Colorado Democratic Senate candidate John Hickenlooper referred to a group of predominately black pastors earlier this year as being “so articulate,” a term that sparks controversy when used to refer to a black person because many say what is being implied is that the person is articulate, for a black person.
Hickenlooper made the remark, which has not been previously reported, while at an endorsement event at Friendship Baptist Church in Denver with the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance, a predominantly black group.
While standing in a hallway, Hickenlooper and a purported staffer had the following exchange:
STAFFER: “I’m going to come back later to film [the black ministers], they each want to do oral testimonies.”
HICKENLOOPER: “Oh, that’s so cute. That’s huge. Especially since these guys are so articulate.” [emphasis added]
STAFFER: “So articulate.”
A photograph of the event, posted to Twitter by a current staffer for Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, shows that nearly everyone in attendance was black.
Hickenlooper, who dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination after failing to gain traction nationally, is running for Senate against Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in the state where he served as governor for eight years.
There are two black women who are running against Hickenlooper for the Democratic Senate nomination — Angela Williams and Stephany Rose Spaulding — who both joined an effort last month to urge the DSCC to rescind their endorsement of Hickenlooper.
Then-presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) made a similar remark about then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in 2007, saying: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Obama slammed Biden, who was later forced to apologize, over his remarks, saying: “I didn’t take Sen. Biden’s comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate.”
In a New York Times op-ed published at the time, Lynette Clemetson — the Charles R. Eisendrath Director of Wallace House, home of the Knight-Wallace Fellowships for Journalists and the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists at the University of Michigan — wrote the following about Biden’s comments:
Webster’s definitions of the word include “able to speak” and “expressing oneself easily and clearly.” It would be more incredible, more of a phenomenon, to borrow two more of the senator’s puzzling words, if Mr. Obama were inarticulate.
That is the core of the issue. When whites use the word in reference to blacks, it often carries a subtext of amazement, even bewilderment…
…Such a subtext is inherently offensive because it suggests that the recipient of the “compliment” is notably different from other black people
“You hear it and you just think, ‘Damn, this again?'” Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, said in the op-ed. “Historically, it was meant to signal the exceptional Negro. The implication is that most black people do not have the capacity to engage in articulate speech, when white people are automatically assumed to be articulate.”
“You just stand and wonder, ‘When will this foolishness end?'” Anna Perez, the former communications counselor for Ms. Rice when she was national security adviser, said in the op-ed. “When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate … for a black person.”