Some people never learn, and some people learn the hard way. The lesson, of course, is that unless there’s a damn good reason to refer to a person’s race (or, more accurately, racial classification, since the concept itself is of interest mainly to compulsive categorizers), then one shouldn’t refer to it at all.
Especially if one wants to have one’s presidential campaign taken seriously.
A few weeks ago Joe Biden decided he would pay Barack Obama this bizarre compliment: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”
Wow, the first one, huh? Articulate, is he? Bright, too? And clean? I expected him to follow up with “And he doesn’t wear those baggy jeans that slide halfway down his drawers.”
You don’t have to be all that articulate or bright either one to read between those lines. Either Biden doesn’t consider past presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to be mainstream African-Americans, or he doesn’t think much of their brightness, articulateness, and cleanliness. (Sharpton’s bemused response to Biden’s remark was “I take a bath every day.”)
This has been covered from every angle all over the blogs, but the fact is that Biden’s remark made him seem surprised that an African-American (who happens to be serving in the United States Senate) can be bright and articulate. To avoid coming off like such a doofus, he could have said something like this: “I think Barack has articulated his position on Iraq very clearly” or “I think Barack is one of the brightest young senators serving today.”
I’m not sure it’s possible to salvage the “clean” remark. Maybe “Barack never skimps on the Irish Spring” or something.
Tough lesson, Joe. But if you want to pay someone a compliment, “articulate” doesn’t cut it. Articulate is the default, the current pretend-emperor notwithstanding.
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Coming soon: intellectual heavyweights and self-appointed Caucasian spokespersons Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck weigh in with their cogent insights.