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

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

1
“Nah, We Straight”
Black Language and
America’s First Black President

[Barack Obama] speaks with no Negro dialect, unless he
wants to have one.1

—Harry Reid

You go to the cafeteria…and the black kids are sitting
here, white kids are sitting there, and you’ve got to make
some choices. For me, basically I could run with anybody.
Luckily for me, largely because of growing up in Hawai’i,
there wasn’t that sense of sharp divisions. Now, by the
time I was negotiating environments where there were
those kinds of sharp divisions, I was already confident
enough to make my own decisions. It became a matter of
being able to speak different dialects. That’s not unique
to me. Any black person in America who’s successful has
to be able to speak several different forms of the same
language…. It’s not unlike a person shifting between
Spanish and English.2

—Barack Obama

I still get goose bumps thinking about it. It was that moving of an experience. I remember being in Miami on Memorial Day weekend in 2008, six months before America elected its first Black president. It was hot, and for anyone who’s ever been to Miami, yeah, it was humid. The kind of humidity that made you feel like you was swimmin instead of walkin. Some folks had taken like three different buses just to get there. When the last bus finally pulled up to the stadium, madd people rushed out. We waited for hours, but it didn’t matter. The air had that electrified feelin to it. Then, outta nowhere, the afternoon thunder rolled in and dropped buckets of water on thousands of people who had already been waitin outside for hours. Instead of complainin, folks huddled under umbrellas with strangers, engaged in political conversation, and broke out into chants of “Yes we can! Yes we

-1-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword- Orator-in-Chief ix
  • Showin Love xv
  • 1 - "Nah, We Straight" 1
  • 2 - A.W.B. (Articulate While Black) 31
  • 3 - Makin a Way Outta No Way 64
  • 4 - "The Fist Bump Heard ‘Round the World" 94
  • 5 - "My President’s Black, My Lambo’s Blue" 130
  • 6 - Change the Game 167
  • Index 199
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