Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

Random thoughts on "nerd blackface"

Normally I would not write a response to a post outside of the post itself, just because I always feel weird about doing something like that. But I avoided the first post on the subject of the term because I figured it would go nowhere good, whether in the post or the comments. But the The Big Bang Theory/Communism post lead me there, so I took a look.



Turns out I was right, the comment section showed a substantial pushback to not comparing being a nerd to being black. Certainly not everyone, but enough people to inspire me to write this.

Now I've been a nerd my whole life. I got the full treatment in school; no friends, pranks, got beaten up, questions about my sexuality and "manhood" when I was young and stupid and things like that really mattered. I did not get it as bad as some, but I got enough of it to have it stick with me well into adulthood. I still have and want nothing to do with the people I went to school with for how they treated me, and sometimes it still makes me angry.

But being a nerd saved my life and I would not trade those experiences for anything. Because it allowed me to seek out entertainment and knowledge that inspired my mind and made me dream, both of realistic things and fantastical ideas. I wouldn't be where I am today, pursuing higher education and on to living a life I am very proud to call my own. Because I also grew up black, in public housing, in a single parent home, which according to pundits and various statistical reports, is a death sentence. And I'm sorry, being a nerd does not even come close to touching the discrimination and feeling of being an outsider that being black instilled in me.

I was lucky, I grew up in a small town with a great mom who made sure I never wanted for anything. But I saw people, friends, whose lives were basically over by age 10 because they were black and poor and nobody gave a shit. Elementary school teachers disgusted when they showed up for class unwashed and hair uncombed. They were a burden, nothing more.


I saw someone I cared for greatly trying to find meaning in their lives after 4 decades of being marginalized and discriminated against, and the feeling of desperation they emitted will haunt me until the day I die. I lack the words to describe what the despair and humiliation of discrimination looks like on people it sticks to and never leaves.

The times I have felt most aware of my race have been few, and most of them online. On a DC message board a comment thread about Firestorm filled with so much hate and racism that I was depressed for a quite a while afterwards. Miles Morales being announced as Ultimate Spider-Man, Donald Glover saying he would be interested in playing Spider-Man, and a few others. Being a nerd has made me aware of my blackness in a way growing up in a small, mostly white, Southern town never did.


Now I'm not speaking for black people as a whole nor am I saying that people that have been bullied and harassed as nerds have nothing to complain about. What I'm saying is it is a different narrative, one in which quite often the reason you are persecuted is the thing that helps you escape that persecution. The term blackface represents stealing away someone's personhood, taking a part of their identity and not just making it abnormal, making it inhuman. Nothing does that to nerds, certainly not The Big Bang Theory, despite its many, many flaws.

I hope this post makes sense, it kind of poured out and writing about myself has never been something I enjoyed. But I felt I had to speak, to say that using that term is just wrong and offensive. I hope people understand my intent when reading this.

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