THE BLOG
06/24/2014 08:27 pm ET Updated Aug 24, 2014

Science Is the New Sexy

Whether exotic or invisible, hypersexual or dehumanized, athletic or angry, the one thing black women apparently are not is scientific. Well, that's not totally true: Apparently we're not sexy and scientific. At least this is the takeaway someone would have after examining the Business Insider post titled "The Sexiest Scientists Alive!"

This is why Kyla McMullen created her own list, "Goddamn It, There Are Sexy Black Female Scientists Out There!" OK, that's not what she called it, but considering the profiles of the 73 sexy scientific sistas who make up this list, this easily could have been the name of Kyla's attempt at refuting the notion that black women are not present at the intersection of science and sexiness.

While misleading by commission is often thought to be the most treacherous offense in the realm of deceit, in my view, misleading by omission is much more noxious. The omission in this instance, rendering someone (or a group of someones) imperceptible, whether deliberately or not, is an affront to their dignity, triumphs, capabilities and sensualities. And in this case -- the case of being black, female, scientific (a proxy for smart), and sexy -- the omission sheds light on a narrative that many black women know all too well.

Simply put: blacks = black men. And (sexy) women = white women. With this arithmetic, black women often fail to be thought of as fully black or fully female. It's a fact that I first realized in graduate school when a dumbfounded colleague audibly pondered why I had won an award for women in science (and I silently uttered to myself, "Ain't I a woman?"). It's a narrative that came up so often in graduate school that I actually incorporated this concept of intersectionality into my dissertation. And it's a narrative that undoubtedly hit home for Kyla, prompting her to devise her list.

This omission of smart, sexy black women from Business Insider's original list is hardly an idiosyncratic occurrence. Instead, the invisibility of black women who are smart, sophisticated, and sexy is a silent part of the Zeitgeist, an unspoken reality that has only recently been deemed real enough to be recognized by the mainstream social-scientific research community. But unlike most folks who simply complain and moan, Kyla acted, along with 72 other women (including yours truly, No. 38), to create a counternarrative. I'm glad she did, because by taking steps like this, slowly but surely we can reshape the "expected" and shed light on the beauty and complexity of smart, black women.