My Nerd Identity
*Note: This is somewhat of a throwback, as a version of this piece was posted on Black Girls Nerd Out 1.0 aka The Life and Times of a Black Girl Nerd. However, I’ve revised this piece and I really like it so here it is improved.
I don’t think I started calling myself a nerd until high school. Though I don’t remember exactly what made begin referring to myself as such, I do know that it was a conscious decision. I think a part of it was that I loved (and still love) how my interests don’t necessarily match with what people assume to be my identity or with each other. I love not being a stereotype (though I probably have some stereotypical black tendencies), and surprising people with the things I like always gives me some sense of satisfaction. I’m a black woman who loves Hip-Hop, reading, science fiction of pretty much any kind, who was raised in an Afrocentric community but has some ratchet tendencies that sometimes mesh with and sometimes clash with her scholarly ones.
Being a nerd is something I claim loud and proud. One of the first things I tell people is how much I love sci-fi, and how many times I’ve read Harry Potter—which is really too many times to count. When people call me a nerd, I readily agree with them. Why pretend to be something I’m not?
Though I didn’t use the word as a kid, I’ve been a nerd since at least when I finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The magic, the clash between good and evil (which I now of course realize is not necessarily a binary), and the idea that kids could do amazing things all appealed to me. I loved the characters, Hogwarts, and the general atmosphere.
I remember in elementary school I would borrow the books from my grandmother, who had up to Goblet of Fire, which was the most recent to come out. When Order of the Phoenix came out in 2005, I made my dad take me to the bookstore to buy it. It was the first Harry Potter book I owned after the first one, and it quickly became my favorite one. I’ve read it so many times that it is literally falling apart at the seams.
Before Deathly Hallows came out, I preordered it. I was going to be out of town the day the book came out, and I spent the entire time badgering my mom about going to pick up my book. When I got home, it was laying in the middle of my bed, and though I hadn’t seen my mom, brother, and sister for over a week, I immediately closed the door to my room and read the book in a day and a half.
Reading has always been a form of solace for me. It calms me down, and allows me to delve into a different world with different issues (many of which I am glad to not have). Reading constantly is the thing that kept my imagination so strong. Even if I didn’t read Harry Potter, I read other books, and I read my favorites more than once.
My love of reading slowly spilled over into other forms of media and mainly began to take the form of science fiction. Just as I loved Harry Potter, I also love Doctor Who, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I’m trying to get more into comic books now) and countless other nerd things. I feel like the amount of things I fangirl over expands every time I watch a new show or read a new book.
When I was a kid and teenager, I always felt isolated from others because of my love of reading. I’ve always been a bit of a hermit; I would much rather sit in my room in my pajamas reading than go out with friends. Because of that, and the amount of love I had for Harry Potter (the first fandom I ever belonged to), it was sometimes hard to connect with other people. I had friends, but none that really felt the same way I did about the things I loved. Whereas they thought the Harry Potter movies were cool but didn’t want to read the books, I almost always had one of the books with me. They would humor me when I got overly excited about something that happened in the Wizarding World, but I could tell they didn’t really care that much. It felt as if Harry, Ron, and Hermione understood me much more than my friends did, and it sometimes still feels this way.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve evolved in my nerdiness, but that is in direct correlation to my increasing confidence in my identity as a nerd. The more I give into it and stop worrying about what other people will say, or how they will look at me when I casually bring up the Time War in conversation, the better I feel. And honestly, I would rather be curled up watching Daredevil or Orphan Black instead of hanging out with people who don’t truly get me anyway.
My fellow BGN Robyn was the first person I knew who was black and was just as excited about Harry Potter and other nerdy things as me—and at the point that I found this out, she may have been even more so. It was crazy realizing that one of my cousins of all people loved the same things I did—in the sense that I realized we could have been having marathons and squealing over things Harry did in Half-Blood Prince since the first day.
It was fine though, because we immediately rectified the fault of our parents not keeping us together more often (or having us at the same time). We have marathons, read books, recommend things that we will soon be fangirling over in a few days, and more. Being a nerd who gets to hang out with other nerds feels so validating; especially if they also look like you. For the longest time I felt like an anomaly; I’d never really heard of black girls who were nerds, especially because they were lacking in my friend groups as a kid. But now it feels natural—of course there are other nerds who are black girls.
The other amazing thing is that as I began to realize this, I began to find books written by black women as well as communities solely created for black girls who nerd. It was almost like stepping into my own Diagon Alley; there is a certain magic in finding a place that fits you so comfortably after feeling out of place for so long.