Bougie, stuck up, stush, conceited or perhaps uppity are just a few of the words a friend used in a What's App argument to describe me - a young dreadlocked black girl born to Caribbean immigrant parents, who grew up sharing a 3 bedroom house with 9 people, who later as a teen attended one of the most poorly-performing high schools in the country and yet somehow managed to graduate with a first-class degree and is on her way to becoming a "Dr" (I use quotation marks as a way of distinguishing psychologists and pHD holders from the remarkable persons who save lives every day - Medical Doctors - but still, no disrespect to the great thinkers of this world).
I hope for you, that first paragraph served as some kind of juxtaposition, perhaps some confusion for you; because it does for me. You see, here is a secret, I don't actually think I am smart. I'm just logical. How can a girl from my background be branded with the same brush as those of the bourgeoisie social class? But, I was. Those words were also implicitly thrown at me (un- shadily) by this same friend, as a guy showed romantic interest in me.
He had asked what university I attended and so I referenced my recent graduation from a world-class Russell Group University by simply stating the three letter acronym "UCL." That acronym that also apparently translated to "better than my bestie." My friend's eavesdropping response was to freak out and rudely reminded him that I was also once a Brunelian like her. But she didn't mean a graduate from a university specialising in Engineering (named after the famous Mr Isambard Brunel), she didn't mean an institution that had given us both first class degrees, she meant something un-average, un-amazing, lacking impressiveness, perhaps even a little less intelligent. Nevertheless, it was something that ignited enough of her insecurity to interrupt and intercept on my interaction with this guy.
You see, we became friends by bonding over our drive to be our best selves and better the lives of others - but I never stopped. But that didn't mean I did not get burnt out trying to build my career too. But because I had branched into business, gained a masters, worked abroad and basically did everything possible to push my CV to the top of the pile, there was no way in hell, that this brother's interest in me was going to allow me to have the "sexy" title as well as smart. My success (rather struggles) was now me being seen as stush and stuck up and the consequence was to be made to look a little bit stupid, with no sex appeal - not a serious wifey candidate for this brother.
Think I'm lying, ask TV Smart Acts - Tia Mowry of Sister Sister, ask Carlton Banks of Fresh Prince or even TJ Henderson of Smart Guy. You can be smart, but you can't be sexy. Those worlds must never mix. Smart is a paradox. It's the thing we are told we should be to advance in our social world, but in reality, it is the thing that will become wrapped in stereotyping and jealousy that will socially isolate and emotionally destroy you - and this friendship in my case.
Here are some of the social struggles of being the smart friend:
1. You are the smart friend, that should be enough. You are not entitled to the full range of human needs and emotions too. You shouldn't want to be sexy or funny or anything else. You are too busy finding a cure for cancer and revolutionising the world.
After Black people, Women and those with disability, I want to draw attention to one of the most marginalised groups of people - smart people (before you go wild in the comment section - I'm being sarcastic!). I can't count the number of times I've been shut down for complaining about the dating world these days or the lack of job prospects, because apparently I am smart and I don't have those problems. You are not allowed to have difficulty. You should be smart enough to figure things out. You can't be unemployed, you must be lying or trying to be modest. Modesty. That damn word...
2. Your modesty about your achievements must come across as an apology.
I'm sorry for being smart. Yeah despite the fact that you might have done some fucking phenomenal shit, one MUST always highlight the hurdles they tripped over, injured themselves on and got back up to win the race. It should never look easy - even if it was. Expect to be met with eyerolls and "anyways (insert new topic of conversation here)" if you happen to talk about your application to Yale.
You are expected to play everything down in order to spare the feelings, insecurities and self-esteem of others and in the process, psychologists claim that this is the act of becoming ignorant to yourself and eventually underestimating your own self-worth. Ironic, I know! Crazy, I know! Well, Psychology professor Mark D. White did say that there is a thin line between modesty and self-deception and self-deception can be liked to delusion - a sign of schizophrenia. Which brings me to my next point...
3.You are not allowed to have mental health either. You might be genuinely suffering with anxiety, but it's ok, you are smart, you will figure it out.
Psychologist Paul Ekman said that there were 6 universal emotions embedded in our facial muscles that make us human, including fear and sadness. In my final year of university. I suffered with anxiety terribly. I thought I would somehow fail my whole degree even though I had straight A's. Nobody understood. I repeat. Nobody understood. Anxiety is a thing that gets you thinking irrationally out of fear and is accompanied by sadness too. It's exhausting. It's emotional and painful and being smart has NOTHING to do with it. Anxiety is psychological and physiological. Of course if my big fat brain could just switch off my adrenaline system - it would. By Ekman's findings, guess what? Smart people are actually human! But socially, smart people aren't allowed to have anxiety or worry because apparently we are also psychics and fortune-tellers and we know everything in advance, so much so that...
4. You should expect other people NOT to be smart. You should tolerate bullshit, ignorance, rudeness and foolishness and give people the excuse that it's because they are idiots and you are so much more than this.
Wait... when did disrespect ever come in fashion? Let's get one thing straight, there is a difference between genuinely dumb and being disrespectful. I will not tolerate disrespect disguised as "dumbness." Complimenting smart people by dismissing their ability to feel offended is denying them the range of full emotions that it takes to be human. Don't dehumanize people by expecting them not to react to the disrespect of others. We are not dummies (no pun intended) we are real people with a full range of emotions. In fact Ekman has now even added pride in one's achievement as an emotion too - and it's an emotion I am no longer going to disguise for the sake of modesty because...
I HAVE GENUINELY WORKED HARD. I ain't sorry (Citation: Beyonce) *Twerks like Serena Williams* Like I said in the opener, I am not that smart, I'm logical. In fact, I will go as far as saying the secret to being smart is taking the time. That's all it is. I took time to understand the things I didn't know. I went over and over things until I got them. If I couldn't understand, I asked people. I researched. I Googled! I worked hard, I grind till I own it (Citation: Beyonce again). Stop squeezing smart people into one section of society, we like social media, segways, sex and we struggle too. I see smartness like any skill - if it's well practised and polished - you can master it... now I'm off to master my social skills and my sexy skills - wish me luck.