re:brilliance

Toni Morrison

[“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” -Toni Morrison]

Wow. I swear, every time Toni Morrison opens her mouth, truth that cuts to the core falls out.

This quote resonates with me because so much of what I want to happen here has to do with removing a lot of the racist assumption about history in so that others can just get on with it. Even if you don’t like what I write, the images, links, books, and resources are still here to link to, rather than constantly being bombarded with and distracted by demands for “education”, “proof” that racism exists, or anything else anyone might need it for.

Whether you’re writing, making visual art, working in education, or just trying to have a conversation, it’s my hope that this blog might help remove some of the distractions of racism as defined above, and do your thing.

Beliefs about brilliance and the demography of academic fields.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

A new study led by philosopher Sarah-Jane Leslie challenges the idea that women are underrepresented in STEM fields. They first note that there are some STEM fields where women do well (they are 54% of molecular biologists, for example) and some humanities fields where they don’t (they are only 31% of philosophers). Something else, they gathered, must be going on.

They had a hunch. They asked 1,820 U.S. academics what it took to be successful in their field. They were particularly interested in answers that suggested hard work and ones that invoked brilliance.

Their results (above) showed a clear relationship between the presence of women in a field and the assumption that success required brilliance.  The downward sloping line represents the proportion of female PhDs in stem fields (top) and social science and humanities fields (bottom) as they become increasingly associated with brilliance.

Interviewed at Huffington Post, Leslie says:

Cultural associations link men, but not women, with raw intellectual brilliance… consider, for example, how difficult it is to think of even a single pop-cultural portrayal of a woman who displays that same special spark of innate, unschooled genius as Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House from the show “House M.D.,” or Will Hunting from the movie “Good Will Hunting.”

In contrast, accomplished women are often portrayed as very hard working (and often having given up on marriage and children, I’ll add). She continues:

In this way, women’s accomplishments are seen as grounded in long hours, poring over books, rather than in some special raw effortless brilliance.

They extended their findings to race, testing whether the relationship held for African Americans, another group often stereotyped as less intelligent, and Asians, a group that attracts the opposite stereotype. As hypothesized, they found the relationship for the first group, but not the second (note the truncated y-axis).

The long term solution to this problem, of course, is to end white and Asian men’s claim on brilliance. In the meantime, the research team suggests, it may be a good idea to stop talking about some fields as if they’re the rightful home of the naturally brilliant and start advocating hard work for everyone.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“Here used to be a beautiful picture of a bottle.”

Finnish decision-makers decided, that all alcohol ads must go. ALL of them. Every single one. Even the ones that are not really ads. Because apparently seeing a picture of bottle or having someone mentioning the name of alcoholic beverage makes all of the little kiddies in the Finland grave for the alcohol, and become alcoholics on the spot.

Needles to say, most Finns think this was a stupid-ass decision, so they have elected to make fun of the law.