An Interview with H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman
H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman have devoted their scholarly careers to the exploration of African American language and its place within the diverse landscape of American English. Professor Alim directs the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Language (CREAL) and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts (IDA) at Stanford University. His recent publications include You Know My Steez (Duke University Press, 2004) and Roc the Mic Right (Routledge, 2006). Professor Smitherman is the Co-Founder of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University, and her influential works include Talkin and Testifyin (Houghton Mifflin, 1977), Discourse and Discrimination (Wayne State University Press, 1988), and Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans (Routledge, 2006) among others.
In their groundbreaking collaboration, Articulate While Black: Barack Obama, Language, and Race in the U.S. (OUP, 2012), Alim and Smitherman discuss the cultural and political implications of President Obama's ability to use several modes of speech to communicate to a diverse audience. Here, they talk with Professor Henry Louis Gates about this skill, as well as the varied reactions to it.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Articulate While Black involved interviews with people from various backgrounds, in which you asked them to analyze Barack Obama's skills as an orator. Did you find a trend that surprised you?
Geneva Smitherman and H. Samy Alim: Perhaps the single most consistent finding in our survey was this: Barack Obama's mastery of White mainstream ways of speaking, or "standard" English, particularly in terms of syntax, combined with his mastery of Black Culture's modes of discourse, in terms of style, was an absolutely necessary combination for him to be elected America's first Black president. This trend was not surprising. Rather it demonstrated that we ourselves fit the norm as this was our linguistic intuition when we were conceptualizing the proposal for Articulate While Black.
Of course, mastery of so-called "standard English" is made necessary in American politics, but it was Barack's ability to combine this variety with Black ways of speaking that was ultimately crucial. First, Barack Obama's mastery of White mainstream ways of speaking allowed White Americans to feel more comfortable with him. He used a language variety that was familiarly White, which rightly or wrongly, did not "alienate" Whites in the way that Black Language sometimes does. Relatedly, his style of speaking was seen as "transcending" Blackness, with many describing him as "exceptionally articulate," making (unintentional) racist links between "articulateness," "Whiteness," and "intelligence." Though some Americans noted that White, male mainstream ways of speaking English are problematically mapped onto "the language of politics" and "the language of success," Black Americans highly regarded Barack's proficiency in this style as well. Using positive terms, many respondents across racial lines described Barack's ability to use "standard English," "typical American English," "normative English," "standard American English," "polished standard English"—and our personal favorite, "a language literally born of the American educational system's upper echelon."
Second, not only did Whites feel that Barack spoke familiarly White, many Black folks felt that he spoke familiarly Black. While some Black women respondents noted that his "sounding Black" had to do with his "manly (deep) voice" or his "baritone," more often Blacks described Obama's speech style in terms of "a Baptist preacher" or in the "tradition of the Black Church." So, while responding positively to Barack's command of "standard" English syntax, the real clincher for Black folks was that Barack could kick it in a style that was recognizable to the community as "something we do." Rightly or wrongly, to many Black folks, anything less than that mighta made the brotha suspect. This is because, sociolinguistically speaking, the way we use language often hints at our politics, indexing our (dis)alignment with particular groups or causes. We read into people's words for clues, signs, anything that might help us figure out where they stand. In the case of Barack Obama, accurately or not, many Black folks read his use of Black modes of discourse as indexing a political alignment with the Black community.
Thirdly, Barack's ability to bring together "White syntax" with "Black style" and to speak "familiarly Black" was not only important for the Black community, it was also critically important for the White community for at least two reasons. One, Whites have always dug Black preacher style, so long as it didn't come at them too hard in that caustic, biting, damn-you-to-hell kinda way. (There is a reason why many Black folks refer to Martin Luther King Jr. as "White America's favorite 'Negro'" and why, after hearing Reverend Jeremiah Wright's sermons, for instance, White Americans don't know whether to shit or go blind!). The second and most critical reason why speaking familiarly Black was important for Whites is this—and this is the kicker—it made Barack both "American" and "Christian." Not only are White Americans more familiar with a Black Christian identity, but due to the contentious history of the Nation of Islam and contemporary tensions with immigrant Muslims in post-9/11 America, many Whites also fear "(Black) Muslims." Speaking familiarly Black made Barack familiarly American and familiarly Christian. White Americans made sense of Barack Obama—a man with a father from Kenya, a mother from Kansas, and who, so they heard, had attended an extremist Muslim madrassa in Indonesia. They were able to locate him within the African American male Christian tradition. He was, in this sense, also "familiarly male." In positioning himself as Black—in "becoming Black" by adopting a Black preacher style—Barack Obama was able to fit into one of the few, White-approved, acceptable (or maybe just recognizable) Black male roles in society.
To borrow from one Asian American respondent who wrote about forever feeling like a "foreigner" in the United States, "Barack needed to not only be American; he needed to be 110 percent American." After all, who can forget the lunacy of some White folks at the McCain-Palin rallies ("I, I, I don't trust him—he's A-A-Arab!")? And the never-ending and overwhelmingly White Birther Movement, which includes the likes of your boy Donald Trump? Growing up in Hawai'i and Indonesia with a Kenyan father and Muslim family roots was apparently too much for White folks to handle. Now, let's not kid ourselves here—it ain't like White folks got a lock on xenophobia and anti-Muslim bias. Sounding familiarly Black, and thus familiarly American and familiarly Christian, also won over those in the Black community who questioned Obama's heritage ("He ain't Black—he from Kenya!" or "Ain't he a Mooozlim?") or weren't down with what they saw as his appropriation of the Black American struggle ("He's probably one of those Africans who doesn't like us, but will use the label 'African American' to take advantage of affirmative action programs").
In sum, Barack's styles of speaking clinched his victory because he put most Americans at ease. Here was a Black candidate for president whom Black folks could trust because "he sounds White, but not too White" and White folks could trust because "he sounds Black, but not too Black." Of course, it would be too simple to leave it there. The reality is that Whites, too, were happy with a Black man who "sounded White, but not too White." His familiarly Black style Americanized and Christianized him, helping them get over their irrational fears of a "foreign Muslim" or a "socialist African" boogie man. Blacks, too, were likely happy with a Black man who "sounds Black, but not too Black." Quiet as it's kept, because of Black Language's marginalized status in broader American society, some Black folks suffer a linguistic shame that hypercriticizes any speech that sounds "too Black." The stories of people "cringing" every time they hear Magic Johnson speak, for example, are all too common. In a similar way that Barack Obama's familiarly Black style helped some White folks get over irrational fears of a "foreign/Black Muslim" or a "socialist African," his familiarly White style helped some Black folks get beyond irrational insecurities that "the whole race" would be deemed "ignorant" because of one Black person's speech.
Caught between discriminatory discourses of language, citizenship, religion, and race, Barack Obama's language use hit that ever-so-small "sweet spot" that appealed to the majority of Americans. It didn't matter how many times he repeated that he wasn't a Muslim or how many times he presented his birth certificate; what mattered more to most Americans, even if subconsciously, was not what he said but how he said it. More than any other cultural symbol, Barack Obama's multifaceted language use allowed Americans to create linguistic links between him and famous African American male historical figures. These links served to simultaneously "Whiten," "Blacken," "Americanize," and "Christianize" Barack in the eyes and ears of both Black and White Americans.
HLG: You mention a generation gap between those people who lived through the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, and those who came of age later. As far as language goes, what do you think has been the biggest area of disagreement between these groups?
GS and HSA: Hands down, the biggest linguistic area of disagreement has been the use of what linguist Arthur Spears labeled "uncensored mode" (UM) speech. A good deal has been written about the social, cultural, political transformation of the Black community during the Civil Rights-Black Power Era-for instance, work by scholars in the new field of "Black Power Studies." However, not much has been said about the linguistic transformation of the Black community. Black Language (BL) became the lingua franca of those who came of age during the Civil Rights-Black Power Era. And for the first time in the history of U.S. slave descendants, that language was consciously and deliberately used in the public sphere as a counterlanguage to that of the dominant White mainstream, a language that reflected Black solidarity and disavowal of White, Eurocentric values and norms. It was the communicative m.o. that indexed one's identity, family, community, and allegiance to Africanized cultural norms, values and World View. Within the UM linguistic paradigm, terms, phrases, syntactic and phonological styles that were once considered "taboo," and/or to be used only in intimate contexts, became part of everyday speech. As Spears put it, this UM speech became "normalized" and used in "evaluatively neutral" ways, and he notes that folks who "function exclusively or primarily in mainstream settings are not aware of this."
Smitherman first documented the existence of this linguistic phenomenon in Black speech over three decades ago (shoutout to Spears for giving the phenomenon a name). In her now-classic Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America (1977), she noted the positive, negative, and neutral meanings of so-called obscenities. In AWB, we discuss the logic and the complex, layered use of what many consider the two most popular words in African American Language: nigga and muthafucka. Certainly these are in widespread use outside of Black community contexts—at Black comedy shows, on the internet, in Hip Hop, in other areas of the public sphere, and in everyday discourse—much to the consternation of many Blacks who came of age in the "post-Black" generation. That generation also finds itself at linguistic odds with today's younger, Hip Hop Generation, who receive the brunt of linguistic criticism and attack. Which is not to say that the post-Black generation does not use UM language themselves. In the book we describe the use of nigga by two high profile Blacks, caught wit their linguistic pants on the ground when their UM language was revealed in the public sphere. Soundly criticizing folks for doing in public what you do behind closed doors is never a good idea. There's an old saying that warns people about spittin up in the air—it just might land on your face!
HLG: Since we're in an election year, I have to ask: how do you see Obama's skill as a speaker with the ability to communicate to different audiences playing out in this presidential campaign? Have things changed so much in four years that he would have to change tactics?
GS and HSA: The Black preacher style has become more complicated for Barack Obama as the conservative, mostly White opposition has used this style to fear-monger. In the 2008 campaign, conservatives tried to paint Barack Obama as a "militant Black man" because of his connections to Revered Jeremiah Wright. In the 2012 campaign, they've gone one step further. Now, they want their base to see Barack Obama as "dangerous" because he IS Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Here's what we mean by this. Conservatives have jumped all over Barack Obama's speech at Hampton University, claiming that he was using "an accent that he has never used before" to speak to Black preachers. He was framed as dangerous and suspicious—as a threat to America—because, as they told it, Americans just didn't know who this guy was, that he had some kind of secret agenda, and that he couldn't be trusted. His use of the Black preacher style made folks exclaim, "We just don't know who he is." Black Language here becomes cause for suspicion, cause for alarm. (See the Hampton speech here.).
Despite this, Barack Obama continues to use the Black preacher style with a great degree of success. One of the most viral campaign videos of the last few weeks has been the "Romnesia" trope from Obama's recent speech in Fairfax, Virginia. If you watch this clip, most folks simply laugh (and rightly so because it's hilarious). However, linguists like Angie Kortenhoven, John Rickford, and us, we see the Black preacher style in the way the president moves while he is speaking, his laughter, the way he builds the argument, uses repetition, and especially his use of "the Black preacher stutter," to draw attention to important points. All of this is part of a classic Black preacher style which Barack Obama adopts/adapts in the political sphere. If you notice, in mid-swing, the President has a mostly White audience participating in Black communication's call-and-response mode of discourse. It's really a phenomenal piece of oratory, and one that will most certainly go down in history as an important linguistic moment in American politics.
If we can turn to Romney for a second. While Obama continues to demonstrate his linguistic flexibility, Romney continues to struggle on this front. His manner of speaking is essentially the verbal equivalent of his public persona: flat, one-dimensional, unable to connect. It is striking that he sounds almost the same in every speech, regardless of the audience. Observers have chronicled the wooden, monotonous nature of his delivery, the lack of tonal variation, the multiple hedges, the forced laughter, the "Leave It to Beaver"-era "gosh"-ness of his speaking. A painfully awkward example: his attempt to interact with Black youngsters, at a parade in Jacksonville, Fla., for Martin Luther King's birthday in 2008, where he dully barked: "Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof." During the primary campaign this year, he was mocked as inauthentic for throwing in some "y'alls" while stumping in the South. Because language is a primary factor in shaping whether a politician is seen as "likable" or "relatable," the stark differences in speaking styles between President Obama and Governor Romney are probably contributing to the persistently higher marks for "personality" that Obama has gotten in numerous polls. However, if all the pundits are correct, one problem for Obama continues to be White working-class voters. The campaign seems to know this, as Biden and Clinton seem to be linguistically pinch-hitting on this front. The racialized opposition to Obama is strong enough with this segment of the electorate that it's demonstrating that there might be a limit to what one's styleshifting abilities can accomplish.
HLG: Your book employs an African American vernacular style. This is obviously unusual in the academic world, which, to borrow a Chris Rock quote, is "whiter than an albino snowflake." Can you talk a little about the decision to write this way? Was it meant to show authenticity, or perhaps to convey a sort of protest against what you describe as a "hegemony" of so-called "standard" English?
GS and HSA: The medium is the message. Plain and simple, simple and plain. Writing in this style—where we switch in and out of multiple ways of speaking—is not just an aesthetic choice. It is a political one. It is not just stylistic; it is substantive. If all languages are equal—and they are, in linguistic terms—why must we conform to some dominant so-called standard in order to express our deepest, intellectual thoughts? If we are our language, and our language is us, then why not bring our whole selves up into the text? So-called "standard" English, especially "academic" English, as many know from experience, can be cold, exclusionary. It can sometimes even obfuscate. For those of us who are multilingual, we appreciate being able to draw on multiple varieties in order to say something—and to say it exactly how we mean it. Of course, we been doin this for years. Smitherman pioneered this approach in linguistics with her classic book, Talkin and Testifyin (1977), and Alim continued the tradition publishing the first doctoral dissertation to switch in and out of Black Language, You Know My Steez (2003, from Stanford University no less). Using Black Language in academic spaces—spaces that are usually White public spaces—speaks volumes.
In his Foreword to our book, Michael Eric Dyson takes note of and gives us props for our styleshifting: "In the process, a lot of switches are being flipped: codes, styles, media, frames, cultures, and races. In fact, Alim and Smitherman do a great deal of switching themselves, sliding from dense academic prose to streetwise vernacular at the drop of a hat, proving they are brilliant examples of the very practice they dissect." We not only research and write about Black Language, we ARE Black Language. This is the language that grounds us, in which we locate our identity and style; it is the language of Home. Smitherman tells the story about back in the Day at one of her first speeches about Black Language, a young brotha posed the question, "If Black Language is so great, beautiful, etc., how come you ain usin it?" Our goal in this book, as in other works of ours, was to rep for Black Language. And, really, our audience is far broader than academia. In addition to a more inclusive voice, for many Black folks, there is the aesthetic question as well, the expectation that you not only gotta be sayin something, but that you gotta be dope in terms of your skills, too. It's that combo that Black folks privilege in everything from Hip Hop to academic scholarship.
At the same time, we are bi/multilingual, having gained linguistic competence in Latin, Arabic, Spanish, and the so-called standard English of the Academy (close readers will notice our use of Spanish from time to time, as it is especially part of Alim's daily experience in northern California). We flex these linguistic muscles according to the rhetorical situation and the demands of the Hymesian Question: Who can say what to whom under what conditions? We are not unique in this respect. Many brothas and sistaz are able to shift in and out of different ways of speaking—including the POTUS, who is not only our first Black President, but also our first Black Language-speaking President (and one who can flex a lil Spanish, Indonesian, Hawaiian Creole, and American Sign Language when he wants to). Obama's styleshifting in and out of ways of speaking that are racialized as Black is par for the course for many Black Americans, especially middle class folks. Obama consciously employs Black Language in an effort to "talk like the people"—he even notes that, because of the pressure to assimilate towards dominant White culture, every Black person who is successful in society has to learn how to switch between language varieties, not unlike those who switch between English and Spanish. He, like us, recognizes Black ways of speaking as valued symbols of identity and solidarity for members of the Black community, and he, like us, regularly switches between multiple ways of speaking—without devaluing any of them. That is the crucial point. In this generation and even more so for future generations to come, it is a decided benefit for American citizens to be able to speak in more than one tongue. In this sense, we argue that Barack Obama serves as a linguistic role model not just for Black Americans but for all Americans.
HLG: Your book ends with an anecdote involving a teacher who insists that her job requires her to "combat" African American vernacular, and to teach (or, perhaps, force) her students to speak "standard" English. You advocate a more balanced approach to language education that would encourage students to understand and appreciate the flexibility, rather than the authority, of the English language. How much resistance to this have you faced as professionals in your field? It seems to me that even some of the most well-intentioned educators insist that black students have to talk like white people because, in the teacher's words, "that's just the way it is."
GS and HSA: From our combined decades of work, we have come to the conclusion that good intentions are not enough. We need to make sure that, as a society, we are not only well-intentioned but well-informed. The well-intentioned insistence on the part of White folks (and many middle-class Black folks) that working-class Black people need to change the way they talk so that White America can accept them is something that we do encounter in our professional work, especially with teachers. Aside from the deeper theoretical point that "standard" English is a social construction—just like race, gender, etc., a point that even many critical progressives miss—we point out that this line of thinking is troublesome for many reasons. For one thing, Black parents have always wanted their kids to speak "standard" English, at least for instrumental purposes like doing well in school or getting a job. Second, it's more complicated than a teacher's one-way push toward "standard" English would suggest. In our own work, we have found that Black parents want their children to be fluent in multiple language varieties, including Black Language. Toni Morrison is instructive here: "The language, only the language...it is the thing that black people love so much—the saying of words, holding them on the tongue, experimenting with them, playing with them. It's a love, a passion. Its function is like a preacher's: to make you stand up out of your seat, make you lose yourself and hear yourself. The worst of all possible things that could happen would be to lose that language." If you talk to members of the Black communities that we study and participate in, you'll find that folks certainly respect President Obama for his mastery of "standard English," but he is more often admired as a linguistic role model for his ability to shift in and out of different ways of speaking. Thus, it's not "standard English" or Black Language, but both those and, increasingly in this Twenty-First Century, other languages as well.
Finally, whenever teachers, scholars, and others—even progressives among us—say things like, "Fair or unfair, that's just the way the world works," we need to interrogate the hell out of that statement and reveal it for the oft-repeated, but dangerous and misguided, American cultural script that it is. Black folks got their version of this script, too: "It's their world and we're just in it—so as long as they're in charge, we gotta play by their rules." Rather than viewing these statements as an end point, we take them as the starting point for the critical discussion that we need to be having. Instead of agreeing for one reason or another that we "absolutely have" to provide "these students" with "standard English," we might ask: How are we all involved in perpetuating the myth of a "standard" and that it is somehow better, more intelligent, more appropriate, more important, etc., than other varieties? Why do we elevate one particular variety over all others, even when all of our linguistic knowledge tells us that "all languages are equal in linguistic terms"? Why does the "standard" continue to be imposed despite the fact that what we have for a "standard English" in the US is nothing short of the imposition of White, middle class language norms? In other words, how and why do we continue to measure the worth of People of Color largely by their level of assimilation into dominant White culture? What if we turned around and measured the worth of White people by their ability to sound "authentically Black"? What if White people needed to adopt "Chicano" ways of speaking, for example, in order to perform well in school, get a job, be approved for a loan, or find housing. If that sounds ridiculous to you, then so should the reverse. These questions are important since holding "standard" English as the "gateway to freedom" is a hegemonic move used to grant opportunities to Whites while denying opportunities to as many others as possible (including poor, marginal Whites).
In the book, we ask different kinds of questions, and develop different kinds of approaches. By asking different kinds of questions, we can begin to think differently—that is critically—about the relationships between language, racism, education, and power in society. By asking different kinds of questions, we can stop silently legitimizing "standard English" and tacitly standardizing "Whiteness." In leaving out critical issues of race and class, students inevitably begin to view their culture and language as unfit for school or any other context linked to status and prestige. If we continue to uncritically present "standard English" as somehow better than other varieties of English, we are implicitly devaluing these varieties and the people who speak them. As a result, many students not only come to see their language as having a lesser role in places like schools, but more dangerously, they start to see themselves in that light, too.
Rather than falling back on uncritical conformist and assimilationist models of schooling, perhaps we can learn from other models of language education from multilingual democracies around the world. What might the research in Sweden, Norway, and other countries, which shows that "recognizing the legitimacy of other varieties of a language" improves "standard" language learning, have to offer us here in the U.S.? What about South Africa's policy of eleven official languages, which is enshrined in its Constitution? What can Americans learn from Peru's innovative new multilingual law that calls for the preservation and use of its indigenous languages? In this so-called "developing democracy," bilingual, intercultural education is now the law of the land: All children who speak an indigenous language as their first language have the right to be educated in Spanish and in their first language at all levels of the education system. There are other more egalitarian, democratic models out there. Withholding opportunities from all folks who don't talk like you ain't "the way the world works"—it's the way hegemony works.
Schooling should not be about convincing students to "play the game" (another classic American script), but helping them understand how the game's been rigged and, more importantly, how they can work to change it. Real Talk.
HLG: One last question: is it even possible for a person who is not black to genuinely compliment a black person for his or her oratory skills without sounding racist? (As I read your book, I was hoping for a kind of "how to" or a public service announcement aimed at anyone considering such a thing.)
GS and HSA: Cornel West often calls Americans immature and unsophisticated when it comes to race. We are also woefully unsophisticated, as a society, when it comes to language. In this book, we're trying to language race—to view American racial politics through the lens of language—which makes the task doubly difficult (and in our view, doubly necessary). Our "public service announcement" would be to tell folks to stop focusing on themselves as individuals. This kind of question focuses in on individuals who might worry that they're going to be accused of being racist. However, what these folks need to be worrying about is not their individual utterances, or whether or not they are racist (or bad people, or whatever else), but rather how what they say outta they mouth can play into and reinforce racist stereotypes. In short, this kind of question lacks a critical perspective on racism.
To begin with, what many people are responding to is not any single utterance, but how utterances are structured socially and patterned such that particular patterns appear far more frequently than others. For instance, "articulate" is used by members of the dominant culture to describe the speech of, not just Black folks, but those on the social and linguistic margins, such as children, Southerners, immigrants, second language learners, etc. So, there is a salient link between social marginality and those characterized as "articulate."
Second, it ain't really helpful to look at any one particular utterance of "articulate" and attempt to guess the speaker's intention. What is useful, though, is looking across utterances and noticing, for example, patterns in neighboring adjectives. These other adjectives simultaneously frame the speaker and the group to which the speaker belongs in opposition. The exceptional "peaceful, patriotic, moderate Muslim," for example, versus her "violent, anti-American extremist Muslim community," is one such opposition heard frequently in post-9/11 American public discourse. So, in addition to the broader, interactional patterns of who utters what to whom, we must also consider the microlinguistic patterns that we use to construct "articulate" exceptions to the racist rule. When complimenting someone on their speaking skills, for example, don't play yourself and start talkin about how they're also "clean," "handsome," "nice-looking," or "bright." You're revealing the stereotypes that you—and dominant culture—hold about the group.
Thirdly, this kind of question presupposes that racism is the property of individuals, something that lives inside of one person's head or heart. Racism is constructed as something that can be denied or refuted given someone's "real" intentions. The problem with this, of course, is that racism is perpetually deniable because no one can ever really know if someone else harbors racist thoughts or feelings—and especially, if those thoughts and feelings will lead to racist actions. So, as critical race theorists have long argued, racism is more productively viewed not as an individual, emotional problem, but as an institutional, systemic one. In other words, the question worth asking is not "Does that particular person harbor racist beliefs when they call me "articulate"?" but rather "How does the repeated, patterned use of "articulate" draw on racist ideologies and (re)produce racial inequalities?" Rather than trying to prove if one person's utterance is evidence of racism, we can more fruitfully examine the ways our everyday discourse is racially structured. So, whether racist "compliments" are "intentional" or even "conscious" becomes far less interesting than how these "compliments" are patterned over time and space and in between groups. (Imani Perry's latest work on "post-intentionality" is really good on these points).
In a related final point, these kinds of questions assume that words can be lifted up outta their context and still carry meaning. But context is crucial to how we make meaning. The repeated use of particular words by particular people in particular contexts and situations over time is how words come to take on socially-charged meanings in the first place. Black speakers, for example, interpret Whites' use of "articulate" within a body of sociohistorical discourses about White ideologies of race and language as well as contemporary experiences with White racism and linguistic discrimination. So, when it comes to "articulate," we have to attend to microlinguistic and broader interactional patterns of use, yes, but we also have to consider how "articulate" articulates with (to use our beloved adjective as a verb) other sociohistorical discourses and ideologies. Further, we need to develop a more critical perspective on racism as not individual or even necessarily intentional but as institutional and most definitely consequential.