Gifted and Black in North America

“Anyone or anything that dampens my creative fire has got to go!”

Meet Kaitlin Smith. She is a 34 year old Harvard-based scholar and former psychotherapist. She contacted me about her upcoming course for gifted/2e Black adults, called Black Brilliance Circle, (beginning June 2023) designed to help this population “thrive in the face of the specific challenges that arise from this combination of identities.”


Kaitlin started reading at age 2, when she started at a Montessori school. She was identified gifted in elementary school and experienced resentment from classmates when attending a pull-out gifted program. She wrote, “I faced social challenges that I would describe as multifactorial, but I believe that my giftedness (which also translated to me being noticeably younger and smaller than my classmates) is absolutely among the chief factors that made it challenging to find social acceptance amongst peers in my younger years.”


Her multipotentiality runs deep and wide. She wrote: “My interests are so expansive and not easily sortable into discrete categories that do not bleed into one another at a certain level of abstraction. In my academic work, I’m broadly interested in the history and philosophy of psychology, with an eye toward themes elaborated within the fields of ecopsychology, parapsychology, and Black critical thought. I’m also interested in concrete applications of insights that arise from these lines of inquiry to challenges that confront the worlds of clinical practice, education, and policy. A number of my interests converge in my venture Our Wild Minds through which I am dedicated to helping gifted BIPOC and women befriend their natural gifts. The focus of this work is currently a live, online course called Black Brilliance Circle which takes a mind-body-heart approach to exploring the unique challenges and possibilities that Black gifted adults encounter. I also offer outdoor events, virtual tools, and community-based research that integrates public history, ecology, anthropology, ethnobiology, folklore, and folk practices like bioregional herbalism. In addition, I enjoy producing nature writing and am a passionate arthouse cinephile and dance connoisseur. I also engage in significant ongoing study and experimentation related to nutrition and functional medicine.”


I went through cycles when I was younger in which I was more inclined to tolerate unrewarding social situations. By now, I have become better acquainted with my own authentic motivations beneath the layers of social programming. This translates to me gladly exploring and nurturing relationships with those who speak my language, and ruthlessly reappropriating the rest of my time and energy to the endeavors I find most meaningful (as well as the self-care required to show up for those endeavors)… Though I would love to connect with a partner who is a great fit for me and my life, I am currently delighting in the spaciousness that singleness allows and don’t feel compelled to change that unless I encounter someone who genuinely inspires that change.”

The Black Experience 

Kaitlin explained: “Black gifted people face unique barriers to identification stemming from the design of instruments used to identify giftedness as well as the biases of those assessing them. Despite the insufficiency of childhood gifted identification in preparing one to grasp (and navigate) the gifted-specific challenges that will arise over the lifespan, this opportunity to know this about oneself and experience mirroring of some of one’s complexity in social settings early in life is something that many Black children ultimately do not experience due to racism and other factors (e.g., the unavailability of gifted programming in many schools). In addition, there is a problem of Black children being misdiagnosed with various psychiatric conditions in school settings in general. In the case of gifted Black children, this problem then multiplies the general phenomenon whereby giftedness is misdiagnosed as pathology. Layer in the larger context of the school-to-prison pipeline (and other factors) and you have a deadly recipe that eclipses Black brilliance at best and criminalizes it at worst.” 

Whether one was identified as gifted in childhood or not, the challenges inherent in not knowing oneself as a gifted Black adult and not having a community in which to experience mirroring of one’s multitudes are significant. This is exacerbated by practitioners (both those in the gifted field and mental health professionals in general) who exhibit an inadequate grasp of the impact of racism in the lives of the Black people as well as how racist scientific discourses have shaped understandings of Blackness and intelligence themselves. Related to this is insufficient attention to the seemingly intractable questions that arise from the existential dilemma that is being Black in a profoundly anti-Black world. I have encountered conceptions of psychological health and unconstrained possibility within the gifted field that do not account for the many oppressive social worlds in which so many human beings–Black or otherwise–are operating around the world. Visions of gifted thriving that place emphasis on the self-realization of the atomic individual independent of circumstance are extraordinarily harmful and ultimately point to an inability to grapple with a number of basic, devastating truths about inequalities that permeate our world.

“In addition, most mental health professionals have not undergone training related to how to support gifted clients and often pathologize its manifestations out of ignorance. When a gifted Black person enters treatment or a support space – someone whose way of being flies in the face of these limiting conceptions of Blackness, giftedness, and intelligence – a perfect storm of retraumatization and pain can easily befall the person in the absence of greater attention to these interconnected issues on the part of the practitioner.”

A Key Takeaway

I am grateful that Kaitlin contacted me as this information is absolutely essential and an area where I have limited experience. She told me she personally endured many painful experiences of racism over the years and she ended her correspondence with this:

My conversations with gifted people of color have revealed the ubiquity of racist attitudes and resulting experiences of marginality within everyday life and in spaces devoted to promoting mental health. A key takeaway for me is that there is quite a lot of work to do around disentangling our conceptions of intelligence, selfhood, and race, both at the level of theory and at the level of (clinical) practice.”

And so, my dearest rainforesters, let us all continue the work of understanding ourselves and “our conceptions of intelligence, selfhood, and race,” and let us keep our creative fires burning.


To my bloggEEs: Do you identify as BIPOC? What are your experiences as a gifted person? Thank you to Kaitlin for sharing her experiences and guidance. You can reach Kaitlin through her website here.

(Note: You may notice I have added a page to my blog. Check it out and let me know what you think!)

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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

4 responses to “Gifted and Black in North America”

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  1. How Can I Be Gifted If I Did Not Excel In School? And Other Conundrums Surrounding The G Word – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] and enthusiasm in the classroom may not be selected for gifted programs. Kids who come from BIPOC communities can be overlooked. Some educators in the field identify kids talented in certain skill areas such […]

  2. pprober Avatar

    Someone could not find the link to make comments so I’m starting one now so it’s easier to find. Thank you all!

    1. Ciera Avatar

      Thanks for sharing Kaitlin’s deep insights. They are critically important and have to many implications (to preventing the school to prison pipelines, for example). I am also thinking of the priceless joys that comes from learning how to embrace who you really are, diving freely into your interests and feeling safe to do, and yet how perpetually challenging it can be to do so in a world where we are being judged more and more and expected to perform, compete and earn from ever-younger ages. Add to that persistent racism and how it plays out in educational and job settings and it is no wonder that the power dynamics we witness in the world haven’t changed all that much in recent years. There is so much potential when we explore Kaitlin’s ideas and that gives me hope. Thank you, and Kaitlin I wish you well in your important work. Greetings from a teacher in Canada.

      1. pprober Avatar

        Good to hear from you, Ciera. I’m sure Kaitlin will appreciate it!

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