Monday, August 15, 2011

We Like Black Nerds

I never really fit into any group that I was around. I was a tall, lanky, freckle-faced white dude with a Puerto Rican grandmother in a predominately Puerto Rican and black neighborhood. And I couldn't speak a lingua of Spanish. I liked comic books and weird alternative rock music while my neighbors were into (though I'm not sure how much they liked) gang-banging and surviving.

Yet, I had friends throughout school. And, more importantly to me, I was able to pass through all the different cliques and hang with them for short periods of time - but I never really fit in.

That's what being a nerd is about. Not fitting in.

Even if you're going to a high school full of other intellectual nerds, but you still don't necessarily fit in (though, thank goodness, you're not necessarily picked on or bullied... excessively), then you're definitely a nerd.

A nerd is those of us who like things that other people surrounding us don't care for - crime novels, comic books, sci-fi movies, music from other cultures, role-playing, obscure music, blogs, games, out-of-fashion clothes - and who have a certain affinity and familiarity with one or more of the above, and are at least a bit socially awkward. That's the essence of being a nerd.

And that's okay.

It gets better.

Honestly, nobody really cares about that after high school, unless your work environment or social circle is a lot like high school. But one thing we do care for is black nerds. By "we" I mean, of course, "White People". As in, "Stuff White People Like." Which is, honestly, a small portion of most white folk; it's those of us who got our degrees in the social sciences, who listen to public radio, who are not just urbanized but cosmopolitan (or at least that's how we like to think of ourselves), who shop at Whole Foods and wrestle over fair trade jeans.

It must be. Because I know it's not just me who is fascinated with black nerds.

We like Chris Rock. Though, as one of my best friends pointed out this week, no black people find him funny. He went to all-white schools.

We listen to Larry Wilmore semi-scarily lecture Jon Stewart about what black people are like and what they like. But he's a complete nerd.

We watch Spike Lee movies, and we may give him some credit when he speaks. But we're never quite sure. Again, nerd. Glasses, lanky, the whole bit.

Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are also complete nerds - but I love them. Even though a new Facebook friend called them sell-outs (not because they're nerds. But because they regularly diss President Obama in the hopes, she believes and it seems justified, to sell books).

And then there's Hannibal Buress. Whom I adore.

And he's from Chicago's South Side. But he couldn't make it in the South Side of Chicago. He had to travel up to our North Side, with the white audiences who appreciate slower comedy styles. And - let it be said - black nerds.

My most recent thoughts on all things black and nerdy was prompted by this post by Honoree Fanone Jeffers and a day spent in awe of Buress, the Awkward Black Girl webisodes, and, to a lesser extent, Donald Glover.

Of course, the black nerd is more than just some link between us white tote-bagging, shared-transit, This American Life-listening nerds and the black populace (Exotic Other). It's not that they connect with us white nerds because they're somehow less black. But rather, we connect with them because we see us in them - someone who's been rejected by their peers, who was denied an identification, but who has turned to (either as a result or as a causation factor) books and obscure pop culture references for escape and comfort and belonging.

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