19 August 2007

Beauty or the Brain?

"And it’s not that we haven’t desired our AfroBoHo icons (damn near all nerds in reality) in sexual terms — I’m thinking of the Stephen Shames photo of a bare-chested Huey Newton holding a copy of a Bob Dylan album (which incidentally graces the cover of Robert Reid-Pharr’s new book Once You Go Black), and have you seen Zadie Smith lately, for that matter — but we are disturbed when our heroes speak back to our desires."
Mark Anthony Neal

I've been trying to figure out a way to say this for some time.

Years ago, the wonderful writer and editor Carol Taylor had a sign up in her NYC loft that read "Eroticize Intelligence." To me that had a number of meanings. One was to recognize that the best 'sexual organ' in the body is the brain: if your mind's not engaged, no matter what you're doing with the rest of the body, it's not going to be truly 'hot.' Also, since Carol is both very smart and very sexy, to me it meant that there was not and should not be some kind of division between those two attributes: one can put Einstein's brain in (insert name of favorite hottie here)'s body, and...umm... 'double your pleasure/double your fun" as it were.

So much of what passes for 'mainstream black culture' today celebrates the one-dimensional 'thug' image. Erotically that falls in with old-line stereotypes of blacks (men in particular) as purely physical beings, animals without brains, great in bed but dumb as dirt. You want them to be waiting for you when you come home at night for an evening's throwdown, but the idea of actually trying to talk to them, having a conversation, or being seen in public with them is anathema. Introduce them to your friends? No way. And lord help you if you try to have a meal with them (other than a McBurger combo meal) since they probably don't know how to deal with silverware.

Somehow this dumb brute image has returned, and we are (being forced to?) aspire to it.

We live with other stereotypes as well, namely that good looking people obviously can't be smart. Or that it is somehow 'wrong' to think of intelligent people as physical beings, crush objects for both their brains and their 'brawn' or whatever. It's "big head vs little head" (for us guys), one thing or the other. Either they're brainy or their beautiful, and never the twain will meet. And the idea that someone smart is also a physical being filled with desires and needs? Disgusting, Shocking and Impossible!!

Frack that!

There are any number of (black) people who are whip-smart and slap-yo-momma gorgeous. It's time we recognize that and honor them. I've had the pleasure of meeting and in some cases becoming friends with folk who I find both physically and mentally attractive. It is one hell of a rush to see that mix, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. (I've considered listing some of my favorite 'hot brain' folks but am afraid it would just get too long...although I really do feel the ...um...urge?...to give a shout out to Michael Eric Dyson, my friends John and Ernest, Elizabeth Alexander, Tayari Jones, the late Ed Bradley, who I want to be like when I grow up....see what I mean, and I haven't even got started in good yet!)

I don't feel that I am 'trivializing' these people or their brain power to say that these folks are also p-h-Y-n-e as well. If anything, the combination is and should be a great turn-on. There is nothing better than having an intense and stimulating conversation and intellectual interaction, followed up by an intense and stimulating physical interaction, where you give your bodies a chance to speak.

I'm with Carol: Black Nerds of the world Unite! It's time to "Eroticize Intelligence"! You have nothing to lose (not even the horn-rimmed glasses -- in fact keep 'em on: They're sexy!)


EH said...

Man... Who knew, back when being a bespectacled Negro was NOT the look, that one day it would be my sexual currency? I'm the operator with the pocket calculator...

Bernie said...

Having been respected most all of my life for my intelligence, I have at the same time rarely felt desired because of my outward appearance. I have always recognized an inverse relationship between the two.

John Powers said...

This isn't quite on topic, but when reading this post I thought about your post about being a judge at the ACT So essay competition for high school students. I can't help but think that when adults pay attention to accomplishments kids will feel better about pursuing them.

I've got to disagree with Bernie about the inverse relationship between intelligence and outward appearances. Perhaps that's because I'm not smart and a little ugly :-) But from my perspective it seems that often good looks and intelligence go hand in hand.

John K said...

A great post, Reggie. My experience has been the converse of Bernie's, except during my school experiences from junior high through grad school--and then with the Dark Room folks, which made that moment so exciting. I'll never forget how excited--and the erotic charge was palpable--when the various writers and artists would come through. Randall Kenan, Elizabeth Alexander, Paul Beatty, David Bradley, Yusef, Samuel Delany, Essex, Terry McMillan, Ntozake...I think one constant element in my adult life has been to reconstitute communities like this, but in general the tide always seems to be flowing in the opposite direction....

BronzeBuckaroo said...

Mr. Reggieh,
Smiling. I am smiling and smiling and smiling. The "thug" type does nothing for me. Often, I feel way out there because of what little I know about the current group nondescrip vocalists who are "it" at the moment. I LOVE BOOKS and JAZZ and BLUES, even classical like brother (brotha) Joseph Boulogne Saint-Georges and his violin concertos. Am I the only brother who knows there are classical music artists out there? No.

For me though, it is a combination of mind and heart. Physical attraction is subjective. To me, the brother from those anti-smoking commercials is HOT! His name is Derrick I believe.

Deep Fried said...

What an awesome post. I totally agree. It's time for us nerds to get some respect (and play).

BronzeBuckaroo said...

That comment you left on Newton's speech, I LOVED sooooo much!

Oh, I am getting Reid-Pharr's book now. Thank you.

Black (Gay and Straight) Nerd Power!!!! :-)