Before attempting anything new, I get super nervous. It could be visiting a new city or going to a shop I’ve never been to before — the nerves can be almost overwhelming. It’s something that I know a lot of black people and women experience, and as a black woman, it’s especially strong. Being the only non-white, non-male person in a place brings up so many worries and fears even in nerd culture, which is often dominated by white men. We shouldn't let these fears stand in the way of doing the things that we want to do, so I’m going to break them down and see how some of my fears have compared to my real-life experiences.
The fear of walking into a comics shop alone
Comic book shops tend to be really white. And I used to think that being one of the only black women patrons of my local shop, that everyone’s eyes were on me the millisecond I walked in. It’s taken me a long time to realise that most of the time, most people aren’t thinking about me at all. Sure, when I walk into a comic book shop the guy behind the counter looks at me. He might even say “hi” or ask if I want help. That’s probably not because he thinks I'm lost, but because he’ll sell more comics if he helps customers find what they’re looking for. When I accepted the offer for help — I was looking for a graphic novel with a particular artistic style — it was great! I didn’t have to spend ages looking in the wrong places and I learned some cool facts about artists. If you've been nervous to go to a book or comic book shop because of the other patrons, you probably don't have anything to worry about.
The fear of meeting strangers to play Dungeons and Dragons
Meeting people in real life who you only know from the internet is scary and can be dangerous. Always meet in a public place, tell someone where you are going, who you are meeting and when you expect to be back. If you feel unsafe, leave.
But even with all of that in place, it's still daunting. These people could be anyone. For me, I wanted some people to play Dungeons and Dragons with. My worry was that they will seem fine and then the racism/sexism will just start slipping out — as it has in the past. How much should I put up with? Do I walk away, or say something?
And my fear has actually come true. Some of the people I regularly play games with have said some problematic things. What do you do when that happens? When it happened to me, I decided to just tell them they said something that made me uncomfortable or that I disagreed with. They were always glad that I spoke up and have never wanted to leave the game or stop meeting me (which has happened in similar situations in non-nerd settings).
Always put yourself and your own mental well-being first; if you feel you can speak-up, do; if not — just leave. But if you're looking for a new community to play in (D&D, video games, or anything else) don't let fear of racism or sexism stop you from doing something you love.
The fear of being creeped on in cosplay
Recently, my colleague’s 13-year-old daughter wanted to go to a convention, cosplaying as a manga character. We all worried about the creeps. There’s no getting away from it. It’s such a problem, that lots of the big cons have to have large signs telling people that “cosplay is not consent.” It shouldn’t be like that, yet sometimes it is. But not everyone is creepy. My favourite thing about being a female nerd is how we look out for each other. If I see a girl/lady being harassed at a convention, I will step in and help her. I know that someone would do the same for me and I told my colleague that someone would do the same for her daughter too. In the end, mum went with daughter but she saw that she didn’t need to worry. Her daughter made friends with a group of older girls, and they looked out for each other — because that’s what we do.
I have found that, despite my fears, nerds in real life are often the most accepting, friendly, and open people I have met. They are people who understand what it feels like to be shy, to feel like you don’t fit in, and to worry about what will happen at events and in new situations. They are people who are happy to talk about their struggles and hear mine — knowing that we will support each other.
There have definitely been times when I have felt uncomfortable or alone or have very obviously been the only black woman in the room, but that is just part of life. Some of the best people I have ever met have been through fandoms and at nerd events. It’s the only part of my life where I feel confident I could meet someone just like me. I am glad I overcame my fears and have been able to live my best black nerd life.