Hash tags including #SmartBlackWomenOfTwitter and #SmartLatinaWomenOfTwitter soon appeared on Twitter. The Fast Company staff acknowledged that, while they are “big believers in the idea that the future of business looks a lot less like Steve Ballmer and a lot more like Kelvin Doe, Yvonne Greenstreet, and Reshma Saujani,” they had “squandered the opportunity” to highlight the racial and ethnic diversity that is “reflected in [their] annual lists, including Most Innovative Companies and Most Creative People.”
Fast Company contributor Ann Charles, founder and CEO of BRANDfog, had compiled the original list to “elevate the level of discourse among smart business leaders” by singling out “the most valuable thought leaders” on Twitter.
While those included were not chosen based on their having the most followers or because others had described them as “most powerful,” the original list contained a number of accomplished women who are not at all unknown (and many from the business world): television journalist Christiane Amanpour, Chelsea Clinton, Flickr founder Caterina Fake, Senator Elizabeth Warren, two professors at Ivy League business schools and highly-ranked executives of companies including Twitter and Adobe.
Others listed were Maria Popova, the editor of the blog Brain Pickings; Zainab Salbi, an activist and the founder of Women for Women International and Andrea Kerzner, CEO of the Lalela Project and a leader in art education.
The follow-up list was made up of suggestions from Twitter users and included Janet Mock, an activist and writer who founded the social media project #Girlslikeus to raise awareness about trans women; Soledad O’Brien, television anchor and correspondent for CNN, HBO and Al Jazeera America; Feminista Jones, a mental health social work administrator, editor and writer; Imani Perry, a Princeton University professor who studies law, race and culture; and Maria Hinojosa, a journalist and founder of The Futuro Media Group.
Unlike Charles’ original list of “25 of the smartest women on Twitter,” the second list definitely includes more than a few women of color. It does not, as the first list did, have photographs of each person, an omission that could have been for logistical reasons.
The lack of photos on the second list does mean that it’s not as quickly apparent if someone is a person of color, or not and might seem like a detail that’s not really worth mentioning. But this sort of thing stands out when gender, race and “who’s the smartest” are under discussion.
The topic of race and intelligence has a long and troubled history. It includes “research” that made erroneous correlations between, for instance, skull shapes and I.Q. It also includes notions like the myth of Asians (who are not a distinct minority on both of Fast Company’s lists) as a “model minority” who “naturally” excel in academics.
As a recent University of Michigan study showed, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can’t be racist.
It’s a great thing to see that so many women who are movers, shakers and thinkers are sharing their thoughts via Twitter. In a week when we are commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and at a time when minority births exceed those of whites, women of color should not be added on any list as an afterthought.
Photo from Thinkstock
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