After thirty seven years I recently came out of the closet as a blerd. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, blerd is a black nerd. Now you may wonder how is it possible for someone to be a blerd for thirty seven years and fail to recognize it. Well, just try and imagine yourself in my shoes as I attempt to explain.
I was a young black kid born in the black section of Milwaukee Wisconsin in the eighties. As I was being brought up I followed in my older brother’s footsteps and gravitated to the same things they were interested in. It was the age of He-Man action figures, Thunder Cats, breakdancing, painters caps, fat laces, nyolaters (the hard fruit candy ‘now and later’), iron on t-shirts, Voltron and transformers. I was bussed out of the neighborhood to a school in the suburbs for kindergarten and first grade as part of a vouchers program. This is when I had my first contact with white people. Children have no concept of racial inequality so although I was a brown spot on a canvas of white I wasn’t made to feel different by the other kids. I even had a white girlfriend which at that age basically meant I had a friend who was a white girl. We called ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend though. At that time, life for me didn’t seem complicated but all of that was soon to change.
Because of domestic violence my mother took us kids and fled to her hometown in Ohio called Fostoria. This small town which the last time I checked had a population of 15,000 people is where I was placed after being uprooted from the city. The environment and culture of this agricultural town was in stark contrast to our previous surroundings. I had never before seen real life farm animals. The locals used to get a kick out of the reactions of my siblings and I to seeing real cows and chickens for the first time. It was in my primary years that the first signs of blerdhood began to surface. Unlike Milwaukee (probably because we were too young to care) the kids in Fostoria were well aware of the differences in race. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a fact, like the sky is blue and water’s wet. It was here that I for the first time heard the chant: “A fight. A fight. A nigger and a white. If the white don’t win, we all jump in.” The kids sang this song without thinking and with no animosity towards blacks. Many times it was two white kids fighting when they began to sing it. Once I was with a group of kids and they didn’t realize until they were halfway into the song that I might be offended by the lyrics. In primary school I was always the only black kid in my class, so I stood out. Over time something else started to cause me to stand out. I began developing a firmer grasp on scholastic matters than my peers which made some kids begin to dislike me.
A new word emerged in our society that promised to define an entire class of people in a humorous way. The 1984 movie “Revenge of the Nerds” defined this group of misfits with even more detail. It didn’t take long for my peers to realize that I fit in with this group but only I wasn’t white. You had to be white at that time to succinctly be referred to as a nerd. Nevertheless I ran from the label and did anything I could to pretend to fit in. I tried to dress according to what the other kids considered cool though my family never had much money. Everyone in my family wore glasses and I was no exception. I had thick coke bottle lenses without which I was nearly blind. It was obvious that I was trying to be something that I wasn’t but so was everyone else at that age. Besides, there still was no clear label that my schoolmates could attach to me, that is until the ABC/CBS sitcom “Family Matters” came onto the scene and the world was introduced to the character “Steve Urkel”. With the introduction of Urkel into pop culture the black nerd icon was complete. It didn’t help that I looked a little bit like the character especially to those who think all blacks look alike anyways.
Around this time (89-98) I went into jr high or middle school where the town’s minority students became more concentrated as all the primary schools bottle necked into one building for 6-8th grade. In the nineties black awareness was in full swing. Minority kids wore Cross Colors, Karl Kani and Tommy Hilfiger. It was then that I was made aware of a new fact. Something that was always as clear to me as the sky’s blue and water’s wet was now up for interpretation. My blackness was now being questioned. Because of my diction I was told I speak like a white person which I should of been offended by because these people were insinuating that black people can’t be intellectual and speak with good diction. I was in fact offended, but for a different reason. I wanted to be black. I wanted to fit in with the other minorities. I wanted to be able to use the word ‘nigga’ naturally. The Ebonics word always got stuck in my throat when I tried to use it. I decided I would need to make a drastic change. I gradually allowed my grades to slip and I gravitated towards minority kids with behavioral problems. It took me a while to be accepted into their clique but they did eventually accept me perhaps out of compassion. I was still a blerd but I was trying to pretend I was a hip hop gangster. This new phase I was going through brought with it the animosity society directs towards rebels but didn’t bring with it the romanticism that attracts many to the bad boy persona. I was secretly seen as not quite genuine throughout my high school years. I was the not so Great Gatsby.
As I get older I find myself caring less about what people think about the real me. It’s not that I enjoy standing out or purposely do things to go against the grain but rather I now see the importance of having a clear sense of self. If I’m being myself and others have an aversion to me I no longer see the need to transform myself into something I’m not in order to gain their approval. One of my best friends said something to me recently that is both troubling and telling. I wrote some articles under a pen name and I don’t know if he even read them or not but he said “I don’t like this person”. He knew it was me that wrote the articles but he assumed that because I used a different name that I didn’t really believe in what I had written. He thought I wrote it for shock value. In reality they are my real thoughts though I’m sure he misunderstood them. “If he doesn’t like this person,” I thought, “In reality he doesn’t like me. In order to be liked by him I need to either change my inner feelings or hide them from him. Do I really need a friend like that?” As I get older I’m deciding more often than not that the answer is no. “That’s what I’ve done my entire life,” I realized, “and I don’t want to do it anymore. There has to be other people out there like me.” That’s when I came across the word ‘blerd’ while surfing online. I discovered that there is a whole community of black nerds just like me.