knowing

I like bright people. And by that I mean, I like people whose main focus is ideas. So I don’t mean that I think there are intelligent and unintelligent people – far from it; I can’t think of one person I’ve met that I would characterize as inherently stupid. I know narrow-minded people and lazy thinkers and thoughtless people. I know people who are so rooted in protecting some aspect of their identity or their experience that they refuse to think beyond it. I myself am often all of the above. But I’ve yet to meet someone who was, beyond faults of intellectual character well within our control, innately stupid. For me, bright people are interested in following a thought through to its terminus and make the space in their minds and their lives to do so.

But lately I’ve noticed that there is a way that gender shapes the way ideas are engaged. It might be something else, but it feels like gender. I am right at this moment reading Men Explain Things To Me so that I can position the following without recovering that ground, because there is something particular that I want to get to, and it is this:

  1. I and most women I know treat most encounters with others as opportunities to find out.
  2. When someone and I are in conversation, my interlocutor’s biography bears heavily on pretty much everything that person says.
  3. I practice critical thinking, and can and will entertain most generously and genuinely proffered ideas.
  4. Perhaps it is because I am a Black woman and within my Black communities my well-reasoned point of view is expected, perhaps it is because my early sense of self was shaped by my parents’ insistence that I clearly and rigorously and consistently explain myself, but I have very rarely ever felt the need to silence my perspective.
  5. If we are in conversation and I haven’t said anything for a while and you find yourself droning on, you should probably ask me what I’m thinking because those are the moments when I am withholding from you critical information.
  6. I rarely withhold when I’m in conversation with women.

There are among my friends a handful of bright men from whom I occasionally withhold information because, at that moment, they are more interested in being the ‘expert’ rather than having a chat between equals.1 This can happen even when the field of conversation is something like American public education or contemporary conceptual art. And, it’s funny, I’ve noticed that in their minds, my own biography plays against me as though I don’t know that or how my experiences have shaped me. In particular, they don’t see or dismiss as mere identity politics that I actively use my experiences as a critical foundation for my thought and action.

As a person for whom ideas are both pleasure and practice, I’ve found humility and sensitivity rather than territoriality and one-upmanship help flesh out new thoughts and move projects along. Because, for as much as I trust my own thinking, I enjoy people who think for themselves; other perspectives do expand individual horizons.2

Gasp! you are the weather no longer pops up the weather!
Gasp!3
  1. If you ever want to engage in a childish-yet-fun endeavor, make a list by name and gender of your kindred friends – regardless of how frequently you engage them and not including family (I was pleasantly surprised to see how long and equally balanced my list is) – and then rank them by conversational ‘quality’, ‘flow’, and ‘ending mood’. ↩︎
  2. Of course, there’s always ‘that guy’ who likes to take other people’s nifty ideas as evidence of his own broad-mindedness… sigh… THIS is the result of treating knowledge like capital. ↩︎
  3. Searching ‘you are the weather’ no longer pops up the weather! I was wondering when this would happen. And. Typing in ‘weather’ now comes with an ad. This is my last you are the weather post. ↩︎