There has been a revival of the blerd complaint circling the internet sphere for the past week or so. The idea that black boy nerds are being left behind by the black community, and thus end up dating white women has been mapped onto Childish Gambino, whose popularity and blackness is apparently being contested because of “This is America.” Black girl nerds have made it clear that niggas are pulling the same shit, and at much higher functional levels of abandonment. What I’m most interested in though, isn’t the kind of automatic misnomers against monolithic blackness or the deconstructive gallops being taken to link someone’s art to who they’re sleeping with. I’m mostly worried about the idea that this is primarily wrapped up around dating, i.e. person X likes person Y and gets turned down because because person X is too much of a nerd and the threshold for cool, as we all know, is high as shit in the black community.
I’m glad that now, I see more little black kids frolicking around with their Yugioh cards and handheld games and what have you, but I can’t help but be terrified for them, to include my own son. That’s because being a nerd was not about being unable to get a date when I was a kid, that shit was quite plainly about torture.
In middle school I was sitting at a table in the library during lunch playing Pokemon cards, because the lunch room wasn’t very safe. All the nerds knew the lunch room wasn’t very safe. Despite this, I should have sat even further away from the door from which you enter the lunch room because in the midst of a game, a group of three girls walked in just past the door, where this girl named T– hog spit in my face and called me a “skinny little faggot.” Then they all giggled and ran out of the door and down the stairs. I responded the way I always did. I froze, keeping completely still and pretended nothing had happened while everyone stared at me, waiting for it to be over. It never was of course, so eventually I would cry, before getting up and just leaving school. It was the same in elementary school, and the same for most of high school.
This happened all the time. Neither slurs or subject matter was limited: Anime, Yoyos, video games, you name it, it could get you snatched, smacked and ridiculed by black peers. Sometimes it was a boy who did it (they preferred slaps to the back of the head, and replaced “skinny” with “nerdy,” and so I do think there is an interesting way these adjectives/performances can be unpacked based on gender and its relationship to the body). And it wasn’t even always me who got assaulted. There were fewer nerdy girls–mostly because nerdom is mad rapey, toxic and masculine onto itself, which is definitely a whole other post–but they got trashed too, though often in more sly, emotionally abusive ways. Some of the most vile moments in my life were watching someone else get spit on, slapped, kicked, punched, or their tray tossed and being happy about it. Happy that it wasn’t me that day, at that time.
This did lead me to become very aggressive by the time I was in high school, sometimes to the point where it increased the risk to my own life. I’ll never forget Clarence pulling me back while I was threatening to murder some nigga over absolutely nothing; I can’t even remember what he said or did, though he would have probably killed me.
That most of the students in the schools I went to were black and brown, were all poor, were all performing to belong to something, to have something, is not lost on me. The fact that none of this was ever an accident is not lost on me either. Nor is the fact that the white nerd kids had comparatively boundless freedom with their identities and families, and therefore more space. What I do know, is that the experience itself was painful enough to matter beyond the events, and has been my primary mode of existence during the developmental phase of my life. I know that for most of the time afterwards it has made me more apprehensive than I should have been about black spaces and black people. I know that I have rarely crossed the street for some white boy, and if I did it was not to avoid danger, but annoyance. I know that sometimes this pain appears in unexpected places, like if I witness someone getting teased out of their alternative lifestyle in any way shape or form. Sometimes it arrives in the barbershop when I’m getting my hair cut and some nigga, all grown now with a backwards cap on strolls in like we don’t know each other, but looks me in the eyes anyway and my neck and ears get hot and I’m suddenly frustrated and begging for him to say something to me, apologetic or otherwise so I can denigrate him with all the pretentious righteousness of that white liberal deep inside me.
The most painful though, I think, is when I’m forced to pretend that these things don’t happen, have never happened, and will never happen again. When, before the start of a conversation, such things are boiled down to the trite and highly problematic circumstance of romantic capitulation, which I had a difficult time finding the space to even conceptualize, let alone pursue. And even more so now, when grown black and brown men, women and gender non-conforming folks that I know are doing their best to love me, themselves, and each other offer immediate foreclosures and denials through the terms “man up” or “stop being a sissy” by another, more subject position oriented name, whereby essentially, all of the responses from my mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle and grandfather are simply repeated with a superior, 21st century intellect, even when the ire is not directed at me anymore, it does in fact, still hurt. And I just don’t think that’s necessarily transformative, so I regularly have to un-think it with regards to myself and other people.
Of course, plenty of us have found each other now. Many of us who make it to adulthood, whether we’ve failed to kill ourselves or not have access to things we couldn’t have possibly imagined before: Online gaming, the internet, Comic Cons, shrinks, healthy relationships with people better than us, etc. And that is great. I’m all here for it, but unfortunately everybody didn’t make it to this point. Still others won’t.
Sometimes it’s fine though. And eventually I stopped being afraid of Jojo wearing that tight ass Pikachu hoodie to school, even when it was stained beyond repair. Turns out his friends loved it, and he didn’t seem to mind being called “Pikachu” instead of Joseph by some of them when they played out front with the dog. Either way, I don’t think I should ever forget why I was worried in the first place.