I was 6 years old when my mama educated me in the ways of saving princesses by touching flowers and shooting fireballs at turtles. Four years later, a kid in my class revealed a juicy bit of gossip: There were adult cartoons that aired way past our bedtimes.
I stayed up and discovered “Japan-imation” (or “Japanimation,” or simply “anime,” because ’90s kids never did settle on a name). My parents deemed it a violent smut-fest because of an animated movie in which a woman, after having sex, turned into a giant spider with a sharp-toothed vagina. Thanks, Wicked City.
Eventually, tamer programs hit the airwaves, and in high school, I was able to blow my retail-job money on Dragon Ball Z VHS tapes. It was chalked up as a weird but generally harmless hobby, and I became that quirky black girl who wrote fan fiction in Gundam Wing notebooks and schooled dudes in the ways of “Marvel vs. Capcom 2”—don’t @ me about my super fighting robot, Mega Man.
You’ve heard this story before: the tale of the lone black geek who gets ostracized by the black community for being too much Steve Urkel and not enough Stefan Urquelle. It ends with the black kid being labeled “white” and finding camaraderie among the white nerds who “don’t see color,” just Pokémon cards. And it’s not that this story isn’t true; my geek cred increased exponentially, thanks to a white girl who introduced me to conventions and cosplay. Sixteen years later, I’m still with that girl.
But even with this common narrative, there’s something we rarely, if ever, talk about, generally to avoid making our white nerd friends uncomfortable: that awkward moment you realize you’re too black for them.
Now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve become pretty vocal about the various issues that encompass my life. I’ve made some solid friendships through my body positivity and “It Gets Better” talks—then I started becoming more vocal about racial issues. Silly ol’ me thought that my white geek friends would be A-OK with it, since they’d supported everything else. I’m not talking about the ones who like your posts sometimes or say you should hang out (but you never do); I mean the other members of your Losers Club, the ones you don’t clean your house for, because y’all are that comfortable with one another.
The ones who supposedly embrace you because you’re “too white for the black kids.”
For me, it started simply enough: a question about why something was being perceived as racist.
“Isn’t painting your skin brown the same as slathering green on your face to be Piccolo?”
“What’s so wrong with the n-word if you use the ‘-ga’ version?”
“I don’t see the big deal, it’s just hair.”
I would give them the benefit of the doubt, even if several others before me had thoroughly answered these questions (or I’d answered a couple of them myself via think pieces). That’s what you do as a friend, right? And they weren’t being malicious, they just wanted to learn.
But then they wouldn’t have my back when their white friends decided to call me out my name on social media, knowing damn well that if a stranger attacked, they’d be in the comments ready to go to war. They were suddenly defending practices they didn’t even participate in—you’re not out here painting your skin brown, friendo—and you don’t say the n-word, right?
After exhausting arguments, I’d be reminded that I was the one making the studio audience sad for causing friction in the friendship, so I’d coddle them with #NotAllWhiteNerds, while they swore that they’d become better people—only to lather, rinse and repeat their problematic statements six months later as if they’d been zapped by the MIB pen.
But like a desperate-for-friendship fool, I stuck around, because I thought these were my nerd people. But over the years, with movements like #28DaysOfBlackCosplay, I had an epiphany: I was never the lone black kid. The first year of the movement was a chorus of, “Where have y’all been all my life?!” We’d embrace each other and say, “Right here.”
As I write this, I’m thinking about the black-girl-nerd story I’ve regurgitated ad nauseam. There are a couple of facts I’ve let get buried in the “I’m not like those other black girls” diatribe I subscribed to while growing up. I wasn’t swimming in popularity, but I have memories of playing hours of “Final Fantasy VII” with a few geeky, melanated brethren.
Beyond that, I had a handful of nongeeky black friends. Nerd-dom was just one aspect of my life—a large one, but still, just one. We’d laugh over Moesha and indulge in our crushes on the members of Immature—or IMx, if you got on the hype train late. Just because we didn’t have the likes of Toonami in common didn’t mean we weren’t friends, and it certainly didn’t mean I was alone.
It’s so nice when you click with people who share your strongest passions, right? But here’s the honest-to-goodness truth: It was never worth sacrificing my blackness. I can’t divide my identity to share only the parts of me that don’t make my Losers Club uncomfortable—and that’s exactly what I had done.
I spent a lot of 2017 cutting the worst offenders out of my life, because in the end, I realized you’re always gonna be too something for somebody. But what matters is being enough for yourself.