is Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Anthropology and Linguistics at Stanford University, where he directs the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language (CREAL) and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA). Some of his most recent books include You Know My Steez, Roc the Mic Right, Talkin Black Talk, and Global Linguistic Flows. He has also written for various media outlets, including The New York Times, Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo), and The Philadelphia New Observer, among others.

Geneva Smitherman is University Distinguished Professor Emerita of English, Co-Founder and Core Faculty, African American and African Studies, and Core Faculty, African Studies Center, at Michigan State University. She is a pioneering scholar-activist in the struggle for language rights and for Black Studies. Her list of books includes Talkin and Testifyin, Discourse and Discrimination, Black Talk, Talkin That Talk, Language Diversity in the Classroom, and Word from the Mother.

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