Jonah Goldberg
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It's weird: Everyone agrees that our schools are disproportionately failing African-American kids, that there is a cycle of dysfunction afflicting large swaths of lower-class black America. But if you ever point to the consequences of those failures, even in the most oblique and glancing way, someone cries "Racism!"

Clemetson spoke to a host of hyper-successful blacks who are weary of being called "articulate." But nowhere do Clemetson and the people she interviewed address the fact that not all of black America is as articulate as Condoleezza Rice or D.L. Hughley. It's as if white America just made up the idea that proper diction and speech is lacking in some quarters of black America.

Many blacks are deeply sensitive to all of this. Indeed, the whole "Ebonics" fad - a social-science neologism conceived to describe black slang as a distinct dialect, which it is - was designed to cover up the fact that large numbers of black Americans are not articulate in mainstream American English. But as Bill Cosby and others have noted, simply because Ebonics describes something real doesn't mean it's in the best interests of black people to embrace it.

Again, I think complaints from elite blacks about the overuse of the word "articulate" are well-taken to a point. However, not only is it not the code word some are making it out to be, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and even Biden himself are routinely described as "articulate," and President Bush is relentlessly dubbed "inarticulate," yet nobody thinks that means he's being called "black."

But more important, the word "articulate" is used to describe eloquent blacks both truthfully and in an important context. Large swaths of black America are not articulate enough to succeed in the 21st century. We are constantly being told that we need a "national conversation" about precisely this sort of thing. But when even the most well-meaning whites use the word "articulate" to describe successful blacks, they're called racist. It's no wonder that national conversation is so slow in getting started.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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