Opinion: Rise of the black nerds

Bruce Walton

Bruce Walton

Bruce Walton is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

While watching the news this week, I came across CNN discussing the topic of how black nerds, or “blerds” — a term I despise — are becoming recognized and well-liked in pop culture. As a black nerd, I was proud to hear how my people were no longer being ridiculed or ignored. Obviously, I am black first and a nerd second, but both define me so much they almost become a singular identity.

When I am talking about nerds, I don’t mean people that play video games from time to time. When I mean nerds, I mean people who have an almost obsessive interest in strangely specific things, are highly intellectual and most of the time introverted.

Both nerds and African Americans have been very unpopular in America, only recently having made great strides of popularity in the last few decades. Only now, going into the new decade, have Americans who are both black and nerds become popularized.

As CNN has said, more role models who are black nerds are seen in American culture as well. Popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, comedian and “Community” actor Donald Glover and President Barack Obama are all prime examples of popular black nerds. The greatest milestone in black nerd-dom was the election of Obama, who was a great role model to black youths to do well in school, speak proper English and get a better education.

While growing up as a child in Cincinnati, children would ask me why I “talked white,” but my mom told me to say that I just “spoke proper.” While many black kids in school acted out in class and were playing basketball and rap, I was very docile in class, and loved kickball and Pokemon.

Others had similar interest as well but were white; I didn’t really see much of a difference, but others made sure I did see it. Many would call me “Oreo” — black on the outside, white on the inside — or just call me white. I can laugh it off now, but it truly bothers me that speaking proper English and doing well in school would make anyone think those would be exclusive characteristics of white people.

Then I moved to northern Ohio in Mayfield and attended a high school that was predominantly white. Many white students there had told me they had never had a deep interaction with another black person before in their whole lives. Because of this, those students treated me as they had observed black people in media and films: as “gangstas” from the ghetto that love rap and talk a certain way. Many were surprised at how I talked and what I liked, which was so different from the stereotype.

I felt alienated wherever I went at first, but because of my nerdy interests, I soon found nerdy circles that I made strong bonds with immediately. In those circles, I found other black nerds like myself, and because of them and white nerds, they encouraged me to be myself in front of others that found my interests especially strange for my race, because I know who I am, and I know what I like, and society is beginning to recognize that too.