\”We discovered that all of us, because we were \”smart\” had also been considered \”ugly,\” i.e. \”smart-ugly.\” \”Smart-ugly\” crytallized the way in which most of us had been forced to develop out intellects at great cost to our \”social\” lives. The sanctions in the Black and white communities against Black women thinkers is comparatively much higher than for white women, particularly ones from the educated middle and upper classes.\”
Hmmm. What do we think? What are the economies of beauty, privilege and intelligence at work in our communities and movements?
Radical educator artist and writer Kameelah Rasheed says
we are the \’kinda cute nerdy black girls in glasses with the big asses.\’ we sneak to read pages of academic books hidden in fashion magazine covers and we sway in our silk stockings with golden seams as does nina simone\’s see-line woman. we smile reluctantly while questioning the politics of gendered vulnerability. we intimately know how we are treated when we are cute and quiet and we know that within a split second we can become ugly and undesirable if we use a polysyllable word or concession clause. we know our partners would prefer us more soft spoken. we know that the day we chose books over lipstick and wrote manifestas on any open space that we found that were choosing a lonely path. it was/is lonely because we never knew where the \’weird\’ black girls hide out. they are are scattered throughout the diaspora, tucked in corners where mail and internet cannot reach. they wander if we exist too.
we learned to shuck n\’ jive, veiling our opposition under layers of ambiguous sentences, demure smiles, and pants just tight enough to hint at a desireable feminity because we still yearned be seen beyond the duality of smart-ugly. we pretended to not know the importance of the sepoy mutiny in india\’s colonial history, hesitated to explain the nuances of electron configuration, and feigned ignorance when asked about the pivotal moments in south africa\’s liberation movement. we let him talk even as our faces are flushed with anger because we do not want to seem \’too aggressive.\’ we go to sephora when we really want to hit up that used book store down the street. when we get home we eagerly plunge into books and other texts trying to reconnect with the parts of souls we abandoned for some semblance of belonging. we attempt to exorcise our collective demons by seeking desperate refuge in paul beatty\’s \’neighborhood safe houses on the ghetto geeks\’ underground railroad\’ only to realize such sanctuary leads to more pain when we are called up for yet another performance. we learn the grammar of smart-ugly politics at 8 years old. we don\’t write down rules, rather these rules are written on our bodies and in the faces of folks who give askew glances when we walk out the mall with books instead of dresses. we perform our blackness, our womanhood, our existence because to be smart-ugly is like permanent exile. never fully accepted in the communities of other women and far too \’smart\’ to be authentically black, we are forced into limbo. but limbo is the space of opportunity and dare i saw privilege. to be in limbo is resist the satanic incantation that our female bodies cannot carry intellect as heavy as our thighs and as broad as our hips. ida b. wells gave a damn if they called her ugly because she had more important things to do.
and as queengodis wrote in 1991,
and while he was busy detesting yo\’ mama
for being so \’damn ugly\’–
she was busy building the underground railroad…
to be smart-ugly is to be a unspoken threat.
we are the beautiful black women whose light they fear. instead of fanning our flames, they sought to extinguish our fire by calling us ugly so that we\’d be distract from the duties our ancestors and creator laid at our feet. they sought to turn our attention away from survival and collective healing. they saw beauty in us before we saw it in ourselves but named it ugliness in hopes that we\’d never reunite with this sacred knowing. \’ugly\’ is the cry of the fearful who pray that we never recognize ourselves.
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