Talking about giftedness is tricky. It can sound like discrimination or elitism. And it is discrimination when kids of color are ignored and excluded from gifted programs in schools, which, sadly, they still are in many places. In my mind, it is a no-brainer to understand that giftedness comes in all races, religions, cultures, and ethnic groups. But not everyone agrees.
And even when I talk about giftedness in children, including kids of color, it might still be said that I am creating an elite group of smart people and discriminating against the children who are not as intellectually advanced. That I am saying that the gifted are better humans, somehow superior to others.
Nooooooo. Puleeze. I am not saying that.
So, what am I saying?
Some background: This misunderstanding has existed as long as I have been in this field. Which is a long time. I started teaching gifted children in the mid-’70s. Yes, that long. And, yes, it is surely awkward to say that some children are more intelligent, faster learners, and more complex, deeper thinkers and feelers. But it is not unlike saying that some children are naturally much more talented at athletics. Most of us will never be a Michael Jordan or a Serena Williams, no matter how many hours we practice. And we are fine with that.
But when it comes to intellectual giftedness we are not so fine.
In my experience, all 35-ish years of it, gifted children are naturally passionate about learning, thinking, feeling, arguing, creating, perceiving, and empathizing. At an early age, they ask probing questions, feel for others’ suffering, and grasp complex ideas. Their favorite places are often the library, the bookstore, and their vivid imaginations. Of course, these kids are also all different and unique based on multiple factors, but, they often have many of these characteristics in common. Even with differences in race, religion, and culture, many of these gifted traits are still apparent.
OK, then, some people say. Sounds like these gifted kids have so many advantages. Why bother? There are more important issues out there that need our attention.
Well, yes, there are so many important issues. So many.
But, I don’t have to convince you, dear blog readers. You understand why I bother.
I do not need to remind you of the years of serious bullying in school because you were super enthusiastic about learning and wanted to answer all the questions. Because you spent every recess hiding in the library, your only safe place. Because some of your teachers were annoyed by your relentless curiosity. Because your passions for classical music, paleontology, Richard Feynman, BBC documentaries, Van Gogh, and brain specimen coasters were not understood by the other eight-year-olds. Because you spent weeks waiting to learn something new.
Because the loneliness and rejection you felt then, is still with you. It shows up in the workplace when you are waiting for your coworkers to grasp what you are saying. For a supervisor to be a faster thinker and better leader than you are. For colleagues to have more integrity. It shows up in your sensitivity to injustice and your compassion for suffering humans and for a planet in crisis.
You feel it when the pressure to be smart means you are paralyzed by a fear of failure, of disappointing others, of never living up to your potential. You feel it when you can’t find a partner who knows how to listen or who is willing to dive into the depths with you. You feel it when your intuition and spirituality are dismissed as irrational and irrelevant. You feel it when you have to slow your thoughts, limit your vocabulary, numb your sensitivities, and hide your true self.
That is why I bother.
And if you are part of a marginalized group, if you are a person of color, there is more. There is racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and sexism. Socio-economic disparities. Climate injustice. It is a long list. It can be quite discouraging and overwhelming.
So, here is a thought.
What if, then, what if we could agree that this is the perfect time to embrace our gifted children. Because if there ever was a time to let them flourish, it would be now. To encourage their curiosity, creativity, and sensitivities. To nourish their capacity to seek answers to complicated questions. To appreciate their intuition and larger spirituality. To support their quest for justice for all.
Let us deepen our understanding of giftedness in ourselves and our kids. And together, we will build a more just and peaceful world.
To my bloggEEs: If you are looking for resources on giftedness and people of color, here are a few that I know of. Thank you, as always, for being here. We would love to hear from you.
The G Word Film due for release in 2021
“Defying popular myths that assume most gifted people are wealthy, white, and will do fine on their own, THE G WORD reveals the economic, cultural and gender diversity of our nation’s gifted and talented population at every stage of life, highlighting their educational challenges, social isolation, and deep emotional sensitivities…It also reveals a large and lively community of people around them working hard to meet their needs while challenging the prejudice that comes with being labeled “smart” in the 21st century.” from the website
“Being gifted and talented and also African American makes children double minorities, and the issues they face can be different from those faced by most other gifted children. This book provides helpful insights and guidelines for the parenting and education of Black gifted children. In addition to the challenges that are frequently experienced by many gifted children, …Black gifted children often must also deal with issues like discrimination and low expectations of them…” from the publisher
“The editors have assembled authors representing a range of racial, ethnic, regional and cultural backgrounds. Their narratives reveal a wealth of successes, challenges, inspirations. Speaking in their unique voices, these culturally diverse and gifted adults describe…: from Amazon