Black Nerds: Integration vs. Segregation
Black People have always been on the fence when it comes to integration or segregation. At times one seemed better than the other. Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, Fredrick Dougelass fought on the side of integration, believing that it was a more strategic road for racial equality. On the other side of the fight – Malcolm X, W.E.B. DeBois, and Martin Delany (founder of Black Nationalism) were part of the community that believed empowerment resided in building our own social and economic infrastructure.
Personally, I think integration won out because that was a solution White America could live with. And though it’s never been perfect, Black America (and others of color) have been able to make headway into the mainstream. The most obvious evidence is our first African-American President.
The problem with integrating into the mainstream is that it’s not very embracing of ethnicity. Cultural food, clothing, language, hair styles, and other elements that make a people unique, don’t always have a place in what many consider the ‘American standard’.
And let’s be real, by mainstream I’m talking about an idea of White America. The reason I say ‘idea’ of White America is because many families that now consider themselves white shed their French, Italian, German, Scandinavian, Polish, British, Irish, Scottish, Portuguese and Spaniard ethnicities in order to embrace that ‘idea’. And not to generalize, some still celebrate their ancestry, but many treat ethnicity as something foreign or ‘old world’.
Not quite the case with African-Americans. Though we’ve been in America for centuries, our ethnicity is as much a part of us as the heavy dose of melanin in our skin (everybody has it, we have a lot). Part of it is by choice, but most of it is probably because ‘Our Skin don’t fit In’. Don’t get me wrong, we have made our way into the mainstream, but we as a people love our food, dress, linguistic flavors, hair styles and other aspects that make us unique. So African-Americans aren’t going to shed their ethnicity anytime soon like other groups have in this country.
And so here we are, striving to be part of the mainstream, and having succeeded in many ways, but still separated through choice or chance by our love of ourselves, our culture, our ethnic identity.
BLERD BLERD BLERD, BLERD is the WORD!
This is where I focus on my beloved nerds of color. The geeks and geekettes with a particular outer hue, and an inner urge to argue over STAR TREK and STAR WARS. Those exquisitely bronzed individuals that shred their hesitations and cosplay as Naruto, or Sailer Moon, or Black Panther. I’m talkin’ about the Afro-Nerds, Black Geeks, Black Nerds – BLERDS. It is a term that’s been around, but Donald Faison made it popular in SCRUBS. It’s a group that can be part of the greater because of their knowledge and passion for the geek universe. But also a group that has its own flavors and sounds and lingual flair that geek culture just doesn’t understand or embrace.
There are two choices for a black nerd:
- One – leave your black culture separate and join in the general definition of a nerd. Many have done so, as nerds and in general. Results may vary.
- Two – be a nerd, but continue to embrace your culture and identity as a black person, and have them complement each other. It’s still a balancing act though.
It isn’t as black and white as I illustrate, but there are obvious problems with the first choice – self-identity, dealing with occasional insults that start out as “I’m not racist but…”. Choosing the second has its own issues, but it doesn’t mean you have to accept the term BLERD. Yet and still, here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
Up until the 90s, I’ve felt that black nerds were sporadic islands of afro-awkwardness, floating in the caucazoid seas of geekdom. It wasn’t until around the 2000s, and the luck of getting a job at an art school full of talented and nerdy artist of color, that my vision was cleared and I saw that we were many… well, several. In the past year I’ve discovered even more of the community out there, and also became acquainted with the term BLERD. Personally, I wasn’t too sure about the word at first. Then I started to see what other blerds thought, and how they identified with it. I connected with sites like Blerdology and Blerd Nation. Made friends with Black Girl Nerds and The Black Geeks and many others. After seeing what kind of celebration revolves around it, I embrace the word as much as I embraced my fellow black nerds.
It’s Not About Segregation, It’s About COMMUNITY
We have come out of our closets, or Tardis’, in great numbers, and Blerd is the banner that we march under. But many black nerds ask each other “How can you be part of Nerd culture and separate or segregate yourselves from it also?” I, like many geeks of color, didn’t see the need to have a word that defined black nerds as something separate from the nerd culture. The internal argument in my mind was “Aren’t we separated enough? Aren’t we outcasts from general culture already? Why would I want to identify with something that makes me an outcast even more? A nerd is a nerd, that’s it!” Calling yourself a blerd doesn’t mean you want to separate from anything. It only means that you are telling the world that you want to still identify with the part of you that makes you ‘black’. And incidentally, the part that doesn’t quite fit into mainstream culture as I pointed out earlier. It means that there’s a whole community of black nerds and geeks out there that share with you some experiences others don’t. Blerd is just a simple term that expresses the many facets of being black and nerdy. It’s a signpost for other black nerds out there, that travel those dusty roads to Mordor, to see that there’s a comfortable rest area for them to geek out at.
And blerd also serves as a social platform to discuss some of the issues that black people have in nerd culture – lack of representation in media, racist trolling and other topics. Groups like the NAACP were created to deal with those issues in the general culture, why not ‘Blerd’ for our geek culture The term “STEAMFUNK” seems to have been created in the same vein in dealing with lack of diverse story and representation of black people in the world of Steampunk.
BUT IT’S NOT FAIR
Many people (even some of you reading this) state that if there was a special term for White Nerds (Wherds?) it would be racist. Well, if white nerds felt separated or under-represented in some way in nerd culture, then it would be fine. If white nerds believed there were issues of identity between being white and a nerd, then of course Wherd should be a term. If a white cosplayer caught flack for dressing up as an anime character because his race “Just wasn’t keeping with the true nature of the character” then Wherd would be a great way to call all the white nerds together for a discussion about said cosplay incident. Would it be racist? No. Unless the Wherds made their group exclusive. Hmmmm.
From my experience so far, the groups surrounding the term Blerd aren’t exclusive. On the contrary, they are actually very inclusive, inviting white and other nerds of color to the discussion. If you’re reading this and haven’t found Blerds in general to be very inviting, you better check yourself; the problem is not them.
Blerd isn’t a separatists movement, but a cultural beacon in nerdism so that black people can know that they aren’t as alone or isolated as they might have imagined. You would be surprised how many of us have felt or still feel that way. Yes, it sounds like a club, but there’s no major cry for “Down with Whitey”.
Blerd is a word shouting out in two voices – one to the whole black community saying “I’m a nerd, deal with it”, and the other saying “I’m a Black Person, Deal with it” to his or her fellow nerds. You can accept it or not, and that’s okay. But the way I see it, Blerd is just another way of being comfortable with yourself. Comments Below Please.
UPDATED – BONUS MATERIAL: GSB AFTER DARK PODCAST: GEEK SEGREGATION
Above is a little something extra for you to enjoy. It is an episode of my night time podcast – GEEK SOUL BROTHER: AFTER DARK – where I asked my Five Nerdy Venoms and guests about how and when Geeks Segregate themselves based on race, gender, sexuality and culture. I think it compliments this post very nicely. Thanks so much to Big Baba Rob and Renaegade Storm of The Black Geeks, and Jamie from Black Girl Nerds for joining the conversation, and Inda Lauryn (Corner Store Press), Well of Truth and all the guests that participated in the chat.