I just finished reading Flowers for Algernon. The story’s about a reasonably happy retarded man named Charlie Gordon that undergoes experimental surgery because he wants to become smarter. Once the surgery’s a success and he does become smarter, Charlie is suddenly outraged to discover not only that the people he had always thought of as friends had actually, all along, been making fun of him, but also that the doctors that performed his surgery take credit for making him a human being, which suggests, of course, that he wasn’t really a human being before the surgery.
James Baldwin once wrote, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” Now imagine being a particularly intelligent ‘Negro’ (and some of you don’t have to imagine.) You’d pick up on every racist slight and you’d catch every joke that was intended to go over your head. You’d be, in a sense, a living piñata, being beaten by people who never even realized that you were alive.
And that would just be when dealing with white people! The less-than-intelligent among your own people (who, for some reason, tend to think that they’re the ‘real’ Black people) would probably drive you mad (literally)! It would be impossible for you to reconcile how they’d allowed themselves to become who they found themselves as. And they, prideful in their ignorance, would be suspicious and contemptuous of you.
Surely, all of us know some very brilliant Black people that are rotting in jail, that are junkies, or that are pining away at some under performing job.
Similarly, there are also some none-too-clever Blacks that are doing quite well in life due to dogged determination or completely single-minded focus.
You, the intelligent Black, would seemingly have two options—both of them bad.
- You could try to prove your intelligence to white people. This sucks for two reasons: the first is that it presupposes that every white person has an intellect that is worthy of your proving equal to. Second, it puts whites in the position of using their respect for your intellect as a sort of ‘carrot on a stick’ whereas no matter how smart you prove yourself, you could never possibly be smart enough.
- You could take the Lincoln Perry route, disguise your intelligence, rename yourself something like Stepin Fetchit, and make money giving the stereotype believers what they want. Perry, a literate, thoughtful, educated and intelligent man, played a complete buffoon onscreen and made millions. That route’s gonna take a toll on your soul, though. Look what it did to Stepin Fetchit.
So what do you do (no, I’m literally asking intelligent Black folks; what do YOU do)? I’d love to get some feedback from some of ya’ll on this topic. That is, if ya’ll weren’t all so thoroughly outraged by the topic that you couldn’t even bother to open this blog and read it.