So we have at least two common white tendencies going on here. In addition to noticing how black people say things before or instead of addressing the content of what they have to say, white people often argue that their words or actions couldn’t have been racist because they hadn’t meant them to be racist. Black people, on the other hand, tend to notice the effects of racist words and actions as much as the apparent intention, or lack of intention, behind them.

In terms of effects, praising blacks for their mastery of “standard” English has the effect of conveying condescension. A problem here is that those who condescend to others rarely realize they’re doing so—that’s rarely their “intention.” But it can be the “effect.”

Anna Perez, who once worked as a deputy assistant to President Bush, says praising black speech exemplifies ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations. It literally comes down to that. When people say it, what they are really saying is that someone is articulate … for a black person.’

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