When “Articulate” Isn’t a Compliment

Ethar El-Katatney recently wrote a piece on Medium called “I’m tired of hijab.” Though I’ve not worn hijab full-time in about ten years, so much of what she said resonated with my memories of being a covered teenager. People were surprised (and sometimes also displeased) that I did things like cuss when I stubbed my toe, quote liberally from songs like Baby Got Back, and participate in the school limbo assembly. The line that stood out to me the most?

“I’m tired of being the token ‘omg-look-such-an-articulate-awesome-non-stereotypical hijabi!'”

That word. Articulate. The same one a teacher at my high school used to describe my participation in the annual interfaith panel (my first and last such panel as a Muslim). The word made me bristle, even then, though I wasn’t sure why.

According to the venerable OED, “articulate” means “having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently.” So how could being called “articulate” be a thinly-veiled (and probably unconsciously-given) insult? As always, the answer lies in context. Continue reading “When “Articulate” Isn’t a Compliment”

When “Articulate” Isn’t a Compliment