The Problem With the Rise of the Black Nerd

Comedian Baratunde Thurston (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

The Root DC's Clinton Yates argues that the "blerd" label reinforces the ridiculous stereotype that black folks have nothing but cool to offer and that anything else is a departure from blackness.

… [W]hile listening to NPR the other day (public radio nerd!) I came across something new to me: the black nerd. In the story, journalist Eric Deggans described how he felt like his existence in this 'blerd' world was a shame to him, prior to recently. The rise of the black nerd is upon us. Unite! …

 In a certain sense, you could call me a nerd. I volunteered in high school at a Star Wars (sci-fi nerd) Smithsonian exhibit. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks nerd?) movie lines. And I read Wired (nerd nerd!). But, if I was Asian, would I be a nerd? Or just another guy? It's not unusual to embrace stereotypes sometimes if used as a term of self-empowerment, but in this case, I think it's a step backwards.

I realize that for large part, most of these labels are harmless fun. But as a matter of course, it would be nice if we could look at ourselves as a little more than just a collection of cool cats and tech dorks. The 'blerd' label unfortunately reinforces both the ridiculous stereotypes that black folks have nothing but cool to offer and that anything else is a departure from blackness.

Look at Baratunde Thurston for example. The author of 'How to be Black', who blows up the theory of postracialism in his book. Or Issa Rae, who created the Awkward Black Girl series. Both of them are highly accomplished and admirable individuals. But they're thrown right in to that 'black nerd' cubbie, seemingly just because they don't say, make music.

I also hope the rise of the black nerd stereotype doesn't make kids/young people feel like they suddenly have to start fitting in with black nerds to feel like they're allowed to enjoy so-called nerd things.


Read Clinton Yates' entire piece at The Root DC.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

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