William Chasterson on coming out of the closet as a #blerd

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. 

Blerd Links: 

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http://watercoolerconvos.com

http://africomics.com

http://blerdnation.com

77 thoughts on “William Chasterson on coming out of the closet as a #blerd”

  1. Great post, and a very nice photo πŸ™‚ People grumble about getting older but it’s true, our sense of self strengthens, and the more time passes the more we realise how transitory it all is, and don’t get so hung up on that other people think. Well, some of use, there are who are repressed until the end, but by the time I’m am old lady I’ll probably be riding around town on a pony dressed as Gandalf singing songs from the ‘Labyrinth’ soundtrack.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Hallo. I thought I found your blog from b101commons but not found you now. Sorry for garbled last comment I wasn’t drunk I promise! Your blogs really well organised and admirable. Many articles of note. If you’ve been blogging101 with us well done for your achievements. If not and marketing then it was great way to find your work. I’ll download your first installment later and save for a good read when able. Some of using b101 tag for ongoing alumni co-learn update posts. It’s not in use other than one or two so far so we’re grabbing it.
    Youre probably very busy with your stories and maybe no time for comments…so no worries. Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for reply πŸ™‚ I’ve just finished second run at b101 πŸ™‚ Was great way to find your blog and helpful in learning to as many unique blogs along the way as possible πŸ™‚ Your work looks amazing. I’m not a big or fast reader but your writing is high on my near future leisurely reading list πŸ™‚ Hope you have a great week and thanks again. Cheers πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As I look at my current friends who are all wholeheartedly nerds, I wonder where the hell they were when I was in high school. I knew I was never going to be one of cool kids but there isn’t a lot of street cred being the smart, spotty, computer geek girl…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi,
    I enjoyed your post. 1. I thought “Blerd” was funny. 2. I loved the movie “Revenge of the Nerds,” and it was fun to reminisce.
    I am Janice. I wrote the guest post for Sally about including social shares in your post. Thank you for liking my article on her site. Nice to meet you.
    Janice

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi again,
    I’m back to thank you for the blog follow! If you ever want to talk 1980 movies with me again, I am there! I love movie trivia.
    Now that we are officially acquainted, do you have a Pinterest account? If you send me your Email, I will invite you to join to pin to our blog group board. Thanks again,
    Welcome!
    Janice

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m happy you found my blog through the meet and greet (opinionated man, Jason) and I was able to connect with you on your blog. I enjoyed reading this post and I also grew up in the eighties. I am looking forward to learning more about you and reading your posts. Lastly, the brief mention of domestic violence in the home pulled at my heart strings because I myself can relate. My heart goes out to your mother, you, & your siblings.
    If you ever need anything I can always be reached at my email: jenmotivates12@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I just downloaded you book and shared with my friends to help get your publishing out there! I will follow up with you after reading it. Thanks for it the price. πŸ˜€
        Smart move, in my opinion to build your following.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. At the end of the day, you have to be comfortable in your own skin. If people can’t accept that, cast them out of your lives. I can understand about acting like a white person when you’re black because I used to get called posh in school because I didn’t speak like everyone else did. I’ve been called an “Oreo” in the past (black on the outside, white on the inside) and it affected me at first but then I realised that it was part of my personality and I couldn’t change myself, I embraced the fact that I was called an Oreo because I’m comfortable being me and by the looks of things, you seem to be comfortable with yourself as well, despite the negativity you’ve come across.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post! I don’t know if I would call myself 100% blerd, but it fits in there somewhere. Since middle school I was the artisty, hippy smart girl. For the most part people didn’t feel a type of way about it, I totally didn’t fit in, in high school. I don’t remember anyone making me feel bad for or it, maybe they did I spent most of my time day dreaming and writing so who knows lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You have been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award by http://saintpblogging.com.
    The Sunshine Blogger Award is a way for bloggers to get to know each other and also get other bloggers to connect with each other.
    The RULES of accepting the Sunshine Award are as follows:

    Acknowledge and thank the nominating blogger with a link to their website.
    Share 11 random facts about myself by answering the questions the nominating blogger has created for me.
    List 11 bloggers I believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love! (I can’t nominate the blogger who nominated me.)
    Let the 11 bloggers know I nominated them.
    Post 11 questions for the bloggers I nominate to answer.

    Questions for my nominees:
    1: Who are your favorite published authors?

    2: What did you want to grow up to accomplish in your life?

    3: What is your favorite holiday and why?

    4: If you got to choose your last meal in life, what would it be?

    5: What is your favorite temperature? Mine is negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

    6: Introvert or Extrovert?

    7: What are your favorite past times? Reading and writing are mine.

    8: What about yourself would you change if you could?

    9: What scares you the most? Claustrophobic, myself. That and I hate needles.

    10: Why do you blog?

    11: Who is your favorite musician?

    Like

  10. Great post!! I think we come into “our own” true self in our mid to late 30’s. I noticed that after the fact, reading Passages by Gail Sheehy and Seasons of a Man’s life by Daniel Levinson (required reading for a uni course) and was relieved to see I was normal. It sounds like you had a lot of challenges to face growing up…I can only imagine. My kids went to school where their peers were such a mix of cultures, I just assumed `then`society was more inclusive in the ’80’s. Glad you finally “came out”. I work on a youth line and when some kids call about being tease for being smart…I tell them, “didn’t you hear? Geek is in, man!” πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  11. love your post. BE PROUD OF BEING A GEEK. normal is boring anyway.
    As i read this it does remind me that children can be cruel creatures and will pick on any one deemed different, a failure on their parents and teachers as well as themselves.

    As for your friend who didnt like your “pen person” sometimes these differences can work out in a freindship (or at least i have been lucky). Recently there has been the referendum for Scottish independance, i was set on voting yes and he no. in fact our political opinions often collide but due to our friendship we respect one anouther and slag each other into the ground when our parties fail.

    And thanks for following me! i look forward to seeing your other posts πŸ˜€

    Like

  12. I grew up and wore eyeglasses when the epithet “four eyes” was commonly used. Crazy if you ask me because at one point, there was a fad going on where kids that didn’t need them wore eyeglasses with no lenses in them. What the —-? Now everyone and their grandmother is walking around wearing glasses. I never thought I would see the day where horn-rimmed aka Clark Kent aka “birth control glasses” would become fashionable. While at basic training years ago, we had to wear them. Now people are wearing them voluntarily. I also shake my head when people would say that because I wore glasses, I must be smart. I am, if I do say so myself but how about I just have suboptimal eyesight?

    I enjoyed your post. I stopped carrying what people’s opinion of me were a long time ago. I just treat people the way I like to be treated and ignore the others. ;0

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Thanks for sharing your story here so openly. It is wonderful to see how you became comfortable with being yourself. That seems to be a lesson of life that many have to go through, no matter whether black or white. To learn not to give a damn about what other people think about us. How other people react towards us says more about them than about us.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you for this post! I see we have a few things in common, and a few things not at all in common, but in a similar way.

    I grew up largely in Ohio, in very small towns, where I was the only Jewish child in my school. I was probably the only autistic child in my school, and since I attended a two-room schoolhouse for some of that time, I am quite sure of that.

    Sometimes other children would invite me to their houses, which seemed very strange to me. The houses, and the people in them. Their parents usually told me to go home because I was a “Christ-killer.” Of course I did not know what that meant, but I knew I was supposed to feel humiliated, but didn’t.

    In another Ohio community, there was one Black family. The daughter was in my grade, so in every activity where you had a partner, we were put together. The two outliers. I had never heard racial epithets before, but I was damned if I was going to hear my friend called names (because I knew how it felt to be called vile names, by this time), so I started getting in fights and getting sent home from school. So did Lillian.

    Then we moved again, and I always wonder what became of Lillian, the sweet, gentle, stubborn soul with the quick left hook.

    As I travelled through many more schools where I was the sole Jew, I discovered that we were supposed to be rich, money-grubbing, dishonest, snooty, dirty, and that we ate Christian children for dinner on our holidays. No kidding, they really told me that. As an autistic person, this upset me horribly, because this was not true, and I could not stand things that were not true any more than I could stand a wrong answer on a test. It kept me up at night, because it wasn’t true, and it seemed like there was no way to make them understand it was not true.

    I did not attempt to find other Jewish people to be around, though. For one thing, there weren’t any, where we lived. For another, although at the time I did not know I am autistic, I had no desire to be around other humans anyway. It was just that I was forced to go to school, where they kept all these muggles (I love that word!).

    One of the things I HATE about the whole “gangsta” thing, and the Cosby show thing, and all the other “How Black People Are Supposed To Be” things, is that these are false cultures, built upon layer upon layer of disenfranchisement, and reaction to it. I belong to a permanently disenfranchised people. You belong to a relatively recently disenfranchised people who are struggling to…I don’t know how to put it, so I’ll throw the ball back in your court. Nevertheless, people like you and I, who just don’t act like we’re supposed to in our cultural constructs, have the potential to be beacons, not only for our own cultural groups of origin, but for the larger world. I myself have been halted by disability; but you have the vision and the skill set and the vitality to set the world on its ear. I’ll be keeping an eye on you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really? What part of Ohio? Sorry to hear about the experiences you had growing up in ultra conservative Ohio. Christ killer? Wasn’t the Christ Jewish? 😏 You have to be careful though when arguing with crazy people. From a distance you can’t tell who the crazy one is. I like your comments on disenfranchisement. You’re a doctor and a writer? It doesn’t sound to me like your “disability” is holding you back at all. Autism is often linked with above average intelligence. The ability to block everything out and focus on just one particular discipline. I have OCD and struggle with depression as a result but despite this curse I realize that my weakness is sometimes my strength. I become obsessively involved in fulfilling a task I set out to do despite multiple failures and obstacles placed in front of me. When the task is a noble one, this is a good thing. I like your writing and will continue to look forward to your posts. πŸ˜ƒ

      – William

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Little towns clustered around Toledo. Jesus started out Jewish, but then branched off with his own religion, which is nothing at all like Judaism. Then the blood libels began, as early as Constantine, maybe earlier, and continue to this day.

        Yeah, I have lots of talents, but I am unable to interface with other people in any effective way. Between all the psych diagnoses and the Asperger’s which seems to be a driving force, I do my work in isolation, have zero “real-life” friends, live on disability income, and have had a very rocky existence, which is scheduled to end in three years and four days.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes. I should also let you know that I am a physician who is unable to practice because of my disabilities. This is torture, because I love doctoring. Unfortunately, I have arthritis and can’t use my hands much anymore. My brain sometimes goes on the fritz, and I never know when that’s going to happen. I did have a lovely solo practice that I tailored to my needs and abilities, but it got snapped up in a hostile takeover so there went that. Sorry to hear you have OCD. That can be a blessing and a curse!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’m sorry to hear about your arthritis. When you say your brain goes on the fritz what do you mean? Hostile takeover? People can be cruel. All they care about is money. For me OCD is more of a curse than a blessing. I’ve had it under control for three years but now I’m in Central Africa where I can’t be sure I’m getting the right medication. They dilute and falsify medication to the point that you can never be 100% sure you’re getting the right dosage. I’m taking the same amount but something feels different.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Wow. Scary to think…

        I can’t really explain what goes on with my brain. Completely untrustworthy. I can’t relate to humans at all. “On the spectrum” and all that. If that weren’t enough, add bipolar, shake well, and if I didn’t have a dog to take care of I would not get out of bed. I know I’m much better off than many. In that case I feel for the others, yet I have my own sorry ass to somehow take care of. I can’t stand other people, only animals, and even they can be too much at times.

        Like

  15. Relate. Relate. Relate. Your line regarding wanting to you slurs naturally, because it was seen as cool and just normal, so hits home for me. Of course, I wouldn’t want that now for reasons more obvious than identification. Than you for this post and for the follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Great read. I really identify with your story as a blerd myself. It’s always nice to hear others talk about their experiences growing up and challenging the idea of “blackness.” I’ve been there. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    I just started my own blog if you’re interested. http://www.muralsforthought.com. I’m a first-time blogger.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry about that I’m still new to the blogosphere. I figured out how to add one. Thanks for the follow!

        Like

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