For most of my life I have been plagued with one sentiment about who I am and how I show up in the world. That one sentiment has been that I’m slow. Yes, slow, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, clueless, dumb, whatever you want to call it. Those words have followed me in ways that continue to confound me (pun intended).
It all started in high school when a clique of girls christened me, “Dingy Devon.” For whatever reason, I wasn’t sure at the time, but I was the butt of their “she’s not too bright jokes.”
What was clear was that I definitely wasn’t part of their clan, I didn’t speak their language, and most certainly didn’t dress nor look like them. I was being me and was being me while being within the top 10 percent of my class academically. So, I knew that their assessment of me didn’t necessarily have to do with how I rocked a classroom.
But these types of comments continued to follow me.
One day post college, I had taken on a job where my cousin was in management to buy some time while I sought out a career. One of the ladies in the office, let’s call her, Tonya, was training me on financial data entry. I guess I wasn’t picking up what she was teaching me, and my cousin overheard her handling me in a way that was, shall we say, unflattering. My cousin pulled me into her office and said, “You pissed me off.” “Why,” I said. “Because Tonya was belittling you right in front of your face and you did nothing about it.”
I had no clue that Tonya was belittling me. It didn’t even register that she was. And my guess is that I gave no fucks about Tonya’s role nor her financial data entry.
What I remember about that time was that I was extremely focused on getting out of there and getting placed in the broadcast industry. I knew her work and what she was training me on was not my destiny, so I put no effort into what she was so desperately trying to teach. When I would leave the job every night for home, I didn’t think about Tonya at all and it wasn’t because I held any special malice towards her personally, it’s just that I didn’t find much about her or her job to be interesting or useful. Perhaps she picked up on that and it frustrated her. It probably confused her all the more that I always smiled and was friendly towards her.
Another time, a man was talking to me about something, perhaps he was running game or talking about himself. One of his responses to me was, “Devon, you have to keep up.”
And so it is, because nothing you’re saying to me is moving me (and if I recall correctly, I had checked out), I’m slow. Again, I was very kind and polite to him despite his lazy assessment.
And then it all came to me, people are mistaking my deference for stupidity.
Most times I’ve sized people up within their first few sentences to me. When someone proves to be worth my time, I am fully present. If that is not the case, I’ve decided to not fuck with you. Simple. It’s not always necessary to let someone know that. People should still get my basic respect. And they do.
What does it mean when an extension of basic respect is mistaken for stupidity?
People also mistake my empathy and civility for ignorance. And these incidents all make me sensitive to others who get labeled in a similar way.
I have an aunt who is often remarked as slow. Her daughter has unfortunately been labeled as well. There’s nothing worse than to be written off by family because the outside world can be just as dismissive.
Both women are disarmingly sweet and to be fair, they are so to a fault. But it should be noted that these women choose to be kind and caring towards people, no matter how people approach them. That doesn’t make them stupid, that makes them kind and respectful. This isn’t rocket science.
It takes depth of character to choose to be civil to someone who is otherwise reckless.
Older and wiser now, I notice that the comments I receive about my lack of intelligence mostly come from people’s own insecurities, hurt, and shortcomings.
The high school girl clique- their insecurities.
The co-worker post-college- frustrated because she wanted to feel better about herself.
The man- he just wanted to fuck, and I didn’t want to fuck him so he wanted to one-up me.
I get how the expectation of most is to be hard and to set someone straight when they come at you the wrong way. There are a myriad of ways to approach that situation. Some kill with daggers, some with kindness. And still other just don’t bother with either. I fall in this category. Many people are jaded from their experiences.
But there’s no point in making others jaded because you are.So, the whole matter with me being dumb all comes down to much ado about nothing.
It can’t be my character flaw if you don’t capture my interest or imagination.
Today, I vacillate between laughter and feeling sad for the people who take me for a fool because in addition to me not finding them interesting, I must add to that my pity, which is ironic because in my mind, they are remembered for their foolishness, not mine.