Note from BW of Brazil: We have all known a black boy or girl from our grade school days that would be classified as nerds, even if we didn’t necessarily know the word at the time. Whenever I think of a black nerd, I think of this kid in my 3rd and 4th grade class named Kevin. Kevin was extremely skinny, had braces, glasses that seemed to be a little too big for his face and used to always wear those shirts with the pockets on the front. He was Steve Urkel years before Urkel would be become part of American pop culture.
Years later, I remember showing a Brazilian girlfriend as episode of the cartoon The Proud Family and seeing her well up when she saw one of the guest characters on the show. I can’t remember the character’s name (she wasn’t a regular), but she also had that geeky look: glasses, big teeth, braces and lanky. When I asked her why she was crying, she said that that character looked just like her as a child. Thinking back to the photos she had shown me of herself and her family in northeastern Brazil, I could see the resemblance. (Any of you remember the name of that character?)
It’s funny, well, not so funny, but I can always remember how nerds and geeks were always kind of left out, made fun of or victims of bullying. One day, when Kevin had gotten into a fight at lunch with a kid known for just effin’ with people, me and another guy had to step in because it probably wouldn’t have ended well for Kevin. But I understood that he was just fed up with the guy’s constant teasing.
Another thing I notice about nerds I knew is that, many of them grew up, entered highly technical fields, advanced degrees and are now attracting some of the same types of women who ignored them when they were getting good grades in math and science. If I had to add a theme song to these types of stories, I would choose the 1995 song “Runnin’” by California Hip Hop group the Pharcyde. Don’t know if the guys of that crew were nerds, but based on some of the lyrical content of not only that song and others, but the fact that they went against the grain of the gangsterisms coming out of West Coast Rap at the time, it would be the perfect fit. Oh, and did I mention that the sample featured in that song brings a Brazilian flavor? The song is “Saudade Vem Correndo” composed by Luiz Bonfa and Maria Toledo, but the version sampled by Detroit producer J-Dilla was recorded by Bonfá and saxophonist Stan Getz.
Anyway, who’da thunk one could experience racism, sexism and racial exclusion in the nerd world? The article below touches on the question of the black female nerd, the connection to comics, video games, the question of space and identification with the Shuri character in the Black Panther film. I never thought of her as a nerd…Did you?
Black nerds want to have their turn and voice for their productions in Brazil
By Italo Rômany
As a teenager, writer and photographer Camila Cerdeira stopped reading superhero comics. What was the reason? She didn’t see herself among the comic book characters. Today, at age 30, she writes about black representation within pop culture to show girls that there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, black and a nerd.
“Part of my education and recognition as black was brought by my parents through pop culture references. My mother told me about the character Tempestade (Storm), who was a goddess, a queen of her tribe. This was my reference to what it was like to be a black woman,” says Camila.
Camila is not alone: like her, other women are occupying physical and virtual spaces to give visibility to a mode of consumption that simultaneously takes into account the perspectives of race, gender and class. The idea is to increase the representation of mulheres negras nas mídias (black women in the media) and show that they are also consumers, producers and critics of pop culture.
The translator Daniela Razia, 42, also didn’t have many references of black characters in childhood. As a child, she was the only girl of her gang who played pinball while the other girls accompanied her brothers and boyfriends to play.
“I had that dream of taking the games to all the girls, so that they knew. I started to study English, I got my first console, I met other girls and today I ended up getting here because of my dream,” says Daniela, who makes videos of gameplays on YouTube.
“I’m essentially not that what appears on Google. I can be a nerd and a lesbian, I can be a nerd and black. We need to break this idea” – Camila Cerdeira, writer and photographer
Just do a search for images on Google so that the lack of representation of black feminism within the nerd culture jumps to your eye. Just use the expression “mulher nerd” (nerd woman) to find out that 99% of the results are illustrations of garotas brancas e loiras (white and blond girls).
Black and nerd = resistance
Creator of the blog Pretas, Nerds e Burning Hell, student Anne Quiangala, of the state of Espírito Santo, wanted to build a space where it was possible to become black and nerd within the discussions of pop culture. The idea came in 2014, fueled by frustration with the lack of virtual spaces of reference with debates about such a perspective in the country.
On the first day of creating her Facebook page, Anne was surprised: she had more than 100 followers. “What do you mean? I found the return super fast. But I was a bit frustrated, because most were white people, and that was not my goal,” she recalls. Over time, black women began to identify with the discussions. “For the first time they were having access to a type of identity that was renegade. As we create a website, we created a vocabulary for them,” she explains.
By taking on the nerd identity in a mostly male and sexist space, they have become the targets of daily threats and hate messages. Anne, for example, had to deal with virtual attacks after publishing a text about graphic violence to women in Mortal Kombat games.
“I heard from a friend that my text had been posted on one of the Facebook haters groups. When I opened the page, I had more than 100 comments with the most varied types of racial offenses. A woman talking about games is always controversial, since we are in a very hostile place for us that do this type of work,” reports the student. “If it bothers (people), it’s because we’re on the right track,” she says.
In the extreme, the attacks even contain threats of rape and death. It was what blogger Monike Aguiar felt up close after publishing a text on social networks saying that the character Shuri, from the movie Black Panther (Pantera Negra in Brazil), was considered the smartest person in the Marvel universe.
“We were one of the first people to post on Shuri, and it was actually a translated text that we got from Marvel itself. I was expecting this type of attack, but I didn’t think it was going to be so explosive, that it was going to be so fast, because they [the nerd-haters] are very violent when upset,” says Monike. In 2018, she created, along with her wife, the page Negras Nerds (Black Nerds), currently with more than 24 thousand followers.
A study published last year showed, for example, that 81% of the victims of derogatory discourse in social networks are black women between the ages of 20 and 35. In addition, 65% of users who disseminate racial intolerance are men from the ages of 20 to 25. The data are in the doctoral thesis defended by the Brazilian researcher Luiz Valério Trindade at the University of Southampton, England.
“Facebook has become a sort of modern pillory allowing colonial white supremacist ideology advocates the opportunity to engage in virtual whipping through their derogatory posts. Users who are engaged in spreading racial intolerance on the platform nurture a strong belief that the virtual environment is a kind of no man’s land,” says Trindade in the article published on the research.
The translator Daniela Razia was very shocked when her son received death threats in one of his posts. “I knew they [the haters] would not do anything physically, but just the fact that they threatened left me (feeling) very bad.”
Construction of references
In 2018, the web site Punho Negro, meaning Black Fist, presented on YouTube the Brazilian superhero: Tereza, the protagonist, is black, wears cabelo black power (an afro) and is baiana (a Bahian woman). The production of the independent collective Êpa Filmes shows the character as a housewife who arranges time, within a double shift, to fight the criminals of the city. Her main superpower is strength, a metaphor to represent the struggle against racism and the social pressures that women face in everyday life.
Producer and screenwriter of the web series, Milena Anjos, 30, says that the proposal was to break the standard imposed on black women. “We carry that burden that we have to be perfect, strong in everything, to be twice as good in everything.” The web series had five episodes and, despite the financial difficulties, should have a second season this year.
Another character that appeared in the networks in this effort of representation is the mini Gui, created by the illustrator Giulia Garcia, 20. A fan of cosplays, that is, becoming protagonists of books, films and even historical characters, she felt a lack of referências negras (black references). She created the mini Gui based on it, and publishes her illustrations on Instagram.
“I did not feel represented, a girl in love with the nerd culture and couldn’t see anyone. If there are black characters, I’m not going to make cosplays of personagens brancas (white characters), I want to carry my legacy. When I was 15 I didn’t have these characters, there was no Black Panther,” says Giulia.
For more visibility and references
The film Black Panther, Marvel’s production of black heroes and heroines taken to theaters in 2018, is seen as a watershed for discussions of representation.
References are important, especially within this universe, says blogger Monike Aguiar. “I am the mother of black children, I have to show this side to them. Every child wants to be represented. When the movie Black Panther came out, for me it was the max, they had heroes there, because in my time this didn’t exist. We always have this kind of talk. This search for representation was a search for my children, for a search for identidade racial (racial identity).”
Although the space conquered by black women in pop culture universe has expanded, there is still a long way to go. Camila Cerdeira points out that black nerds can also occupy other spaces that are not linked to the gender and race perspective. “I was called I don’t know how many times to talk about Black Panther, but when something about the Liga da Justiça (Justice League) comes out, nobody calls me. And I can talk about that too, I can talk about a lot of things. However, I end up being sought only at those specific moments. We can talk about anything from the nerd realm.”