The Secret Fight of the Black-Girl Nerds

The Internet has allowed an underserved community to unite, but no amount of magic or fantasy erases the racism and sexism they face in the pursuit of their unconventional passions.  

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“Everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never heard of her,’” Broadnax said. “[And] some of those people were comic book illustrators and editors. Somebody has got to put it out there that these characters exist ... White content creators, they just don’t know that diversity is an issue. When you’re surrounded by people that look like you, it’s easy to write content and publish information that speak to fandoms that affect you and your environment, and diversity may not always be a part of that.”

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Ashlee Blackwell (second from right) discussing horror and horror fandom at a film screening she curated back in February 2014.

Courtesy of Ashlee Blackwell 

However, even when the diversity issue is drawn to the attention of content producers, Broadnax said, they sometimes still refuse to address or acknowledge it.

“It’s obvious that people are telling you, ‘Hey, you need to change this,’ and you’re still keeping things very vanilla,” she said. “It’s a battle that I fight ... every day. And it’s good to be on the flipside in this space because now I can serve to these pockets of diversity that you don’t get to see on a mainstream level.”

For Blackwell’s particular fandom, it is the misogyny that feels much more prevalent. A particular gripe of hers is when she says white males attempt to undermine her commentary because, as she puts it, “[They say], ‘How could you as a black woman know about these hardcore scary movies?’”

While managing negative respones like these, she also focuses her attention on spreading the word about things like the fact that black women have been present in classic horror films from the very beginning. “It’s really about celebrating and highlighting these black women [horror actors] who are overlooked at conventions because of their skin color. Who are overlooked even on podcasts,” Blackwell said of her blog. “We’re never even the women discussed. ... It’s really frustrating to me to not hear the people who are so jazzed about horror even talk about [black women].”

Of course, that is not to say that these self-proclaimed nerdy black girls haven’t had great experiences. They proudly celebrate their immensely supportive and diverse reader bases. But that positivity is dampened when they go on to mention the aggressions, micro or otherwise, that they’ve experienced or heard friends talk about. Nor are they naive about the situation they face in the space as black women.

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Ashlee Blackwell and cosplayer 

Courtesy of Ashlee Blackwell

“Mainstream culture has got to catch up,” Broadnax told The Root. “Our subculture is more than the progressive. Unfortunately, when things get crossed over to mainstream, which is usually white, then all of a sudden there’s a problem with diversity or gender.”  

A prime example was the recent announcement that Sam Wilson (aka the Falcon), who is black, will be the new Captain America. “When race swapping happens—which happens in comic books all the time—when these comic book characters become mainstream and are movie stars, essentially, it’s all of a sudden a problem,” Broadnax said.

Despite all this, black-girl nerds say they’re here to stay.

“The universal answer is to not feel alone, even when you do,” Blackwell said. “No matter what your passion, there’s always going to be a community out there for you.”

“We exist, we’re not unicorns, we don’t live somewhere in a castle or far, faraway land in folklore somewhere,” Broadnax said. “We’re here and there’s a lot of us. It’s a huge community and we’re crushing stereotypes because of it. There are plenty of women out there like you, who are willing to support you.”

Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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