For the past month, I have been feeling uneasy about the way people have been commenting on my intelligence, and I have been trying to find the words so that I could blog about this, but it has been a struggle. I told myself to just write about it without thinking so that’s what I’m doing. Bear with me, because this may not be as calculated as my usual posts, but know that all of this is from the heart.
I am not and never have been uneducated so I have always validated myself, but watching people equate intellect to degrees and then simultaneously praise me for being “smart” has been on my last nerves for a while. The fact of the matter is, I don’t need my intelligence to be validated. Period.
Anybody who knows me personally knows that I can play all day long, I can joke around, be silly, and be downright ignorant for an extended amount of time, that’s just me, but don’t underestimate my intelligence. I didn’t always make straight A’s in school, I wasn’t top of my class when I graduated high school, I got accepted into the two colleges I applied to and decided to join the Army instead, I got my Bachelors online and I’m getting my Masters online too, so aesthetically speaking I’m not the typical representation of an intellectual. But it still pisses me off when people are surprised that I know certain things, use certain words, or that I’m well versed on certain topics, because to me that registers as someone who equates intelligence to “having degrees” and since I don’t brag about mine, people are generally shocked when I speak about certain shit and use certain words. It doesn’t hurt my feelings as much as it pisses me off, because I have never equated intelligence to a piece of paper, and I never will.
I grew up around intelligent adults, my parents and maternal grandparents have/had the combined knowledge and wisdom that literally and figuratively created and still to this day sustain my intelligence. Where one lacked the other three excelled. My learning curve was substantial because they taught me on a daily basis. They made everything a learning experience, and they made sure that I could recall all that I learned not by memory but by action. So, no I will not judge your intelligence based on academics, I’d rather have a conversation with you and go from there. Also, there aren’t many degreed people in my immediate family anyway. Academically speaking my mother would be the most educated out of everybody with both a Bachelors and Masters in education, and even she doesn’t equate her intelligence to her degrees but instead to practicality and usefulness (you know the shit that matters). So how could I ever associate a degree to intellect, when the most educated person in my immediate family vehemently rejects that idea? Yea…exactly.
I do not consider myself “smart” per se. I’m aware of my intelligence, but the idea of being smart (to me) is based on knowing more than others. I reject that. I know what I know, whether it is more or less than someone else is irrelevant because nobody knows everything and nobody ever will. This is the main reason why I don’t need my intelligence to be validated by others, I’m confident enough in my intelligence to know that for everything I do know, there are 1,000 things that I don’t know and frankly have never heard of. There’s always an opportunity to learn, so being considered “smart” is pointless to me, which is why I don’t use that word. I usually say intellect, well-versed, informed, intelligent, etc., because these words prove that although I am confident with my current knowledge, I have more learning to do (Language is a powerful tool).
People who are eager to classify someone as “smart” often erase what that person did to get to their current level of intelligence. This is how society often engages intellect, it’s so reductive.
And because of that I am always adamant about what I learned and how I learned it, because so often people base everything on academics as if school is the only place people learn. I don’t know if it’s a class thing, a jealousy thing, or just a lack of social awareness, but it’s annoying. It’s also an insult to my intelligence because a majority of what I know is because I read, and I read a lot, all the time, and I always have. Reading has always been a huge part of my life, for as long as I can remember I have always known how to read and I have always loved to read. I was always in the school and public library checking out books.
I remember when I was in the 7th grade and living with my grandparents, I read at least four books a week, because the schools in Wilmington, NC were so far behind the schools in Memphis, I already knew everything that was being taught. I was bored.
7th grade was the year I realized that I could teach myself anything through reading, and that’s exactly what I did. I read about any and everything I could get my hands on. I fell in love with Alex Haley, I read Malcolm X’s biography, Roots and Queen, I read about philosophy, biology, theology, art. I read it all, but most importantly, I retained it and I built on it. Everything I learned in the 7th grade I learned from books, and I’ve never forgotten how useless public school was for me that year. Even if it weren’t for my parents and grandparents, even if my family taught me to regard intelligence based on academics, in the 7th grade I learned that my intelligence could be solely fed by satisfying my curiosity.
That is how I came to value and validate my intelligence, because I fed my curiosity and not my ego. At 12 years old I realized that if I ever wanted to be as intelligent as my mama, I had to expand my intelligence in spite of academe.
So yea, the way I engage and regard intellect is completely different because I know from experience that if you rely solely on academics to feed your intelligence, your conceptualization of intellect, (whether it is yours or someone else’s) is skewed. I personally know people with degrees who have no real knowledge of anything outside of what they were taught in school and it is evident. Their conversations and the way they engage with others proves how uninformed they are on issues that are out of their professional scope. They don’t have any real concept of what it means to be informed of anything that wasn’t taught in a classroom, and they often project that onto others. My mother, an educator of 30+ years, ensured that I knew that in order to sustain my intelligence I had to read and comprehend what I read or I would always be intellectually stagnant. To this day, she still has bins of books in her garage, most of which I have read, because she made sure if I couldn’t do anything else, I could read. But I’m aware that everyone didn’t have the same accessibility to education as I did and I don’t judge those who associate their intelligence to academics. But I don’t want to be lumped in with them either.
I don’t speak from a place of ego when I engage with people about anything and I am always open for the chance to learn. However, I’ll be damned if I let anybody try to credit my intelligence to a school system or a piece of paper, or try to applaud me for being “smart” just because I happen to know something that they don’t know. I have taught myself more than anyone else ever has and I don’t take that lightly. My intelligence is not based solely on academics, it is practical, it is logical, and it is M I N E. With all the shit that I’ve been through in my little 26 years of life, it was my intelligence that kept me afloat, my curiosity that made sure I knew what was going on with and around me, my need to constantly feed my intelligence that forced me to take risks in my career and in my life in general. I’ve always relished in the chance to progress and learn more in all facets of my life and that is a result of my intelligence.
I’m not going through life seeking validation for my intellect, I can validate it myself, but if you step to me with comments about my intelligence do so with caution, because insulting my intelligence ain’t good for ya health.