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But anger isn’t the key– the key is asking why
If there was ever a need for proof of how elusive the concept of intelligence can be, one need go no farther than the renowned geneticist James D. Watson to completely make one’s case. He has proven to be the living embodiment of both brilliance and ignorance walking hand in hand. Watson, a 1962 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology for his contribution—along with Francis Crick, and Maurice Watkins—in the discovery of the structure of DNA, and its role in the transfer of information in living material, has at the very least, matched that laudable accomplishment with an equally renowned stupidity that has brought his illustrious career to a disgraceful end.
Watson is quoted in a London Times interview as saying that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” He then went on to say, “people who have to deal with Black employees find this is not true.” While Watson may be brilliant in his field, the stupidity of such a statement, from a purely public relations point of view alone, clearly demonstrates that if he harbors anything beyond average intellect, it is far from well distributed.
One might say, this man is a Nobel laureate—what do you mean IF he harbors average intelligence? Well, the fact is, just because a individual has exceptional insight in a given area, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he possesses a well rounded level of what we call intelligence. Idiot savants are a case in point. These people are generally mentally retarded but exhibit genius in a highly specialized area, such as mathematics or music. The movie, Rain Man, was based one such individual. Some of these people can’t add up six and six, but if you give them your name, they can tell you on what page it appears in the Los Angeles phone directory—then tell you your phone number. So, again, the inner workings of the human mind is just as mysterious as the universe itself.
Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I’m all but fixated on knowledge, intelligence, and the human mind. I became fascinated with the subject as a teenager, and it’s only become more pronounced as I’ve gotten older. On my website (wattree.com) I point out that “Some of the greatest minds I’ve ever known held court while sitting on empty milk crates in the parking lot of ghetto liquor stores.” I meant that literally—so there’s very little that anyone can tell me about the power of Black intelligence—and those who underestimate that power, only do so because they haven’t been fully exposed to it.
It is my opinion that one’s gross intellectual potential is immeasurable, and functional intelligence is dynamic in nature. In other words, our IQ changes to accommodate our need, so what our IQ happens to be at any give time is dependent upon our interests, desires, and our aspirations at that particular time in our life.
Intelligence can be called upon when needed in just the same way that Herculean strength can be called upon by a mother who needs to lift a car off of her child, or the way that we gain additional strength during the fight/flight reaction due to anger or fear. That explains the disparity in IQ scores among different groups—their IQ scores simply reflect their attitude towards knowledge, and their culturally inspired desire to do well on such tests.
Of course, there are those who will ask, “What credentials do you have to even comment on this issue?” To those “experts” I respond in the following manner: First, since no one has the credentials to even define what intelligence is, I’d say my theory is just as valid as anyone else’s; Secondly, in the absence of absolute fact, I never credit anyone else’s ability to think over my own—after all, while man can confer credentials, he cannot confer insight, nor intelligence; and finally, my theory simply makes more sense.
So the fact is, you are not only what you think, but what you desire—that’s why I’m always beating the drum over the need for the Black community to embrace the love of knowledge. I think that’s also the point that Dominique DiPrima was making on KJLH’s ‘Front Page’ last week. She argued the importance of forcefully responding to assaults against our intellect. I agree with her. We should respond—if for no other reason than to keep our youth informed of their full potential. But that’s only one part of the equation. What is more important is to invest our energy into refocusing the mores of our community. If we promoted the pursuit of knowledge with the pride, effort, and determination that we promote our creativity and athleticism, our intelligence would be self-evident, and it would render our critics moot. Controversies come and go, but as Lady D herself points out at the end of every show, success is a journey, not simply a destination (I think I got that right). The message that I get from that is, enhancing our community is an on going process. That is also my message with respect to doing well academically.
Thus, when someone makes a stupid remark regarding our intelligence, you don’t jump up and down screaming “I ain’t dumb!” You simply tell them that you disagree, then formulate an argument that demonstrates your intelligence. You don’t tell them, you show them. The way a situation is handled says much more about intelligence than anything you can say. All we had to say was, “You’re a scientist, what evidence do you have of that?” Then let him wrestle with the ignorance of his own statement. Then he looks like a fool, and we come up smelling like a rose. We should never try to out scream our critics—we should use our creativity to out think them. We must always remember—when the mouth is in drive, the mind is in park. James Watson failed to recognize that fact—that’s why he’s out of a job, and ending an illustrious career in disgrace.
The Black community tends to use yesterday’s tactics to fight today’s battles. In the past, we had to protest to break down barriers—to be able to sit where we wanted to on the bus, or simply walk into a restaurant to have a cup of coffee. But today’s battle is perceptual in nature—it’s not about breaking down barriers, it’s about modifying perceptions—and you can’t protest away an idea. The only way to modify an idea is with another idea—a better one. Even though James Watson has the trained mind of a scientist, his attitude wasn’t based on scientific evidence—his attitude was based on his perception of our behavior. Look at the last part of his statement—”people who have to deal with Black employees find [that Black people are as intelligent as the rest of us] is not true.” Now, I hate to say this, but there’s no way around it—I can fully understand how he would come to that conclusion-he based it on our behavior.
When I read that remark, one of my acquaintances immediately came to mind. The brother is without a doubt, one of the most intelligent people I know—he’s very well versed in history (although he’s not opposed to discrete revisions when it suits his purpose), and has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to memorizing facts (admittedly, I’m kind of jealous of him in that regard), but with all of the knowledge at his command, he doesn’t know how to use it—and wit without wisdom is a waste.
One minute you’ll hear this brother being so profound that it’ll send a chill through you, then the very next he’ll be in his manager’s office rantin’ and ravin’, calling his supervisor and other sisters dumb bit**es and wh**es. We’ve all seen it before—picture a brother flailing his arms, talking loud, and putting all of his energy into proving that he’s not afraid of the boss. Then he throws his arms up in disgust and turns like he’s about to walk away, only to suddenly turn around and get started again. We’ve all seen the performance a hundred times. Then later he’ll come to get your review of his performance. Then he’ll say, “They won’t promote me because they know I’m a Muslim.”
I try to be honest with the brother. “No, they won’t promote you because THEY DON’T LIKE YOU. They also think you’re unstable—and you go out of your way to prove their point every chance you get.” There are several Muslims high in the organization, but I don’t think they would promote him either. First, because if indeed he is a Muslim, he represents the Nation of Islam in the very worst way. Muslims pride themselves on being teachers, not whiners—and they certainly don’t disrespect their sisters in the way this brother does every time they give him an instruction he doesn’t like.
The Muslims I’ve known-and enlightened Black people in general—understand that intelligence entails having the wisdom to respect one another in order to gain the respect of others; the foresight to understand that by making one another look good in the workplace, we pave the way for those who come behind us; and they have the common sense to never, ever, sabotage the efforts of another Black person to succeed. All of that seems to be lost on that brother, and many others in the community.
The fact is, that brother is not an aberration. Ignorance does indeed run rampant throughout the Black community. But by ignorance, I don’t mean the inability to learn, or the lack of knowledge—there’s plenty of knowledge in the community—I mean the good, common sense to work together for a common goal. We have the raw intelligence, but just because you own a tool kit doesn’t make you a mechanic.
So if Watson’s workplace is anything like my own, the only thing he’s guilty of is being dumb enough to comment on what he’s observed-and what he’s probably observed is, a group who lacks the motivation to cultivate their potential, the vision to utilize their knowledge, and the wisdom to love their own. So I can see how he became confused. After all, all of that is a part of intelligence too. Eric L. Wattree, Sr. n can be reached at