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A Message From Black Geeks to the Cool People Who Now Call Themselves “Nerds”

By Michael Harriot

For too long, my people have been oppressed. We will take it no longer.

We are not angry about how you abused us, made fun of us and treated us like outcasts for years. We aren’t even upset at how your people laughed in our faces and behind our backs. What we are upset about is that, because times have changed, you want to steal our culture. Now that it is cool to look and act like one of us you want to appropriate our very essence and pretend that you weren’t the ones who called us names and spat in our faces. We remember, and we will take it no longer. We are tired of you taking our culture and acting as if you are a part of it because society has finally accepted us as mainstream.

We, the Black geeks and nerds, do not appreciate your shenanigans.

As a matter of fact, we don’t even like you using the word “shenanigans.” That was one of our words. There was once a time when anyone using that word could be forced into isolation and removed from society with finger-pointing and derision. Now “shenanigans” is a thing. It is emblematic of how “you people” steal from us and act as if it’s okay. Being a Black nerd is more difficult and different from any other form of geekdom because there are no pockets of acceptance. It is an empty, vacuous existence of weird looks, dismissiveness and “what-the-fuck-is-this-nigga-talmbout?”

Back in the days of segregation, you didn’t want us around. Because of the societal hate, you wouldn’t even play with us on the playgrounds at recess. I lived in those times. I remember when people like me weren’t even allowed in the same classrooms with you. In those days of intellectual apartheid they would even test us, and if we were found to have even a little bit of the nerd gene, they would put us in special classes. I think they called it the “.1 drop rule.” We had a dream that one day little Black boys and little Black girls would hold hands with little nerd boys and little nerd girls, but now we don’t want to live the dream.

Now, everyone wants to be a nerd. Now the cool kids have appropriated all of our traits. Big glasses have become chic. Wearing your older cousin’s worn out t-shirt is now called “vintage style.” The history books have been rewritten to change the narrative on this subtle civil war that you carried out on those of us who played chess during recess, saved money in bitcoin and owned a pair of 8-sided dice. Now everyone who was on the AB honor roll and read a couple of comic books says they were a “nerd” or a “geek”  when they were young.

Stop it.

I know that’s what you and your people do. You have lived a life of privilege so long that you don’t even recognize when you are gentrifying our culture with your tomfoolery. You are not a Black nerd. You do not get to waltz through those doors as if Captain Montgomery Scott has beamed you into the world of Negro geekdom without paying the price and bearing the full burden. You see that? You know how I know Scotty from Star Trek‘s real name? (And no, I did not Google that.) Because I’m a real nerd, motherfucker, not one of you make-believe nerd Rachel Dolezals who don’t know the difference between The Enterprise’s transporter and a teleportation device (It’s actually a pretty interesting lesson in Quantum physics, but you wouldn’t know that, would you?)

Now all of the cool kids want to reinvent their pasts and call themselves nerds. I blame the internet. You’re not. How do I know? Because, as a nerd, I am endowed with the power to recognize my kind just like a Black person can tell another Black person over the telephone.  I bet you’ve never pondered the existential nerd questions like:

  • Why do I have to show my work in this calculus class when it’s obvious I can do the derivatives and functions in my head?
  • Why doesn’t Superman get a suit made out of lead to block the effects of Kryptonite?
  • Did Han shoot first? (And if you don’t know what that means–I told you you weren’t down.)
  • Would you rather be able to become a Super Saiyan or Evolve?
  • How come the X-Men never sent a letter of recruitment to the Hulk?

You think you’re a Black nerd, but you’re not. I bet you and your high school friends did cool things like play sports, attend cool house parties and enjoy normal conversations. I bet you’ve never even felt the simultaneous honor and fear of having someone cheat off your test. I bet you never had to tutor a football player and think he was your friend until… never mind. Just answer this question:

Who did you take to the prom?

WRONG ANSWER!

That was a trick question. Nerds don’t go to proms, you idiot!

I blame all of this cultural appropriation on Steve Jobs and Chris Hardwick. Chris Hardwick ain’t no motherfucking nerd! He might’ve been one of the kids who was kinda nice to the nerds and didn’t cram them inside a locker (by the way, the inside of a locker is not that bad. It’s kinda cramped, but if you don’t panic, you can take a nice nap in there).

So, now that being a Black geek has gone mainstream, don’t become the Macklemore of nerd shit. We are laughing at you like when we see White people trying to do the Wobble.

Until you have seriously contemplated what you would do with the awesome responsibility of owning a light saber
If you don’t remember most of the Black people from high school because you were segregated as the only Black dude in all the honors and AP classes
If you never worried about breaking your glasses because they were so thick that it would take more than the 9.8 meters per second squared (again, I didn’t Google that) fall to concrete to shatter them
Unless you once organized a lucrative, illegal candy-selling ring on your middle school’s campus and spent all of the profits on Mad Magazines (Yes, I did that, I called it La Candy Nostra)…

Then you are just another Black motherfucker who likes Iron Man movies and got decent report cards. Stop referring to yourself as a Black nerd.

We call “shenanigans.”

 

 

About the author

Michael Harriot is a renowned spoken word poet, the host of The Black One podcast and the editor-in-chief of NegusWhoRead. He is perpetually just getting warmed up because he has no chill. He is on Instagram and twitter as @michaelharriot