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

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

Oxford University Press
September 2012
224 pages
Hardback ISBN13: 9780199812967; ISBN10: 0199812969
Paperback ISBN13: 9780199812981; ISBN10: 0199812985

H. Samy Alim, Associate Professor of Education and (by courtesy) Anthropology and Linguistics
Stanford University

Geneva Smitherman, University Distinguished Professor Emerita of English and African American and African Studies
Michigan State University

Forward by:

Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

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.


  • The first book-length analysis of Barack Obama’s rhetoric in relation to race
  • Uses a sociolinguistic analysis of Barack Obama’s language and speeches to both reveal and challenge American ideas about language, race, education, and power
  • A lively and engaging read from two renowned scholars of language, race, and education

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Showin Love
  • 1. “Nah, We Straight”: Black Language and America’s First Black President
  • 2. A.W.B. (Articulate While Black): Language and Racial Politics in the U.S.
  • 3. Makin A Way Outta No Way: The Race Speech and Obama’s Rhetorical Remix
  • 4. “The Fist Bump Heard ’round the World”: How Black Communication Becomes Controversial
  • 5. “My President’s Black, My Lambo’s Blue”: Hip Hop, Race, and the Culture Wars
  • 6. Change the Game: Language, Education, and the Cruel Fallout of Racism
  • Index
Tags: , , ,