Black Girl Nerds Breakdown Fandom Diversity at Blerd City Con

The Shadow League was thrilled to be in attendance for the first installment of the Blerd City Con in Brooklyn last week.  With different panels whose combined resumes covered the entirety of what it was, is, and will forever mean to be a blerd, it was somewhat difficult to pick one voic that was more important than others.  

However, a panel featuring a group of literati allied with the Black Girls Nerds collective, and moderated by journalist Valarie Complex, was dropping all sorts of bombs full of information about inclusiveness, the stereotypes of nerdom, continuing to carve our safe spaces for the blerd community, and much more.  

Titled Fandom Diversity: The Changing Face of Nerd & Geek Journalism, with panelists Joi Childs, Constance Gibbs, Kay-B, and Afiya Augustine, the discussion was about hot topics surrounding what it’s like to be a “nerd” from a marginalized group.

“The last few years you have seen people on social media be very open,” said panelist Joi Childs.   “People are being honest about what they want. Nobody wants to see stories about a white male all the time. We want to see things that we can relate to in our own feelings and our own culture. I think social media had a heavy push, especially Twitter.  A lot of times people voice their opinions on Twitter and now large studios are starting to listen. Directors are starting to listen, writers are starting to listen. Purchasing power, they know it equates into a dollar sign and if we don’t see the content we want to see then we’re not going to go support it.”

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The stereotype of what it is to be a “nerd” has haunted many individuals who fall under the false shadow of that all encompassing term. However, nerds are as diverse as the number of stars in the sky. But the human mind is limited and can only see what it can perceive. That’s where these women come in.

“The archetype of the nerd was always this skinning white dude, but we’ve all been nerds all of our lives. It’s not like we’re just coming out and people are like ‘Oh, snap! Black people suddenly like nerdy stuff.’ That’s definitely not the case. A lot of us were living our nerdy lives kinda isolated,” said Connie Gibbs. “Now with the power of social media we’re able to band together. That makes our voices louder. We, Black Girl Nerds, have been doing this for various amounts of time but here we are on the same panel. Our voices are now louder than they were two or three years ago. We’re now coalescing like ‘Hey, we don’t think this is okay.’ Right now they’re creating a boycotting campaign against the show that the Game of Thrones showrunners want to create that ask the question ‘What if the Confederates won the Civil War and Slavery never ended?’  Before we may not have the power to protest that because we would have been more isolated. That’s why we’re seeing more of a change.  All these groups like Black Girl Nerds and Nerds of Color, they’re all separate entities that know how to come together to amplify our voices.”

“There was this stereotype of what the geek was. Like, ‘Family Matters’ had (Urkl) who was clumsy and uncoordinated, socially awkward…like, a really annoying version of a geek and a nerd. I feel like in the past few years there has been this shift in the appreciation of the fact that you don’t have to be a bumbling, super smart, uncoordinated, suspenders-wearing, really annoying version of a geek,” said Augustine of Black Girl Nerds.

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“You can be smart, you can have a certain fandom that you’re into and as fandoms are growing I think people are realizing, ‘Hey, there’s not just this one type of person who enjoys Dr. Who. There’s all these other people.’  I think, once we start to grow as a community, opening up and using social media and connect with individuals who have the same interests that’s when we begin seeing a shift in what a nerd looks like and realize that there is no true definition of what a nerd looks like. It’s just a person who enjoys a certain thing or has an extreme interest or is part of a community that loves to express their love the exact same way.”

“I also feel like there was a big open space for is. There weren’t very many popular nerd sites that were covering anything to do with cosplayers of color or anything like that,” added moderator Valerie Complex.

“When BGN came out there was nothing else like it.  It became so popular because it reached a demographic that was pretty much untapped at the time. Now other people want a piece of the pie. Now it’s becoming a little bit more saturated, but that’s not a bad thing. You can never have enough sites targeting marginalized communities. Flame Con is a thing now, dealing with nerds who are LBGTQ. Blerd City is a thing, which may not have been a thing two or three years ago. So, I think it’s very important to remember the demographic and why it’s changing. It’s changing because we’re here and we’re a big demographic to target.”

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“Answering your question about whether emerging Blerd spaces possibly creates a hostile environment for white journalists, I’m going to be honest, I don’t care. Here’s why, there have been many a time where we have had marginalized journalists feel uncomfortable just existing.  Not because they were doing anything but because they were just trying to do their job, and they were one of the few,” said Val.

“Val mentioned about how Black Girl Nerds opened up this untapped space, but it’s still a problem today. Me and Kay-B are going to the Toronto International Film Festival. We’re one of just four black publications covering it,” Childs said. “In Toronto, a large platform like that in a city as black as Toronto. It’s 2017, we have all these nerd sites, but none of them are getting the accreditation that they need. It’s still an issue, still something that we’re constantly facing. We’re seeing this across the board. So, for white journalists to now feel uncomfortable because their voices are not the loudest in the room sounds like a personal problem.  And that’s the truth.”

Black Girl Nerds was founded by Jamie Broadnax and features a stable of writer, journalists, bloggers and thinkers who contribute to the overall BGN website, social media platforms and editorial offerings and has had a great influence on helping black nerd culture differentiate itself from mainstream ideology. 

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