Having a conversation is the norm. People can talk to just about anyone and just about anything. From religion to which special sauce is better, conversations happen. More often than it should, when black people are talking to people of other races (not just white), especially people of a higher education level, they are "complimented" by others with the phrase, "You know, you are really articulate." Some will smile and say "thank you," while others can hear the figurative record scratch and feel the tension build. This phrase right here, is so loaded with insult, that it needs to be addressed immediately.
Being a black person with a B.A, in English, and obviously a writer, I hear this phrase, and its many variants, a lot. Having a conversation, being so used to formal writing, I assume the others around me know a plethora of "higher level" words as well. Words like "autonomy," "egregious," "erroneous," and many others make it into my everyday conversation, not to sound snobby or obnoxious, but because they are normal words to me. Not extra hard to understand or anything. Because of this, I am always bombarded with the comment of, "You speak so well," to which I respond "Well I was an English major." However, there are times when I know that I surprise people because they assume that I am stupid because of my history (albeit my skin color or inner-city roots) to which I reply in my most obnoxious and sarcastic voice, "Well, I know hows to read too. Massa let me get an education." I do this to create a discomfort in the person who was so comfortable with the racist thought.
This statement is racial for two reason. Firstly, the only people who should see this as a compliment is children because they are too young to have a high level of education. If a twelve year old is talking and he says a word like "asinine," then saying he is articulate is a compliment, because he obviously is excelling. If a black person is older than eighteen and he or she hears this, it is insulting. It insinuates that you obviously cannot be educated because you are black and fail at comprehending the English language.
The second reason this is an insult and racial is because no one else other than black Americans are "awarded" this "compliment," as if being educated is out of black America's grasp. White Americans never get this as a compliment, because they are white. With one glance, people assume that white Americans were raised in households where "proper" English was spoken and they made it through to high school and maybe some college. But with the color of a black person's skin, they are deemed as high school dropouts who speak Ebonics as a first language and don't know the basic rules of grammar.
To combat this, you can call a spade, a spade. Openly say that it is offensive and it shows that inadvertently (or overtly), the speaker has prejudices about blacks. If it’s a friend, you can joke to soften the blow and explain how that statement makes you seem like a rare mythical creature, the well talking African American. If it isn't a friend, it's never wrong to show just how offended you are. Make the person feel some discomfort, it'll teach them a lesson.
If you would like to see the other 11 statements in the Atlantic Black Star article, click the link below.