At the Intersection of Blackness and Nerdom
Being Black in amerikkka is scary.
It’s scary because white people are violent and dangerous as fuck. No bullshit cuz we’ve seen what they are capable of and how quickly they will default to killing anything they perceive as a threat, a list that includes my skin, my voice, my independence. White people have honed the skill of brutally murdering competition over hundreds of years, wielding a scythe of silence among those who would speak against them. Only now to watch their façade of civility crumble under the all-seeing eye of social media and information sharing.
Now they cling to the lies of their public relations teams and pretend their rot is still hidden.
It is my fear that has often kept me silent and complicit. I fight my fear to be seen and heard constantly. I know what happens to Black people who are seen as with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. I know what happens when too many Black people are visibly independent and self-sufficient as with Black Wall Street and the Philadelphia MOVE bombing. We know what happens to Black people who fight for liberation like the Black Panther Party, or dare to think they are equal to white people, as with Sandra Bland, Korrin Gaines, and Charleena Lyles. I’ve seen time and time again what happens to Black people in this country for daring to feel free.
Black freedom equals death.
But still, we try. We push for civil rights. We push for equity and equality. We fight for our friends, neighbors, children, strangers. We push back on white supremacy and patriarchy and ableism and sizeism, and sexuality and all the systems and structures that diminish us even when they cost us financially, socially, and eventually kill us, exactly as they were designed to do.
And one of the ways we push back is through the creation of Black spaces, including Black nerd spaces. Which brings us to BlerDCon.
Full transparency, I knew of BlerDCon before there was BlerDCon. Its creator, Hilton George reached out to a friend of mine about a year and a half ago to discuss the possibility of a Black nerd convention. My friends and I were invited to talk about the things we like about conventions and what he could do to make this into a real thing. He gathered information from us, told us that we’d be part of it. After the initial conversation, I tried to link him up with Jamie Broadnax of Black Girl Nerds because I knew BGN was talking about a Blerd convention online. That was when I learned that he’s already purchased the domain and obtained the social media handles for this event.
As you may have already figured out, they were unable to come to terms on working together, so now we have BlerDCon, run by Hilton George and his team, and Universal FanCon, created and managed by Black Girl Nerds and The Black Geeks.
From the beginning, BlerDCon was problematic. The con was marketed as “exclusively inclusive” which sounded great 18 months ago, but since then, the conversation on racism and inclusion grew more nuanced in the public eye. Instead of continuing to center whiteness in our work and day-to-day operations, we saw Black people actively enforcing Black-only spaces. And while there was backlash, the need for these spaces became more and more obvious and attainable.
Sometimes we forget that the right to congregate was illegal. That this was forbidden in the slave codes and Jim Crowe laws. We forget that Black protests are met by police in riot gear, while pussy hats protests get photo ops with cops. We forget, or are never taught, that Black centered existence is something impermissible in white supremacy and that is circumvented by quietly congregating in spaces of white indifference. But creating a Black space amid geek culture, a notoriously white, patriarchal space? That is defiance. That is creating your own space. Naming an event “BlerDCon” means standing in the face of white geekdom and saying “Fuck you. We’re here and fuck you for trying to erase us.” And BlerDCon sounded beautiful…until you read the subtext of the convention: “exclusively inclusive.”
Linguistically, “BlerDCon: Exclusively Inclusive” states that the event is exclusively inclusive of all Black nerd identities – be them gender non-conforming, differently abled, varied sexualities…all Black marginalized identities. And that is how Black people interested in the event read it. But that’s not how the creators marketed the event. I get it – we live in a white supremacist, capitalist system which tells us that centering whiteness is the norm and the only way to succeed. As a convention needs money to function, how can one make money on an event that doesn’t include whiteness?
Popular media would suggest this isn’t possible, but we’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. All it takes is commitment and a good product to change it. Unfortunately, BlerDCon doesn’t have that commitment to Blackness, as evidenced by Hilton’s “anyone can be a Blerd” comment at MomoCon this year. In 2015, you may have been able to get away with that. In 2017, you need to be Black and proud or sit the fuck down. Even though we still live in a time where demanding Black-only spaces is deemed radical and punished by white people…punished by laws enforcing white supremacy, we’re still creating and re-creating our spaces. We’re still defining ourselves without using the lens of our oppression. We are learning to let ourselves be carefree and joyous, despite being bombarded with messaging telling us we aren’t allowed.
BlerDCon should be the big “fuck you” to white male nerd supremacy but this “all lives matter” approach is undermining that message. It’s a shame because it was a good event. Marketing aside, I really enjoyed BlerDCon. The cosplay was fierce, many of the artists and vendors were Black, and the panels were both timely and relevant. And while I didn’t attend many of the panels, the ones I did attend were run by and focused on Black people. The panelists created spaces for Black people to talk about our experiences without worrying about offending white people. Almost every Black person I spoke with said they found the convention to be cathartic and what they needed to celebrate their Black nerdiness. That is quite an accomplishment.
Black joy and Black love should not be a side-effect of this convention; it should be the intent. That it’s not makes me sad because it is so clearly desired and needed. But if the organizers won’t say BlerDCon is a Black nerd con and instead insist on promoting it as an all-nerd con, then this convention is not a safe space for Black nerds. It will be a watered-down, hybrid convention that continues to pander to white supremacy at the expense of Blerds. And the organizers will justify the harm done to the Blerd community as the price of this “Black space” being allowed to exist. And it will continue to dismiss the concerns of Blerds who still felt marginalized in a space that they thought was designed with them as the priority.
BlerDCon doesn’t have to be this way. We deserve a space for us, by us, that’s not afraid to BE us.
Just as an FYI – There are more Black-focused conventions. Some of them feel like I’m not Black enough to attend but then I go and have a great time. Here’s a short list of the ones I know: