Steve Urkel Glasses, Suspenders & Social Awkwardness: What Makes Someone A Nerd?
The term nerd has evolved materially over an extended period of time. It has somehow cultivated into so many meanings, that it has become one of those elusive terms that makes it somewhat difficult to define. The TBS reality show “King of the Nerds,” is an example of yet another reality TV show exploiting stereotypes that are not all encompassing of what a large majority of nerds are. The show depicts the archetypal nerd. On “King of the Nerds,” some of the contestants include the neuroscientist, the NASA engineer, the mathematician, and the geophysicist. There are also the comic book nerds, video gamers, and a guy who describes himself as a “professional hacker” (scary). In any event, albeit these contestants represent a myriad of personalities and talents, I believe that being a nerd is far more than a high degree of intelligence.
Think about every movie or TV show you have watched that depicted nerds. Usually they are socially awkward, extremely intelligent and have an obsession with a specific (usually non-social) activity. I think being a nerd has a lot more to do with what you do for a living, how many degrees you hold and how many dates you’ve been on in the past few years. I would like to give credit to a commenter on my Facebook page for Black Girl Nerds who so beautifully articulated this statement and I quote:
“To me a nerd has many underlying definitions; nerds are people who go against social norms, out of the box thinkers, knowledge seekers. Black nerds are all those things but also open minded and embrace black and non-black culture. Other blacks consider us Nerds because we exhibit those things which they themselves do not value. I love this new found appreciation for Nerds. It’s cool to be yourself; it’s cool to be artistic, intelligent, knowledgeable, and well spoken. A lot of people feel like Nerd is the new cool, but I have always thought it was “hip to be square.” – Mustbe TheLibrarian Harris
The definition of a nerd is exactly what was stated above. This permeates in all communities not just African Americans. However, it is especially important for us as black people to not adhere to stereotypes of the past (and present) that paint a broad brush over the definition of what a nerd is.
An obsession of non-social activities however does not always make one a nerd. One can be well-versed in a sport, a political pundit, a manager of a team, or any other number of social activities and still be considered nerdy or geeky. A nerd also does not have to be fashionably-challenged. I know several fashion geeks who are trendy and ‘hipster’ in their fashion-forward looks, but still consider that they are, in fact, nerdy. The point to clarify here is that nerdiness is not a monolith. We cannot be placed inside of a box with a label slapped on the outside of it in a plain package. We are innovators, designers, creators, executives, leaders, thinkers, and masters in our crafts. We don’t understand the terms conformity, standard, and status quo. We refuse to be in compliance with what everyone else is doing and what is considered to be “cool.” You will more than likely see us sitting in a library alone reading an Octavia Butler novel or creating code on a computer because these are activities we relish in and enjoy. We don’t know how to be like everyone else, we just live our best life the way we know how. Therefore, what makes someone a nerd is someone who understands their own identity and is willing to step outside of the conventional box.
How does this relate to Black men and women? We have heard of the portmanteau term “Blerd” which has become quite controversial within the last few years. There are the hopelessly optimistic people like me, who think it is an empowering word that strengthens black nerds and helps to facilitate more positive imagery into our community. Then there are those who will always choose to be critical of anything outside of conventional thinking and will use words like “divisive” and “exclusive.” There are critics who believe that the term separates black nerds from “regular nerds” and therefore we are somehow different from nerds in general. Close your eyes and think of an image of your typical nerd. I mean it. Think of your stereotypical nerd that you have seen in every movie, photographed in every magazine, and described in every book. What image do you see? Is your nerd black? Chances are your image of a nerd is an undeveloped white man or boy, in outdated clothing and unfashionable glasses.
I want you to try another experiment. Go to Google images and type the term “Nerd.” You may see a small sprinkle of us in there, but not that much. In fact, the only reason you may see a sprinkle of black folks in those images is because of the Blerd conversation that has taken place among media types like Eric Deggans and other online publications that have brought this new term out publicly. I will personally share with you that when I started the blog Black Girl Nerds, and googled the term ‘Black Girl Nerds’ nothing came up in Google. The terms “Black Nerd”, “Black Girl”, and “Girl Nerd” came up yes, but the words Black, Girl, and Nerd in the same sentence was nowhere to be found. After some digging (and I mean an extensive night of Google searching) a few blogs and articles written with those terms came up. I thought it was ridiculous and quite surprising that there was little to no content in cyberspace that spoke to women of my ilk. It was that very night that the BGN blog was born.