Raising a Woman of Color, Part IV: Intelligence

Last night my family (including my brother and parents) was invited to a cookout with family friends. While we were there, we were introduced to Blokus, which turned out to be quite the addictive game. During one of the many rounds that were played, I watched as Marcus competed against my brother, my parents’ friend Mark (who was a little silly and drunk on wine, drawing many eyerolls from his wife as the night progressed), and his daughter Morgan, a young woman whose pleasant demeanour became very quiet and serious during gameplay.

Morgan and Mark played competitively against each other, with Morgan defending her corner of the board and Mark trying his best to weasel his way in any way that he could. Finally she made a bad move, effectively blocking her dad but also locking down her own corner in such a way that she could make no more moves. Everyone watching (and playing) the game winced a little when they realized what had happened. She was out of the game, and Mark teased her a little, gloating cheerfully.

I said, “Wait until she turns nine, Mark. You won’t stand a chance.” Everyone burst into laughter. My brother added, “That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”

Morgan is seven years old, and she played the game just as competitively and confidently as any of the adults around the table. She didn’t win, but she certainly could have. “Smart” doesn’t even begin to describe this child, who started speaking in full sentences at 16 months.

Morgan receives frequent praise for her intelligence. She attended my parents’ daycare for the first 4 or 5 years of her life, and my mother brags about her almost every time she comes up in the conversation. Last night, everyone at the table (myself included) expressed their amazement at her ability to compete with the adults at least once.

So today I’m thinking about intelligence, especially in regards to children, and how we treat children that we perceive as intelligent. To do that, first I’m going to have to define intelligence. According to Wikipedia, intelligence is:

“an umbrella term describing a property of the mind including related abilities, such as the capacities for abstract thought, understanding, reasoning, planning, problem solving, communication, learning and learning from the experience”

Well, that’s a start. I consider some parts of it arguable, especially about communication, but let’s just go with it for now. The vast majority of people that I know can agree that having the abilities as outlined above is a good thing. But why is it a good thing? The answer that first comes to my mind is that intelligent children have a better chance to accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find the tools that they want and need to find their own happiness. But again, I have to ask why. Why do intelligent children have these advantages?

The easy (and in my opinion, wrong) answer is, “Because they’re intelligent!” There is a common assumption that intelligence itself – and nothing else – is what allows people to succeed. I don’t think so. We, as a society, treat people that we perceive to be intelligent differently than “other” people. As kaninchenzero of Feminists with Disabilities so succinctly put it in her ableist word profile about intelligence:

“…we can’t talk about intelligence without talking about stupidity, and stupidity is all tangled up in ableism. If some people are intelligent, some people are stupid. It just falls out that way when you start sorting people on a hierarchy of value. Some are capable of more — so we allocate more resources (money, education, employment, health care) to them — and others are capable of less, so they get less. Less money, less education, worse housing, more abuse.”

There is no question that those who are deemed less intelligent or of below average intelligence are given less and abused more. For example, at least 70% of women with developmental disabilities (I’m giving FWD a lot of link love today!) are estimated to experience rape in their lifetime, a statistic that is breathtakingly horrific. Despite this reality, rape as an issue is frequently framed by mainstream feminists as being mostly the concern of temporarily abled women; the experiences of those who rank lower on the hierarchy of intelligence are rarely – if ever – mentioned at all.

So how much of an intelligent child’s ability to, as I mentioned above, accomplish their goals, to have their needs met, and to find their own happiness is a result of their own intelligence and how much is a result of the willingness of others to praise them, to give them second chances, to offer them opportunities, to push them towards success? How many children that have been deemed unintelligent are even asked about their goals, their needs, or their happiness? How many are actively discouraged from dreaming big?

Morgan was praised many times for playing a game with us, even though she made mistakes and even though she didn’t win. Would a child of “average” or “low” intelligence been praised? Would any other child even be allowed to play, let alone invited? If a child without Morgan’s level of intelligence lost the game to a table full of adults, would that be used to confirm our preconceived notions about that child’s abilities? Would I still have quipped, so quickly and without much thought, about such child’s supposed future abilities?

Children are taught early on that “smart” = “good.” When we say to a child, “You’re so smart!” we are not praising them on how hard they study, or on how willing they are to ask questions, or how graciously they accept losing or making mistakes, or anything else that is actually within that child’s control. We are praising them for being born the way that they were lucky enough to be born, and we are privileging a quality that they cannot help or change, while at the same time sending the message that those who were not lucky enough to be born that way don’t have anything to be proud of because…well, who wants to be stupid?

Intelligence (or the perception of intelligence; more on that shortly) is an unearned privilege. It opens doors to those who happened to be born that way while simultaneously shutting out many others. Children who have this privilege are nurtured, challenged, bragged about on their parents’ bumper stickers. Children who do not have this privilege are looked down upon and frequently treated as nuisances. (And while children who are privileged by their intelligence are frequently treated like adults, adults who do not have this privilege are frequently treated like children.)

Now. About the perception and measuring of intelligence. The fact is that there is no ironclad method of measuring anyone’s intelligence. IQ tests are inherently flawed; at best, they only accurately measure a person’s ability to take IQ tests. To borrow from this comment from reader Baskelia on a Racialicious article about the “theory” that black people have a lower IQ than whites:

“And even when discussing the black white IQ gap, proponents of the difference in IQ theory stay away from studies that buck their conclusions. None of them can explain the Flynn effect.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

None of them can explain variances in IQ scores taken at different times (i.e. I have a 10-15 point variance)

None of them can explain how programs described in Arthur Whimbey’s Intelligence can be taught can take minority children from an IQ of 80 to an IQ of 115 in such a short period. Whimbey’s techniques are essentially techniques that middle and upper class individuals already use. The SAT correlates to IQ tests. If IQ was genetic, then why do people spend so much money prepping for the SATs (Kaplan etc).

None of them can explain Stereotype threat and that whites actually perform poorly on tests than blacks if they are primed with the suggestion that the test in question is one that whites normally do worse than blacks on (a message that we blacks get every day of our lives).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat

In addition to the fact that IQ tests are flawed even for those of us with typical communication styles, how accurately can a population with a certain method of communication design and administer a test for those who communicate or process information differently? What happens when a child with autism takes a test designed by and for neurotypical people? As this article notes:

“Mittler (1966) was one of the first authors to acknowledge the possible adverse affects of autistic symptomatology on intelligence testing. He noted that intelligence scores of individuals with autism may be inaccurate, especially when refused items are counted as failures, as they are on most performance scales. Mittler also stated that verbal measures of intelligence may be inappropriate because of the language deficits often present in children with autism.”

Kaninchenzero has this to say about it:

“Stupid is a perception, usually based on the perceived ability to communicate. A person with communication impairments is going to be perceived as stupid. The same word means ’stupid’ and ‘unable to speak’ for a reason…Someone with cerebral palsy who requires that the rest of us slow down and wait for xer to communicate at xer speed is going to be perceived as unintelligent. Someone who can’t speak under stress (I stammer and eventually become dysphasic on bad days) is going to be perceived as unintelligent at those times. Deaf people are perceived as unintelligent. None of these conditions have a damn thing to do with cognition and everything to do with communication.”

You don’t even have to be actually unintelligent to lose the privileges of intelligence; if people assume that you are unintelligent, based on your methods of communication or your disability or your gender or your race, then they will treat you accordingly and close off those opportunities, withhold praise, and roll their eyes when your perceived lack of intelligence inconveniences them in some way (even if that inconvenience is really only imagined on their part; the time it takes to sit down with a gifted child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with is frequently not given the same value as the time taken to sit down with a “slow” child and teach them how to understand a concept that they are struggling with).

I remember being a child in summer representation band, which was a program for the best musicians in the local Catholic schools. A few children from each school in the Archdiocese were handpicked to play a huge summer concert together. The music was significantly more challenging than anything we ever played back at school in our tiny band, where I was the only trombonist. There were about 8 trombonists in representation band; I was the only female trombonist and one of only a couple black kids in the entire band, so all of the other trombonists were white boys. During one band practice I remember the conductor going down the line to see who was playing off-key at a certain part in one song. When it was my turn, he asked me to play the note once, which I did; he then snapped at me and told me that I was to only pretend to play that measure during the actual concert, that I shouldn’t even bother trying to play it. When he got to another trombonist, he spent five minutes unsuccessfully trying to coach that boy into tune, and finally told him, “Don’t worry, we’ll work on that.”

Same measure, same note, same instrument, but we received wildly different treatment from the conductor. I was told to not even bother trying (and I was no slouch – this band was made up of the area’s best players), while another child was coached and further encouraged to work on it. Whether or not this difference in treatment was a result of sexism and/or racism is irrelevant right now; what I’m trying to illustrate is that the director’s perceived impression of my ability had a dramatic impact on the amount of help that I received (in my case, none), on the conductor’s tone and attitude, and on the promise of help in the future (which was, again, none).

Another issue I have with “intelligence” is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which kind of aptitudes count as intelligence (and are therefore of value) and which aren’t. In the Racialicious post I linked above, Nancy Leong asks:

“Well, first, ‘intelligence’ itself is a notoriously slippery concept. Intelligence at what? At trigonometry? At sentence diagramming? At computer programming? At analogies? What kind of intelligence matters, and how can we measure that – and nothing more or less – on a test?

…Intelligence tests don’t measure qualities like charisma, judgment, creativity, work ethic, collegiality, foresight, and drive – qualities that have far more to do with success in most fields than the skills measured on a typical so-called intelligence test.”

I can’t do even simple math in my head, but I can figure most stuff out if I write it down or use a calculator. I can dogdge a ball but I sure as hell can’t throw one. I can read faster than anyone I know, but I can’t retain much of what I read even a day or so later. I know the meanings and spellings of lots of big words but I can never remember how to pronounce many of them. I got a 1250 on my SATs but just a 14 when tested in fifth grade on the US states and their capitols (and I studied my ass off for that test). I have a talent for relating to many kinds of people but I’m absolutely lousy with plants. I can ride a unicyle but I can’t change a flat. I can read music but have absolutely no imagination for writing it. Which of these things about me are indicative of my intelligence level, and which are not? Which of these things matter and have value and say something about my value as a person, and which do not? Why do some of these things, each of which undoubtedly make up a part of who I am, count towards marking my ability to learn and understand, and others do not?

You may be wondering, after reading 2300+ words, what all of this has to do with raising a woman of color? It’s simple. Intelligence as a concept has been and continues to be weaponized against women and against POCs. A lack of intelligence is the excuse that was given for European colonialism: the natives were too stupid to use the land “properly” so whites had the right to take it forcefully, and Africans were likewise stupid and therefore needed whites to “care” for them by enslaving them. Women were too stupid to understand politics so they were withheld the right to vote, among other things. Even today there are plenty of white people arguing that black folks are genetically wired to be less intelligent than whites.

For far too many, the color of Eve’s skin is going to be a sign that she is less intelligent and therefore less deserving of resources and protection from abuse. She is going to be marked as less capable, and she is going to have to prove herself over and over again that she is indeed an equal to her white and/or male peers, not only in the capacity to learn but in every way possible. She will have to put in three times the effort to get half the recognition, and at the end of the day, she is still going to have people calling her value as a human being into question.

So why not, as both Nancy from Racialicious and kaninchenzero of FWD ask, do away with intelligence (or at least, measuring and ranking intelligence) altogether? Does the concept really have any value, especially when it is so frequently used to dehumanize people with disabilities, minorities, and women (there goes that pesky intersectionality again)? Should children who are intelligent be praised for their intelligence, or should they be praised for their actions?

Many people, my husband included, have remarked many times before and since Eve’s birth that they hope that she is smart. Most of the time I let the comment go, but sometimes I have to ask, “So what if she’s not?” Would she be any less deserving of support, of education, of encouragement?

Before she was even born, I told Marcus that I don’t care if Eve is smart or not. What I care about is her ability to find her own happiness, reach her own goals, and achieve her own success. What I care about is if she is kind, compassionate, considerate. What I care about is if she loves herself enough to be herself and to be proud of herself, regardless of what any IQ or SAT or whatever tells her. Being smart doesn’t guarantee that one will be loving or hardworking or happy, and these are the things that hold value to me and what I will encourage her to find value in as well.

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13 Responses to “Raising a Woman of Color, Part IV: Intelligence”

  1. Jo Says:

    My immediate reaction, perhaps just because it was at the end, is that one hopes Eve is smart because of all the reasons you listed in the post — it is an advantage… unearned, yes, and you can draw parallels between intelligence and privilege and lots of other things and privilege, but also because it is an advantage in how she will understand the world and cope with it.

    Intelligence is largely unearned, though I think that many people begin life with a higher potential for intelligence than they acheive, whether through discrimination or poor parenting or some combination. You cannot necessarily boost your childs intelligence potential, but there are things you can do to support intelligence development (such as reading to your child, using lots of words to talk to them about the world and describe even the most mundane activities, counting (even counting as you go up the stairs or the number of dogs you see on a walk or whatever). The problem is not only the nature but the nurture – and you don’t get to choose who you have for parents or what situations come up in your early life.

    I know the population I work with is special in more than one way, but I find that while there is a lot of excitement over someone who is deemed “smart” (based on their interactions with the world and those around them and cognitive ability more than on IQ), others aren’t immediately considered “stupid” or given less as a result. They may receive different treatment but often that’s to support their growth and development within their capabilities rather than because they aren’t seen as worthy.

    I feel like parents have an obligation to know the range of their child’s abilities and to attempt to bolster some of the difficult areas and give the child the opportunity to thrive in areas where he or she excels if those areas hold their child’s interest. In the example with the family friends, I feel that whether I invited my child (or any child) to the game would have a lot to do with their level of interest, their ability to interact socially with adults, as well as their intelligence. Parents and adults in general need to know the child with whom they are interacting. If my child hates board games, I’m not inviting them. If he or she is super smart and loves games but gets pissy about competition and is in a bad mood already, I might choose not to allow them to play. If my child struggles with understanding the concepts that the game presents and I know that, I’m not going to invite them to play just because I invited someone else.

    I do not think that it’s okay to treat people like shit because of intelligence nor do I think it’s okay to take advantage of them, nor to write them off as “unteachable” or uwnorthy. I do think it’s okay to treat people differently, though, based on a wide range of factors. I think that kids who can grasp difficult concepts more easily should be given opportunities to grapple with those concepts and kids who are struggling with the idea of a single concept should be given the support to grapple with it. While intelligence and athletic prowess are not the same, I do want to say that I think it should be similar in all areas of ability. I would have LOVED to have remedial gym class as a child, because I sucked at gym. I seldom had successes to build upon and was treated as unworthy not only by my classmates but by the gym teacher, who did not attempt to help me out.

    I do not think there is enough programming for GT students. I do not think there is enough creative programming for your average student. In high school, honors classes read books and discussed deep ideas while “college prep” classes read books and wrote essays and “access” (what a bad name!) classes did grammar dittos. There are better ways to teach concepts to kids who are not GT than rote memorization and dittos. There is also not enough funding or good teachers for students who have a variety of learning disabilities, despite laws that require that services be provided. Parents are often in the dark about their rights, which were handed to them in a dense booklet and seldom explained by the room full of professionals who tell them what their child needs. And sometimes the parents are over the top and ridiculous… sometimes they are right on target… and almost always they want what’s best for their kid.

    Oh goodness, here I go again… there is more here to say and I’ve already blathered on forever and all over the place. Forgive me and my tired, overworked brain 🙂

    • August Says:

      I like your blathering!

      I think it’s quite okay to support the individual needs of each child, although I’m not sure I would call it treating them “differently” so much as recognizing that particular child’s strengths and encouraging growth where it is desired/needed. But children who aren’t recognized as intelligent don’t always get what they need; they’re told that they need to change their goals and dreams because they’ll never be smart enough to achieve them, rather than being told, “Okay, here is what you need to do to achieve that and this is how I’ll support you in doing it.”

      And it also gets into my point about which kinds of intelligence are valued (or even recognized as intelligence) and which are not. In my opinion, athletic prowess is a kind of intelligence. A kid may struggle with grammar but be an amazing musician, or may have problems with math but be a very clever and talented player on the soccer field, or may read several grade levels below what is expected but is a natural artist. Maybe the things that we call talents need to be recognized as different kinds of intelligence, or maybe we should be more honest about our academic prowess and accept it is just a talent. And nurture plays into that very much as well; just as a child who may have a talent for academics might not have that talent nurtured and developed because of her parents, or poverty, or racism, the child who has a talent for something more physical may not have it developed for exactly the same reasons.

      “While intelligence and athletic prowess are not the same, I do want to say that I think it should be similar in all areas of ability. I would have LOVED to have remedial gym class as a child, because I sucked at gym. I seldom had successes to build upon and was treated as unworthy not only by my classmates but by the gym teacher, who did not attempt to help me out.”

      Agreed! Which is why it’s frustrating that funding for arts, physical fitness, music, and other “optionals” are being cut from schools in favor of maximizing focus on standardardized testing. We value a talent for math and English and other intellectual disciplines, and consider other things just not all that important in the long run (because they’re only “talents” and not “intelligence”). So where does that leave the children who have no talent for standardized testing and no talent for math/English, but plenty of talent for art or gym class or music? We’ve cut their support in favor of focusing on what comes naturally to academically smart kids. And in some schools, when students don’t score high enough on the tests, they cut out those students altogether to keep their averages up. And what about the kids like you who WANTED more support in gym class? (BTW, I had the same experience in gym class, both teacher and classmates treated me like garbage.)

      Just as one can support a child’s intellectual development, one can also support development in other areas. The child whose parents read to them every night may very well development a talent for understanding and using words, but why don’t we also encourage parents to hit a ball with their kids every night? I definitely see a difference in the way that we treat and accept and encourage some forms of intelligence while ignoring or downplaying others, which does a disservice to children who excel in the areas that we’ve deemed frivolous as well as the kids who need more support in those areas.

      • Jo Says:

        Again, I think some of that depends on who is doing the teaching and the child. My parents encouraged all the things I was good at and did not force me into trying things I did not like… and sometimes I resent that, as I’m awful at a lot of sports, cannot dance, etc. At the time, though, I would have cried and refused and cried and refused and I don’t know that they would’ve gotten through to me.

        I think there are plenty of parents who encourage other kinds of skills in their children. They still value the educational skills, not necessarily out of valuing them in themeselves but because they know, as we know, how hard it is to get by in the world as it is without them. I do think that athletics, musical talent, artistic talent are valued and while their value appears to be diminishing in the eyes of the powers that be, it does not mean that educators feel the same way. I do not think that the funding has been cut in favor of “smart” kids, but in favor of children being able to read and write, which was not happening and is still not happening despite a ridiculous amount of standardized testing. Also, the children of the baby boomer generation flooded the school systems and funding was needed for more teachers and more classrooms to be able to teach at all. Ultimately it’s a funding issue compounded by the fact that basic academic subjects are culturally considered the meat of an education. I don’t see it as just boosting smart kids up but trying to get everyone to learn, period.

        Outside of the education system, there is just as a little opportunity and I believe that there is LOTS to do in that area as well. Organized sports and activities can be very expensive, which is prohibitive in itself, and there aren’t always enough to go around.

        Overall, I do not see the education system as placing all the value on being smart at all. I see it as placing all the value on passing a test, for smart kids and for kids who are struggling. And, if nothing else, I see the kids that are naturally good at sports, art, music, getting a HUGE HUGE boost over kids who are just booksmart in terms of services provided, scholarship opportunities, other experiential learning. If anything, I think the biggest issue is the one that I mentioned before: kids who aren’t as capable at academics get support; kids who aren’t as capable at anything else are either not expected nor encourage to participate or else are looked down upon.

        • August Says:

          I’m not just talking about the education system, but about how we value and rank people according to their perceived intelligence as a society. I haven’t always been in honors classes; and you don’t get the same treatment and your goals aren’t accepted with the same seriousness when people don’t think that you’re bright, and I don’t think that’s okay at all.

          I’ve also been in many situations where strangers start to talk down to me when they see me and only change their tune when I speak up and make it clear that I’m no academic slouch – in fact, it happens all the time, and sometimes I’m sure it’s because of my race and gender. But whether or not I speak standard English or use big words should not be the measure that people use to gauge my intelligence or value as a person and should not be an excuse to be shitty to me; I could speak completely broken English (if it weren’t my first language) or just Black American vernacular and I should still be worthy of respect, my goals should still be worthy of respect, and my dreams should still be worthy of respect.

          And a person who does poorly on standardized tests might still actually be awesome at whatever that test was supposed to measure (I definitely consider Marcus to be academically smarter than me but my SAT score was a full 300 points higher than his), just as a person who doesn’t speak standard English might be super duper smart in a lot of other ways.

          From what I can tell, intelligence is in the eye of the beholder and is really a concept that we (as a society) obsess over entirely too much. We’re fascinated with quantifying it, defining it, and ranking people by it. It’s one thing to recognize that there are skills that will help you succeed in whatever way that you want to succeed, but to boil them all down to a generic “intelligence” is not helpful; the kid with a 160 IQ might still not reach his goals if he treats people like shit and sucks at cultivating healthy relationships, and the kid with an IQ of 90 might change the world someday.

        • August Says:

          Think about this: when is the last time that you heard someone speaking in broken English or with poor grammar, and somebody in your group starts shit-talking them (behind their back) or just acting short and nasty towards them for it? You don’t know anything else about that person except for how they look and how they are speaking (at the moment), but it’s taken as reason enough to start talking about how “those” people shouldn’t be having children or something equally hateful (eugenics = not very nice); that is an example of devaluing person person based on others’ perception of that person’s intelligence.

          It happens all the time, I’ve seen it and I know I’ve done it myself, and it’s not only unfair, but it’s just plain wrong.

  2. Jo Says:

    Also, this is the story I often think of when discussing ableism:

    http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

  3. Jo Says:

    It won’t let me reply anymore.

    I have to say I generally don’t think less of people because of their speech and most of the people I spend time with don’t either. I listen to the content rather than the type of speech before I decide people shouldn’t procreate 🙂 Really, I do know that it happens and it’s just another form of stereotyping. I also think that there are plenty of times that intelligent people with communication issues, whether poor speech and grammar or over-the-top-filled-with-jargon-and-advanced-vocabulary speech are not capable of filling certain roles because of their inability to relate to and connect with other people.

    Re: goals, etc. I don’t think that it’s always true that you get treated like less if you aren’t perceived as intelligent. I think it happens, but I also see a lot of people working to help people meet their goals regardless of “smartness.” I think that the problem is less about intelligence and more about perceived motivation, which goes back to what you originally posted: smart isn’t something that is necessarily earned, but the perception is that it is and that it’s because of motivation and hard work when sometimes it’s just that you have a brain that works a certain way (or enough analness to worry about that kind of stuff). I also think it depends on the goals. If someone comes to me and says “I want to be an editor for a newspaper” and they have demonstrated no ability to use grammar, poor speech, whatever, I’m not going to go into the “you’re a special snowflake and can do whatever you want” routine as much as pointing out the work required. If someone comes in and says the same thing but is more skilled in those areas, I might respond more enthusiastically. And some of that IS based on perception of that person (if I know them) and their ability to do the things they are discussing. I don’t think that everyone should get treated the same as much as approached the same.

    I don’t really hear IQ being talked about a whole lot in the education system or in the world in general. Many children only have their IQ tested if they are doing very poorly or exceptionally amazingly based on other qualitative factors (skill in areas requiring different kinds of reasoning or lack thereof) and oftentimes the IQ is not the definitive measure but one of many measures taken in those cases. It is not a perfect measure but it is many times an okay way to scale where a child appears to be at and, if the child has professionals working with him or her, there are discussions about whether the child fits the IQ. For example, I have kids who have tested in the mild MR range who do not, in most ways, appear mild MR. At the same time, their IQ score sometimes qualifies them for services they desperately need and gives the outside world of caretakers something tangible to hold onto in terms of how they treat their child (many MANY parents want something tangible and concrete and it’s often not enough to just say “Johnny struggles to comprehend anything but short sentences, please use those.” In general, outside of the education system, I think that the vast majority of people are able to recognize areas of skill (or lack thereof) in others without some kind of standardized test.

    Re: the story. It’s actually one of my favorite stories. Because I believe in some of these discussions, there has to be a middle ground. And that we can celebrate people for the skills they have while also respecting others who do not have those skills. I can be excited that you are able to play the piano wicked well without feeling incompetant or unworthy. People should be encouraged to develop their special snowflake skills and shine in whatever those skills are without worrying that someone might feel sad or like less UNLESS it is a direct result of their actions. So go play the piano or draw or pass a test or whatever and be proud of that but don’t use it to presume that everyone else is stupid or incompetent or unable. That’s really the trick to it all.

    • August Says:

      Sorry, I guess we reached the nesting limit on the comment thread!

      It’s not always true that you get treated like less if you aren’t perceived as intelligent, just as it’s not always true that you get treated like less for being black or gay – but it happens, and too frequently. But even with your example, you say that you would point out the work required to a person who wants to be an editor and has a poor grasp of grammar, which is actually what I’m saying should happen and doesn’t always happen. People who need support in a particular area to reach their goals aren’t always given help or guidance in the work they need to do – they’re just told to forget about even trying in the first place because they’re hopeless. I know people who received this treatment; some of them said “fuck it, I’m doing it anyway” and a lot of them just gave up because they were so discouraged. Instead of telling people “You suck so forget about it” we should tell them “Okay, but if you want to do THAT then you’ll have to do THIS first, you have to work on it.” That’s not treating someone like a special snowflake; that’s just treating them like a person with strengths, weaknesses, and challenges.

      I don’t mean to be raawr or anything, but I would like to suggest that maybe one of the reasons you don’t hear a whole lot about IQ is because you don’t have it weaponized against you on a regular basis. I can barely go a day just browsing the internet without coming across people who insist on fantasizing about the inherent inferiority of blacks, using IQ scores and The Bell Curve as their evidence, while other “well-meaning white people” insist on “hearing them out” because it’s “just science.” Also you’ll find that when you get pregnant, there is definitely an obsession over “How to increase your baby’s IQ!” even in utero (Smoking lowers your baby’s IQ!), and then especially once the baby is out (Baby Can Read! Baby Einstein! Baby Sign Language!). It’s one of the things I find distasteful about some lactivist circles, the pushing of “But it increases your baby’s IQ, who WOULDN’T want to breastfeed for that reason alone!”

      As far as the story goes, it just reminds me of all the crochety white dudes who scream about “Feminists and lesbians want to eliminate gender roles because they want us all to be the same!!!” The sort of future illustrated in that story is not even the logical extreme of what people with disabilities, POCs, trans folks, or any other oppressed group actually wants or fights for, but it’s framed as if by demanding equality, oppressed groups really just want sameness, or that treating people equally means treating privileged people as less than. It’s like white people whining about Black History Month (which trust me, there are valid reasons to criticize it, but “they’re taking away the focus from normal people!” isn’t one of them), or straight people whining about how “gay people get their own parades and we don’t.” Recognition of the humanity of one kind of person does not mean handicapping another, which seems to be the point that the writer of that story missed, and is why I find it abhorrent.

      Once, a white friend of Marcus’ complained about all the film festivals that focus on POCs, which were taking away from his chances to get his stuff put out there. Marcus responded by finding a database of all the film festivals across the country for a full year and went through each one; he found that while there were less than a dozen POC-focused film festivals in a twelve-month period, there were 100+ [white] festivals happening every month. But this guy was convinced (and probably still is, he never responded to Marcus) that taking white people off of the stage for just a few festivals a year was a direct threat to his ability to succeed, that they were somehow handicapping him. It’s a REALLY common sentiment from any privileged population.

      Likewise, I’ve heard other TABs (temporarily able bodied) complain obnoxiously about the fact that some PWDs have their own parking spaces near the entrance of wherever. They completely disregard the fact that for many, it’s a matter of getting into the building safely without being creamed by some asshole in the parking lot because, for example, from his vantage point the person using a wheelchair was invisible. Ableism is no joke; issues like lack of curb cuts (or poorly designed curb cuts) on sidewalks actually results in people’s deaths, and TABs don’t give a shit because we feel like it’s just too much of a bother to take the focus off ourselves for a minute and realize that not everybody navigates the world the same way that we do.

      Anyway, yeah. I hated that story. I actually find its “message” pretty offensive!

      *Edited to add: Just last week I saw a guy in a motorized wheelchair riding in the street because he couldn’t get onto a curb. It was an accident waiting to happen, but what else could he realistically do? A cab probably couldn’t have accomodated his chair and a bus may not have been able to get him where he needed to go (even if he could afford a fare for either, which I don’t know). That is ableist design at work!

  4. Jo Says:

    I don’t see the story that way at all. I see it as a warning against denying people special snowflake status at the risk of hurting other people’s feelings. I think it is meant to be extreme and over the top to get the message across that we have to be middle ground in some of our demands; that there is a difference between demanding that people be given opportunities / be treated with respect / not be taken advantage of and demanding that all people be treated the same no matter what. “We’re all special” or “we should all be treated exactly the same” or “we should all be looked at the same way no matter what” is kind of crap. I can treat the kid with the grammar issues and the kid without with the same level of respect (or the kid who can dance and the kid who can’t or the kid who is brilliant and the kid who has average intelligence) without treating them the same. Maybe it’s because I worry about the opposite of “you suck so forget about it” which is “you’re special no matter what and you are loved no matter what and everything is great for you.” I think we need to respect the potential of everyone while being realistic about the possibilities. And I think soemtimes the message is given “if you dream it, you can do it!” and that’s not really any more true than “if you don’t have the exact God-given gift required for the job, you will NEVER succeed.”

    I work with IQ issues all the time with the kids I work with. I think that the problem is more a misunderstanding of IQ among the general population (in the Baby Einstein example, baby stuff in general example) that is being taken advantage of by companies. Likewise, the people who use IQ for racism often do not or choose to understand the uses and limitations of IQ tests. Like I said, when used as assessment tools for individuals and taken into consideration with a variety of other background and assessments, they can be useful. People who use them as the be-all, end-all are incorrect regardless of the reason they are using them that way.

    I agree with you re: the grammar, etc. and agree that it doesn’t always happen. I agree that people are often dismissed based on a variety of perceptions – from race to intelligence to age to wearing sweatpants to a meeting for their child. Sometimes, generalizations are helpful. In the work I do, I use them not to make assumptions about each person I meet but to have my antenna raised for potential problems that could come up / would be more likely to come up

    • August Says:

      The thing is, I don’t see any organizations clamoring to be treated the same as anyone else (equal? yes! the same? no), or asking to be recognized as “special,” especially in regards to PWDs. PWDs just want to be able to go to the movies, enter buildings, travel safely outdoors, get acting jobs, surf the Net, and other stuff like that which you really can’t consider special. The things that we as TABs are able to do every day and take for granted as normal and commonplace are things that are frequently denied to PWDs – and not because of their disability, but because of the fact that TABs deny them these things. PWDs don’t need TABs to tell them that they can’t do the things they dream because we already actively work to deny them from doing the things that they dream.

      It’s also definitely not all about hurt feelings (although that’s a part of it), but it’s about harm; like I mentioned in my post, if two thirds of developmentally disabled women are being raped (and many times by their TAB caretakers), why isn’t that something you hear about during Take Back The Night or other TAB-focused feminist efforts? It’s about not being pressured to abort wanted pregnancies because TABs don’t like the thought of PWDs passing on their “inferior genes.” It’s about not being confined to one’s home all day because your mobility aids take months to arrive because of the dance with insurance companies. It’s about not being sterilized against one’s will. None of that has anything to do with special snowflake status, at all, and it’s not even a logical conclusion that allowing PWDs to have these things would lead to special snowflake status land. It’s not going to hurt TABs to take the focus off of ourselves for a little bit (or a LOT) and recognize that there are a lot of different kinds of people with different kinds of needs and abilities.

      IQ is definitely misunderstood by the general population, but the general population is who I’m talking about. I’m not focusing on mental health professionals or teachers (although they can certainly misuse it as well), I’m talking about the way that IQ or intelligence is used against everyday people by other everyday people.

      “I agree that people are often dismissed based on a variety of perceptions – from race to intelligence to age to wearing sweatpants to a meeting for their child.”

      There is a large difference between the first three items on that list and the last one, which is choice. No one chooses their race, age, or intelligence, so to generalize on those factors alone, especially when your generalization is only informed by the stereotypes you’ve seen on TV (as it is for many people), is inherently unfair.

      • Jo Says:

        I see where you are coming from with the taking focus off of ourselves verus everyone being the same no matter what. Maybe not from organizations but defintiely from people I have sometimes gotten the sense that they do wish people were more the same. Or that some people didn’t have the skills they have. Or that people should not be proud of the skills they have because they were “just born with them” as though cultivation and hard work couldn’t possibly be at play. And that includes use of intelligence or any other skill. You may be born with it but it has to be cultivated.

        I agree that people with disabilities need to be considered as much as anyone else and that they are deserving of a variety of supports to allow them to meet their goals. I disagree that there is in general active work against PWDs though I know there are some who do their best with it. I just don’t see it as broadly – though I do think a lot of people just ignore or don’t know what to do. (ie the example of the guy going down the street… how do we as citizens response to that need or do we expect him to advocate for himself alone or do we just ignore it)

        I think that intelligence as privilege is different than race as privilege and this is an example where all privileges are not the same. While it is not attainable at all right now, I can imagine living in a color blind world – the color of your skin does not inherently change who you are despite those who act like it does (the changes are more socially, historically, culturally inflicted with a little dose of biological drive to cluster with those who are the same and “safe.” ) The capacity of your mind does inherently change the way you relate to the world, even if everyone was treated the exact same way. There’s a different quality to it.

        I do use generalizations in my job about race, age, and intelligence as well. NOT “oh I’m sure this person is THIS way” but instead as things to watch out for. If I get paperwork on a child and a low IQ is listed, I don’t take it at 100% face value, but I am going to consider it in my assessment. When I have families of other races, I immediately consider that they may be distrustful of me because of my own race and their experiences with racial prejudice. When I work with anyone, I am mindful not only of their age and developmental stage in life (adults too!) but also their reactions to my own age. I do not think it is fair to make a generalization about a person based on stereotypes but I do think it is fair to use generalizations about people (in this case based on professional experience) to inform relationships in the work I do.

  5. Link Self-Love « She Has My Eyes Says:

    […] favorite entries. I noticed while looking at my stats that for some inexplicable reason my entry Raising a Woman of Color, Part IV: Intelligence is by far my most popular post, with more than 3 times the amount of page views as my second most […]

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