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.  

Jamie Broadnax (right) at Tidewater Comic Con 2014
Jamie Broadnax (right) at Tidewater Comic Con 2014 Courtesy of Jamie Broadnax 

The life of a “nerd” typically involves a certain amount of loneliness and other social challenges. Try being a black girl on top of that.

Sure, mainstream culture has its ways of portraying nerd-dom as trendy and cool (hello, The Big Bang Theory), but this treatment is generally reserved for men … most often white men. So it’s not uncommon for a young black girl who may be into comics, science fiction, horror or anime to ask herself, “Am I the only one? Is there something wrong with me?”

“As black women, just based off our gender and race, we do have two strikes against us,” said Jamie Broadnax, creator of BlackGirlNerds, an online community described as “a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are.”

“When I started my site, I typed ‘black girl nerds’ into Google and nothing came up, which was crazy to me,” Broadnax recalled. “There wasn’t any sort of online nerd-centric community that spoke to black women.”

Luckily, with the growth of the Internet and its accompanying social media platforms, it’s become much easier for women like her to discover that as nerds who happen to be black, and happen to be women, they aren’t alone.

“Social media has been a really great conduit for us to connect to each other,” said Broadnax. “We’ve always been around. Unfortunately, mainstream TV, film and media doesn’t really depict black people as being nerdy, but you’re seeing more of us prevalent now as opposed to five, 10, 20 years ago.”

Broadnax isn’t the only African-American woman who supports others in the embrace of interests and hobbies typically linked to geekiness. Ashlee Blackwell has created Graveyard Shift Sisters, a growing community for black women who are into horror.

“One of the reasons I started my website was because I told myself that I was not the only one,” Blackwell told The Root. “I didn’t like the fact that being a black woman was being totally excluded from a community that I loved so much, when we were there from pretty much the beginning.”

Broadnax added that through Twitter and podcasts, people have been able to “come into their own,” creating their own niches and circles to embrace their identities.

Of course, having a place to belong doesn’t mean that racism and misogyny magically cease to exist when you enter the nerd realm. The lack of diversity within the fandoms, as well as the lack of knowledge of black characters, is a much-discussed problem.

According to Broadnax, merchandise that fans buy from very popular mainstream nerd sites rarely include representations of characters of color, particularly female characters. This prompted her to start regularly spotlighting black female characters from comic books. When she focused on the first black female superhero, Butterfly, the reactions to the post amazed her.