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

By H. Samy Alim; Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

4
“The Fist Bump Heard
‘Round the World”
How Black Communication
Becomes Controversial

I have to be greeted properly. Fist bump, please.1

—Michelle Obama

We wondered, were white folks really so ignorant,
our worlds so segregated, that they couldn’t tell
what a good old-fashioned dap looked like?2

—Patrice Evans (www.theroot.com)

Certain types of African American speech are currently
being criticized, and to some extent, censured…. Much of
the language being criticized is not understood by many
of those doing the criticizing…. Controversial features
of African American verbal culture must be theorized
by those with the linguistic expertise to do so in order
to counteract the many misbegotten discussions and
analyses that are already in circulation.3

—Arthur Spears

On Tuesday night June 3, 2008, at a campaign rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, Senator Barack Hussein Obama sealed the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. In celebration of this historic victory, he and his wife, Michelle, hugged. Then Michelle extended her fist to give him a pound. Like any fluent Black Language speaker, Barack responded with a pound, extending his fist to meet hers. Used for decades all over African America, on the regular, the Obamas’ pound sent shockwaves throughout mainstream White America. Unsure what to call this “exotic” Black gesture, White folks, both media playaz and everyday people, came up with all kinda labels—from

-94-

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