Any whole-hearted pop culture fan knows that the end of summer is convention season. Everything from E3 to San Diego Comic-con, and every other con in between usually pops up around the end of July. No matter your poison, whether or not you’re into video games, comics, anime, or sci-fi, as a black person, it has become very apparent that in the past 10 years, there has been a rise in black nerd culture. Lately, whether it’s a video on Facebook of guys dancing as Power rangers, an in depth discussion on which Dragon Ball Super character is the most OP, or an interest in the discussions and lectures of Neil Degrasse Tyson, more and more black people, kids especially, are becoming more open socially about their interests in entertainment, literature, and even academics. But Believe it or not, this wasn’t always a social norm.
Whenever there’s a conversation about or among black nerd culture, there’s this elephant in the room. An often unspoken term that most black nerds have heard spoken by pears and family alike. “Acting White”. For most black kids in the past, this is a very damming and haunting term used often by other black people as a brand of uncomfortable unfamiliarity. But to better understand a poison, it helps to know where it comes from.
Jenee Desmond Harris wrote an article for vox in 2017, “The myth about smart black kids and “acting white” that won’t die”. In the article, she mentions that in the 1980’s, professor John Ogbu performed a study on high students in Washington D.C. in which students saw academic achievement as ‘white”. While the article touches on this validity of the study, there is another form that this monster takes that isn’t really touched on. Many black kids hear the term “acting white” much closer to home than you’d expect. There are plenty of horror stories amongst black nerds of hearing from there piers and family, terms like “ acting white” or “doing white people shit” or worst of all, being called an “oreo”. For those that don’t know, oreo refers to how, like the cookie, someone is black on the outside and white on the inside.
There’s a list put together by Aaron Barksdale for the Huffington post about relatable experiences shared amongst black nerds. It might not be an official list, but for a black nerd , some if not all the experiences sound familiar. However, there are 3 experiences on the list that need to be pointed out. Number 1, Your white friends have said “you’re only technically black”. As if to say if your interests dictate your ethnicity. Number 5, having to code-switch for different friend groups. Basically having to create if not learn a 2 different forms of speaking to not scare off the people you either share interests with, or people who share cultural familiarity with. finally , number 6, accused of acting white by other people of color. Somehow we keep coming back to this topic. Unfortunately there are people of color out there that behave as if there is this checklist every black person has to pass in order to be considered black.
It’s hard to swallow that this is an issue that should be taken seriously, but it is. This is an issue even brought up by past president Barack Obama while delivering a speech at the Walker Jones Education campus.
With an experience so universally share by one culture, you have to ask, why do we feel the need to treat our fellow people of color this way. The answer however isn’t so simple. It’s a common belief that there is a fear amongst black youths to express themselves or explore their own interests. The “American Psychological Association” published a piece by Aubrey Harrison entitled “Black Males Don’t Cry” in which he touches on his experience with emotional vulnerability.
“I played the part of a tough, non-emotional black male. I couldn’t show any type of vulnerable emotion, and I definitely couldn’t cry.” -Aubrey Harrison
There is a belief that opening up and expressing interests or emotion is, or atleast is looked at as a sign of weakness amongst people of color. “It’s funny to think about how much the culture around you influences your perceptions of what you can and cannot do.” -Aubrey Harrison.
Maybe this fear of self expression, or viewing someone else enjoying their interests causes some people to automatically feel the need point out the unfamiliarity of that person’s behavior. Seeing that nerd culture is most often associated with white people, Coming full circle, black nerds too often are accused of “acting white”.
Despite all that has been traversed here, this article wasn’t meant to wag a finger of disapproval. This was meant to cause a conversation amongst people of color Although we still have some work to do, progress has been made as of late. Many organizations have been made in an attempt to educate the general public on bullying. Companies like Cartoon Network continuously push anti bullying conversations, but as people of color, we need to have our own conversation. Someone’s ethnicity shouldn’t be dictated by outdated stereotypes or someone else’s uncomfortable fear of the unknown. Hopefully, if we can talk about this amongst each other, we can come to an understanding as a people that its ok to open up. Its ok to express one’s self and try new things, or take an interest in something. Hopefully this leads to seeing more black nerds in the future.