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MacArthur Foundation Names New 'Geniuses'; 12 of This Year's 21 Fellows Are Black

Illustration for article titled MacArthur Foundation Names New Geniuses; 12 of This Years 21 Fellows Are Black
Image: MacArthur Fellows Program

Why are geniuses always evil?

...And white?

Comic book superheroes are always strong, righteous champions for truth and justice who battle immoral but creative supervillains who are usually so smart that we often refer to them as “evil geniuses.” Lex Luther was a scientist and a business magnate whose alopecia led him to a life of crime. The Joker was a criminal mastermind who could have made millions giving makeup tutorials if only he had access to adequate mental health treatment. Aside from his love for collecting jewelry, even Thanos had a background in science.

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But why are there no righteous super geniuses? What if there were heroes who, instead of using their muscles, used creativity and intelligence to right wrongs? Instead of narcissists in iron suits and rich white boys with butlers and batcaves, what if there were people who used their intellect for good?

Meet Catherine Coleman Flowers.

For years, Flowers has fought for economic justice in some of the worst places in America. In 2018, while working as a rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative, she helped The Root uncover a hookworm infestation in “Bloody” Lowndes County, a majority-black county in Alabama known for lynching, voter suppression and the origin story for an organization that would become known as the Black Panthers.

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Flowers is still fighting to save Lowndes from a parasite that was previously only seen in third-world countries. Although Flowers has dedicated her life to fighting for environmental justice in Black communities, she didn’t inherit Wayne Manor, nor does she have an invisible jet. She exposed one of the biggest health scandals in the civilized world with just her intellect and her willingness to fight. Catherine Coleman Flowers was always a superhero.

And now, she is is a certified genius.


Unofficially known as the “Genius grant,” the MacArthur Fellows Program “is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations.” Each year, the organization picks a handful of people and hands out a $625,000, no-strings-attached award that the program calls an investment in the fellow’s “originality, insight, and potential.” Previous Black MacArthur geniuses include Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney, jazz musician Max Roach and this year’s The Root 100 list-topper, visionary creator of The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones.

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Catherine Coleman Flowers was just one of 21 people on the 2020 list of MacArthur Fellows that just happens to be majority Black. The diverse list also includes writers, researchers, sociologists and creators from all walks of life.

Along with Flowers, here are some of the other newly minted Black super geniuses:

  • Isaiah Andrews: An “Econometrician” who combines economics and social science. He is also the first person in the known world to actually use the word problems from 11th-grade Algebra II in real life.
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom: A sociologist, writer and public scholar whose work explores the intersection of race and gender.
  • Damien Fair: A cognitive neuroscientist who is literally mapping the human brain. Aside from one day understanding my ADHD, Fair’s research will not only help Santa Claus know when you are sleeping and know when you are awake, but he may one day help us understand why non-white brains have what scientists call the “seasoning cortex.”
  • N. K. Jemisin: A speculative fiction writer whose science fiction and short stories imagine new worlds that answer our most pressing questions. Yes, there are police in the future.
  • Ralph Lemon: Basically, a creative genius. His work combines dance, visual arts and performances that have very few characters named “Madea.”
  • Thomas Mitchell Wilson: Wilson is a property attorney whose research in heirs property will infuriate you if you like justice, equality or America.
  • Fred Moten: A cultural theorist and poet who injects history, sociology and trauma into exploring how race informs art and culture. He is one of the few people who realized that Missy Elliot was one of the first American artists to put her thing down and flip it before actually reversing it.
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: A jazz singer and composer. Salvant also perfected an art known in Black communities as “sanging.”
  • Monika Schleier-Smith: A theoretical physicist who “works at the interface of atomic, molecular, and optical physics and quantum information science with the goal of harnessing the properties of quantum systems for such applications as powerful new computing paradigms and ultra-precise sensors.” Look, I don’t know what that means either. That’s why she’s the genius.
  • Forrest Stuart: A sociologist whose investigative work reveals the systemic racism in housing, the criminal justice system and education. Because he essentially argues that poor, black and brown people are human beings, he is not a frequent guest on Fox News.
  • Jaqueline Woodson: An author of children’s books and adult fiction, Woodson’s books examine race, identity and history with compassion and insight.
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For the 29th year in a row, Wakanda State University professor Shuri T’Baddest Jenkins was overlooked for her groundbreaking vibranium-related research while Belcalis Marlenis Almánzar thesis: WAP: How Fluid Dynamics in Reproductive Organ Affect Pull-Out Game wasn’t even considered.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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DISCUSSION

pastryidol
pastryidol

Just want to take a moment to extra-shoutout Fred Moten for the notion of the undercommons, the literal and figurative space where people gather outside traditional educational structures to do deep collective study and learning.