There’s a moment when Jackson 5 is playing over the loudspeakers. I have no idea why. But I watch as two girls, who are starting an animation studio, begin an impromptu performance of the choreography. They are so in sync it looks as if they’d rehearsed it. Seconds later they segue into singing the Power Rangers theme song, and laughter erupts. In essence, this is BLERDcon. As always, when enough black people get together, it is a celebration of our culture. But more than that, it’s a community of people who have created a space for their magic to exist. Everyone here has waited a long time for the luxury of being both unapologetically black and unapologetically geeks. For one weekend, we are finally carefree.
Over and over again, we see the signs that diversity is critical to success. Yet in nerd culture, the predominantly white male audience continues to obstruct progress. The vitriol and backlash every time a person of color is added to one of their precious Marvel story lines. The shock that a role could go to a black character. The horror in having one screening of one movie reserved for women. Their rage at a Star Wars trailer that features a black man and a woman. Their straight up rejection of a character once they realize she was black all along. Even their trolling of prestigious awards to keep a black woman from winning (see: Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies), all point that bigotry continues to exist in every aspect of society.
So BLERDcon was a much-needed celebration of diversity in all shapes and sizes. There were cosplayers in wheelchairs, panels on LGBT characters in sci-fi, workshops for making costumes for every body type, and of course, black nerds galore. It was the very definition of a safe space; not something that excludes, but a space that unites by its commitment to respect and tolerance. And ultimately, it was a good time. There were anime screenings, gaming contests, plenty of panels, and epic costumes. We danced. We connected. And we geeked out. We talked about everything from the merits of a black death note (“I would love to see black L, but I’m not here for fuckboi Light”), to the role of hip hop in video games (fun fact: Only 3 rappers have exclusive rights with Capcom to sample their music- Mega Ran, Lil Wayne, and Drake), to the different types of black nerds (from the hood nerd to the woke nerd, post coming soon).
We talked about how easy it is for us to find ourselves in white (and even non-human) characters. How we dub “a Goofy movie’ the best black Disney movie. How attendees here are dressed in everything from Link to Stephen Universe. And yet we’re told no, over and over again, because ‘no one can relate’ to our stories. And we talked about how white male franchises get so many chances to fail (see: Batman and Robin), but when it comes to minorities or women or LGBT characters we only get one shot, if at all.
But ultimately, we acknowledged the strides we’ve made while recognizing how much further we have to go. One of my favorite Toni Morrison quotes is “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it wasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. In that vein, there was such an awesome collection of creatives- folks who created their own comic books, animation studios, lit magazines, music, and video games. Folks who were tired of not having a seat at the table, so they built their own.
In no particular order, here are a few things I’m definitely keeping my eye on:
Tuskegee Heirs: an awesome looking comic about pilots saving the world (review coming soon?)
Blacksci-fi.com: a round up of blacks in sci fi ranging from books, comics, movies, etc (Ronnie, am I allowed to promote another blog?)
And of course NPC: The next generation (Although this probably isn’t the official title) The NPC collective are opening the doors to new creatives, and I’m excited to see what that looks like.
There were also some seriously amazing artists who need to put their ish on shirts and jewelry and come back next year. We need more than #blackheroesmatter
Ultimately, it was a small, cozy convention that everyone could enjoy. But in a few years, I’d be shocked if this event didn’t blow up. There was so much crazy talent and passion; I could definitely see the birth of huge franchises coming from this event and some big name blerds on the roster of special guests. So glad I got a chance to go, and can’t wait to go back next year.
[BTW: If you see a pic of yourself or someone you may know feel free to give a shout out :)]