Friday, July 20, 2007

My Latest Rant: The Souls of Black Geeks

A little light reading to take you out into the weekend.

In order to really grasp the feelings that inspired this article, you might want to read this first:

Race, Sex and Nerds: from Black Geeks to Asian-American Hipsters

If you can't figure out which one applies to me, stop smoking that stuff. Or at least let me get a hit.

Interesting stuff, right? It was written in 2002, and yet that is me practically every day.

I have always felt outside of the outsiders. I never really fit anywhere. I never liked the same stuff most of my peers did. I hardly ever interacted with anyone outside of the school environment. Hell, I don't even know most of my family outside of immediate members. While my older siblings were practically joined at the hip with their generation of cousins, I barely associated with my generation. It may have been my folks faults somewhat; they had me listening to Temptations and Clarence Carter while they were listening to Boyz II Men and NWA. I always felt like there was two Vermillions: one who was black, and one who was a geek. And the two were not mutual.

Nobody I knew was into the same things I was. None of my classmates knew what a Veritech was. I couldn't play D&D because the only thing anybody in my neighborhood knew about it they learned from Chick Tracts from church. And yet, everybody expected me to see how cool Nino Brown was. I had to fake like I knew what was the big deal about Deion Sanders. It was torturous. I felt like I was somehow unworthy of my own skin. Like I had been born wrong, a cosmic mistake.

I was never asked what I thought 'blackness' should be; others defined that. I was never consulted on who my heroes should be; others chose them. I was never inquired as to what form our racial culture was to take; others shaped it. And because I did not fit in to their ridiculous box, I was treated as a traitor. A wannabe. An Uncle Tom.

I was even called an Oreo once or twice. Which is funny, because I love Oreos. There are my favorite cookie. I can't eat vanilla ice cream without them. Martian Manhunter is my favorite superhero, primarily because he is addicted to Oreos. So to be called that was in some ways a compliment. But I still hated it. I hated being different. I hated being an outsider to a group I belonged to by birthright.

It wasn't like pop culture was helping me out any. Quick: name three characters from TV or movies that could classify as a black geek or nerd.


Time's up.

Know who I came up with? Steve Urkel, Dwayne Wayne, and the gay guy from Revenge of the Nerds. And I don't really remember him doing much of anything nerdy. Oh, and that really annoying kid on Ned's Declassified School Guide.

A tidbit from my childhood: As I was a dark-skinned smart kid wearing think glasses during a period of time when Urkel was king, many of my classmates felt it necessary to call me such. Funnily enough, I never liked him. I hated that character, and not just because everyone called me "Urkel" because of some circumstantial commonalities. He was loud, obnoxious and about the stupidest 'nerd' you could ever find. I mean, how can you continue to chase after a girl who goes so far out of her way to avoid you, especially after you have a (no offense to Kellie Williams) much hotter woman practically ripping your clothes off every time she sees you? What the hell was that, man? And all those fucking inventions, if he wasn't rolling in dough already, he could have been. So much potential wasted.

I always saw myself as a Dwayne Wayne man, myself. Of course, I was never afforded the luxury of being called that, mostly because I misplaced or broke my one and only pair of flip-ups. Dwayne Wayne was a black nerd you could look up to: he was highly intelligent, dedicated, well-informed about current events, and he was neither stereotypically nerdy or black. He never made me want to stab my eyes out like some did. I never agreed with his choice of not hooking up with Freddie, but hey, dem's the breaks.

I kept suffering like this, questioning my very existence, until I realized one thing: I liked what I was. I liked Robotech and oldies, and video games that weren't sports or Pac-Man. I liked not giving a hell about sports. I liked being able to look past the hype and say OJ was so freaking guilty. I liked that. I liked ME.

It wasn't until my first trip to Origins did I realize how much I was shortchanging myself. This was a place where skin color could never be an issue, because there were people colored in nearly every shade you could think of. These were all people who had been ridiculed or demeaned or even threatened because of the lifestyle they lead. And yet, they didn't let it bother them. The real kicker came later, on a Sunday (Origins is during a three day weekend). It seems as one of those cosmic jokes, the con tends to fall on dates where a lot of religious gatherings like to convene as well, and one of those was in the same center as the con.

I, being dressed in slacks and a polo shirt, looked comparatively normal, the only thing showing my true allegiance was a badge that had flipped around on the lanyard. A group of older black people, dressed up to attend service, stopped me on my way to the food court. Somehow they had stumbled into the open gaming area, and they were looking pretty scared. They asked me how to get to a certain room, and I opted to lead them there. As they shuffled along, I could barely make out their comments, some things like "these folks are crazy" or "they need Jesus" or some such. As we reached their destination, one of them turned to me and asked what exactly was going on.

I told them it was a gamers convention, and when she asked me what kinds of games, I told her. I even said "Like Dungeons and Dragons." Her eyes opened wide, and she looked like I said they were sacrificing goats. "We ALL (gesturing to me) need to pray for those folks." I nodded my head in agreement. As she turned her back to me, I noticed my badge and turned it back over. That was when I realized she had no idea that I was attending the con. They thought I was just a passerby they felt they could trust to help them because I was the right color, wearing the right clothes. As I went back to go join my game, I remember laughing. I took that lady's advice though, and I thanked God for each and every crazy bastard there.

It is sad that a people whose history was so shaped by hatred and discrimination are so eager to fall back on those same ugly tools. They made assumption based on appearance. They held horribly mistaken beliefs that inhibited their world view. They complain about oppression, and yet, they oppress anyone who doesn't fit their narrow definition of blackness. It is beyond ironic, beyond hypocritical, and invokes the adage history repeating itself fro those you refuse to learn from it.

To end off, a few new links, because it is nice to see I am not the only proud black geek (although I am a little pissed I didn't think of these names first):

Black Geek Dojo blog

Star Wars for Colored Folks

Token Minorities

There is also Black Nerds Network, which I would link to, but that would cause me to support THE BLACK HOLE KNOWN AS MYSPACE.

In fact, just type in "black geek" or "black nerd" in your favorite search engine and enjoy. And any of my fellow geeks who may be reading this, drop me a line.

The image courtesy of Corey Thomas (with no real permission per se, but I won't tell if you wont.)

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4 brain pickings:

  1. Wow, great post. I've never gone through the experiences that you have, but, as a girl geek, I can sympathize with many of your feelings about lack of pop culture role models and dealing with stereotypes. The article you linked to is very interesting as well. It's definitely an issue worth talking about.

    Like the blog. I'll be back :)

  2. hey, thanks for the linkage! i'm the Token Minorities writer.

    for the record, i'm half filipino, so i'm a hapa geek, not black, but the sentiment is appreciated. :)

    -pat m.

  3. jen: Thanks. I can't promise all the posts will be this good, though.

    patrick: Your site was so good, I had to link, man. Although I should have said minority geeks instead of black geeks.

  4. Interesting post... as a black chick i definitely sympathize with you. It's unfortunate that other black folks have made it so hard for you to be comfortable in your own skin. I was always somewhat nerdy, especially in high school. however it wasn't hard for me to find friends who accepted me. Black males definitely suffer more under the weight of cultural expectations then black females...its a sad state of affairs overall.

    Yet please take comfort in the fact that there is a freedom in being completely yourself unapologetically that many people of all races or cultures never allow themselves to experience..


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