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Deconstructing Race: I Am Presumed To Be Stupid Unless I Prove Otherwise

Asha Brogan

When I was in third grade my white elementary school principal walked up to me on the playground to chat. He greeted me in a kind fashion and after a moment reached out from his 6’-5” tall frame and squeezed my shoulder. He said, “You’re going to be a good football player someday.” This was puzzling as football was nonexistent in our school system until my senior year in high school. At the time of the incident however, I was receiving A’s and B’s on my report card. He never mentioned that.

Reflecting back on this incident, which was in 1963, I came to believe that my principal’s response to me was one of self-preservation. It was safer for him to have a black boy focused on sports, athletics, rather than academics.

Once I was studying with black student friend of mine and was able to help him solve a chemistry assignment. He told me “You’re pretty smart for a big nigga.” His remark stunned me. I’ve observed over the years that often when my intelligence shows up it is viewed as an anomaly rather than a normal state of being; that I am presumed to be stupid until I prove otherwise.

Bomani Moyenda is a local poet, writer and activist.

Deconstructing Race is a series of commentaries about racial identity by Miami Valley residents. It's co-curated by Dr. Kimberly Barrett, vice president of multicultural affairs and community engagement at Wright State University.