The Cycle | October 08, 2012
>> of what the american people are going through. don't fall for that. don't be hoodwinked. don't be bamboozled. don't fall for the oaky doak.
>> the okie-doke.
>> that's been a crucial part of his appeal to his followers. the president who once refused change from a cashier says we're straight, is great at code switching. he can move from speaking in a black way to speaking with white speaking norms. he can sound comfortable in both areas. language is central to how race is perceived, so our next guest examined obama and the politics of race through the lens of language through a fascinating new book called articulate white
black: obama and race in the u.s. it's co-authored is sammie alen. welcome, professor.
>> great to be here. thanks for having me.
>> a lot of times the black ways of talking, they keep us from getting a job. how is it that barack obama was able to use them, is able to use them in ways that don't deledge miz him with both audiences?
>> that's a really good question. in fact, these ways of speaking almost delegitimatize barack obama at every turn. one of the things we've shown in the book is how no matter what he says, opponents and conservatives continue to racialize his speech as black . we have several cases of this. rush limbaugh over and over on his radio show plays barack obama talking and insisted that he said the word ax or ask and he kep making this insistence over and over again. his speech does get racialized as black , but he mastered quote-unquote white ways of speaking. he has mastered both varieties and can switch between the two, which allows him to be successful.
>> we talk about the diversity of voters on the democratic side. somebody like buster rhymes who you cite or somebody from the harvard square area, both of them see in him this guy can speak to me. speak to that a little bit, and how barack obama being on the national stage and speaking black english , sprinkling that into his vocabulary has changed the way we look at black language and race in america.
>> excellent. these are two questions. one, most people think of barack obama being able it to speak black or use black language as only helpful for the black demographic or the black voting electorate.
>> it's helpful for the white electorate in ways we don't expect. when white americans -- in our book we talked to americans and surveyed americans . when they hear barack obama talking black in that first clip with the black preacher style, that links barack obama to martin luther king and other famous african-american preachers. a historical tradition so talking black actually americanizes and christianizes barack obama in the eyes of many white americans . in that sense it's actually very helpful for him. now, moving forward, barack obama can speak in multiple ways, and he's learned to do this as an adult, an adolescent and throughout his lifetime. this has been helpful for him in politics moving forward. we're already looking at the need of politicians to be at least bilingual speaking multiple languages and multiple varieties of the same language.
>> professor you pull in your book a quote from the president in which he says in part, in general, members of every minority group continue to be measured largely by the degree of our asimulation. how closely speech patterns, dress or demeanor conform to the dominate white culture and the more that a minority strays from these external markers, the more he or she is subject to negative assumptions. is this an added challenge and skill that african- americans and latinos in particular have to master to be successful?
>> absolutely. there's a phrase known as the black tax where you have to work twice as hard and be twice as good if you're african-american. there's a black linguist task. in this case i think it's fascinating that we have a president who can basically sum up in a nut shell what scholars refer to as white cultural homo homogeny. if you're too far away from whiteness, you get judged negatively. when harry reid said that barack obama can speak in the quote-unquote negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one, you will never hear anyone referring to a white candidate as speaking in a he white dialect, right, or can't speak in a white dialect unless he wants to have one. you never have that refusal. it's absolutely true.
>> professor in 2004 bill cosby set off a firestorm when he criticized pockets of black america for failing to teach their children proper english. how has that narrative changed or evolved since obama came into office, or has it?
>> ing think it's interesting, because i've received phone calls from journalists to system me to comment on the way young americans speak. now our kids don't have to be like mike. they can talk like barack, and what they mine by that is they want african-american children to abandon their language in order to learn quote-unquote standard english or white ways of speaking. what barack obama does that is very effective is he switches between varieties and ways of speaking without devaluing any of them. i think barack obama serves in that sense as a linguist role model. he uses these varieties as cultural resources.
>> if they're going to speak like barack, they have to codeswitch and speak both sides. the book is great. thank you so much for your time.
>> thank you.
>>> up next, a conservative walks into a bar. we're not talking about s.e., although thaz happened. the politics of punch lines, something jon stewart and bill o 'reilly know all about.
>> income redistribution. do you believe in it?
>> do you?
>> no. i asked first.
>> i believe --
>> it's a complicated one.
>> i believe in social security . do you believe in social security .
>> so we're both socialists?
>> no, no. humans -- one