“Blerds”: The Rise of the Black Nerd Movement

“Obama, Obama, Obama!” could be the chant heard at any of the President’s rally’s, or it could the chant heard from a burgeoning group of young blacks who chose Barack Hussein Obama–graduate of Columbia University and Harvard, intelligent yet undeniably cool–as the leader of their movement. That group of young blacks is the black nerds–or, “blerds”.

Identity as a self-proclaimed nerd has traditionally been associated with whiteness. Ron Eglash, in his paper “From Black Geeks to Asian American Hipsters,” succinctly explains why a widespread cultural affiliation with the nerd identity has been absent from African American culture: “The development of technological expertise requires not only financial resources but also cultural capital.” Until recently, the overwhelmingly vast majority of blacks simply did not have access to the financial resources or the cultural capital that would allow them to participate in geek culture. This inability to gain a foothold within nerd/geek culture is slowly changing, for several reasons.

Being Black and Being A Nerd Wasn’t Always This Easy

Black nerd/geek Erika Peterman wrote about her experience as a black female nerd for CNN. Growing up, Peterman always knew and celebrated her nerd identity, yet it wasn’t so easy to let her nerd flag fly in public. “By pre-adolescence, I had internalized a lot of ideas about what it meant to be black, from the music to listen to, to the people to hang out with, to the hobbies to practice. It didn’t matter that the rules were bogus or perpetuated by people who were insecure about their own identities,” said Peterman. “All I knew was that my unintentional eccentricity played a role in making me a target, and not in the general you’re-a-dork way but the you’re-a-dork-and-you’re-too-white way.”

By the time Peterman reached college, the love of all things nerdy and geek (particularly a love of comic books that had been fed by her mother) was almost fully subdued and revealed only to those Peterman felt wouldn’t ridicule her: “By the time I went off to a historically black university in the late 1980s, I decided that my geekier tendencies were best shared on a very limited basis. I didn’t go to college so much to find myself as to be more like the person I thought I ought to be. Only my closest friends really knew the girl underneath the sorority jersey was a raging nerd who would take ’60s pop over new jack swing any day.”

While bored one night in February 2012, Jamie Broadnax decided to google the term “black girl nerds” and when nothing came up in the world’s largest search engine she decided to take action and created the website Black Girl Nerds.

Jamie Broadnax

Jamie Broadnax

In the About section of the site Black Girl Nerds, Broadnax explains that she decided on the name “because the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is somewhat of an anomaly.”

While the internet was still in its infancy, black geek Anita Brown was there. Ms. Brown was the founder and chairman of Black Geeks Online, a nonprofit community organization based on the internet. Using her “Miss DC” and “Black Geeks” brands and using e-mail as “push technology” Ms. Brown sought to get people of color involved in the creation of technology and software for the internet. From it’s beginning in 1995 to November 1999, the community that Ms. Brown founded grew into a movement which included 25,000 registered members on the site.

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