I’ve previously written about my journey to self-discovery as a nerd. It was a slow process and while I have probably always been a nerd, I was not quick to self-identify as a nerd. Strangely this mirrors the growth of my journey in Blackness, obviously I’ve always been Black (though there were points early in my life where that was disputed by strangers) however, given my background and surroundings, I felt disconnected from my Blackness for most of my youth. In Orange County the majority of my friends were White or Latino and while I had Black friends I was very much used to being the only Black person in the class, on the team, etc, etc.
I think this is why I was so excited to find the Black Nerd Twitter community, or #Blerd, a word which I hate in the same way people hate the word moist, just sounds wrong. Like most of “Black Twitter,” the #Blerd community is very active and robust with its own set of big name influencers. @BlackGirlNerds, @Blerd_Man, @GeekSoulBrother are probably the biggest most active accounts in the “Blerd” cultural space right now with other active leaders such as @ElonJames, @RodimusPrime and @baratunde invading timelines from time to time. As with so many things in the nerd realm, there seems to be a barrier for entry that is high and intimidating.
Entering nerd spaces is a very disconcerting thing - as you are very excited and eager to share your enthusiasm for this thing you love and you can either be met with inviting conversation or skeptical and sometimes hostile criticisms. I think this is even truer when coming into a space as an underrepresented and marginalized person. You must gain acceptance into a space that was not set up for you and fight to prove your authenticity repeatedly. It’s exhausting.
A few months ago the incredibly smart women from NerdNoire (@Karnythia and @Thewayoftheid) went into discussions about Joss Whedon and his relationship with race and gender in his work. I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon and though he is often praised for his portrayal of strong women there are valid points and criticisms to be made in regards to his work as there is for a number of creators. The conversation quickly turned into a back and forth about the role of criticism and conversations. People were upset that they would use their platform and audience to critique someone as beloved as Joss and who comparatively has the credibility and respect for his portrayals.
I was very interested in the conversation and at numerous times wanted to jump in and add my opinions and insights not only as a fan but as someone who worked in that space and has thought deeply about the politics of media representations and the people in controlling positions throughout the system. However, I did feel as though it was easy to get shouted down or erased by the bigger names in the space. While I made a few points, I felt lost in the conversation unable to get a point across while a person with a big name and a bigger following was able to take control over the conversation.
Black Nerd Twitter is an important community but it also runs the risks of taking a group of people who have been on the outskirts of society and culture, code switching between worlds, and making them feel marginalized again. I think it is good and beneficial to be able to speak openly about our perspectives especially when it comes to media where we are shockingly underrepresented. The amount of minority characters in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy are negligible even compared to our underrepresentation in the media at large. Even characters who are unambiguously Black (Rue from Hunger Games) receive backlash when they are correctly cast as Black in screen adaptations. However, I do feel as though there is a self-segregation in the space that is sometimes unhelpful and also potentially harmful.
Hashtags like #demthrones #datdevil and #demclones allow Black nerds to come together and celebrate their love for some amazing television and films, but they also separate us from the mainstream. There is also an inextricable connection between these hashtags and a marriage of nerd culture to hip-hop culture and while I am firmly entrenched in one, I am deeply disconnected to the other. My connection to hip hop is peripheral and tied to my connections with friends and family who feel a level of comfort in that space and using that language that has always felt foreign and insincere when I try to adopt it. I’d love to talk about Arya being a badass without having her compared to some other cultural figure that I haven’t heard of or don’t care about.
Are we putting ourselves in an echo chamber, when a producer from Orphan Black or Game of Thrones goes online to see what is being said about their product are they going to even know the hash exists? Don’t we want to connect with the larger fan base of these entities and let ourselves be heard in the larger conversation? Also, if I want to express my thoughts and opinions as a Black Girl Nerd am I’m going to be silenced because I’m not Jamie Broadnax? When I have a difference of opinion with these big names in this space or want to shine light on things from another perspective will I be shut out by these self-proclaimed gatekeepers?
Starting Black Girls Nerd Out is in part a way for myself and Bayana to express ourselves more clearly without the strict 140 character limitations that are found on Twitter. However, I do wonder as we become more involved in the online community and if we are lucky enough to reach the same influence as some other big names will we end up replicating this hierarchical structure. I understand the ways in which Twitter works and I don’t begrudge power users their influence, they have no control over the algorithm that allow them to dominate conversations, nor do I think they intend it to participate in the silencing of other users. However, I do long for a more open platform where the best and brightest voices stand out and not just the most popular.
My love/hate relationship with Black Nerd Twitter is like my relationships with most things that I closely identify with. I have high expectations for the space and fear that it won’t be what I need it to be and won’t do what I’d like it to do. The beauty of Twitter is that it is what you make it and if you speak out often enough, though there will still be a palpable fear of rejection, you can make your voice heard.