The Ridiculous Nature of the terms “Blerd” and “New Black”, and the Dangers of Assimilation (Opinion)
It would seem as though the term “New Black”, popularized by Pharrell Williams, Common, and
Childish Gambino has made a resurgence in the year 2020. I understand its “definition”, however, I also see it as another form of ignorant rhetoric being encouraged that reeks of self-esteem issues that plague Black American culture. My thoughts on this are likened to the title “Blerd”, which is another term that acts as an amalgamation of “Black” and “Nerd”. The former term draws unnecessary attention to stereotypes that may have derived from cultural racism, barriers that have been not only economically, but psychologically structured so that circumventing them is difficult due to a system of demoralization, and ironically creates trends that further the thought of monolithic behavior. While the latter will unintentionally shame those of our race participating in identifying themselves as such, that does not conform to stereotypes that were historically perpetuated outside and later among the overall [nerd] culture. This is done through gatekeeping based on pieces of knowledge that eventually found its way into the mainstream hub of information. The after-effect is a less than distinguished sub-group because of the wide range of experiences that are no longer seen as representative of its racial demographic. Making the term “Blerd” exclusive only in color.
With that said, I am not faulting sub-groups due to any reason they may have originally seen as plausible to form. The fact of the matter is, we aren’t all just “one race: the human race”. We have evolved as a species for the purpose of diversification. Factors that influence common interests may include race, upbringing, class, religion/faith, sexuality, and ultimately the desire to survive under one’s own meaning of happiness. To paraphrase one of my favorite actors of the Blaxploitation-era and mentors, Fred Williamson: “I go where I’m loved.”
I belong to a handful of Black Facebook groups that primarily discuss what’s associated with nerd culture, however, I engage more as a member in groups that cherish Grindhouse and exploitation movies. Those groups are populated by a lot of older White and some Black gentlemen. I relatively stand out because of my young age, although, a lot of pictures that are referenced, influenced me as a creator. I recall a conversation between my White friend Adam and I, where we were talking about Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Straw Dogs’ and Takashi Miike’s ‘Ichi the Killer’ in a bookstore. I did not see a bridge between two races of nerds. You could say that I saw “nerds” with a common interest, but to be honest, I can’t say that I saw nerds at all, at that moment. I don’t classify myself as one, even though I’ve had a few people consider my familiarity of cinema to be enough for that to be the case. I’ve also had several women that I’ve been with, attempt to link behavior, whether existent or not, to my personality in order to categorize me as a non-threatening characterization, when that is soon shown not to be the case.
I was very much a bully who trolled growing up and had quite a few friends from different cliques because I carried myself as an alpha male. This had nothing to do with education as I was a great student due to my upper-class parents being great teachers and staying on top of my studies. My social interaction actually increased after I began homeschooling because I was ahead of peers in various areas and was held in high regard because of the material that I had retained. A career path wasn’t imposed upon me and instead, books were purchased that served as guidance into fields that I had already been fascinated by. Before coding became a current trend, I was learning C++ and Visual Basic since I wanted to program video games when I was a teenager. I had a plethora of books on animation techniques and illustrating graphic novels as well. A lot of what has been incorporated into GameCargo, I’ve been doing my entire life. A lot of what I’ve been doing my entire life is a result of circumstance, being able to “fail forward” while learning from my mistakes, and having the privilege of resources passed down from the previous generation of my family.
Unfortunately, not every Black American was born into a lifestyle of opportunity. This is why the mindset of unity without understanding why we are where we are and allowing the processing of anger that many of us rightfully hold in this country is very dangerous. We do not need empty sentiments and branding that will serve to cause more division among us. We need to learn how to take advantage of our differences. Doing so promotes an assembly of mutually beneficial constructs with distinct sections of viewpoints and creativity. This is one of the many reasons why I’ve been laid back in my criticism of Tyler Perry. I am not a fan of his work, but he contributes and keeps talented actors and actresses of color in business. “With all due respect”, I saw the exact opposite with Spike Lee’s remake of ‘OldBoy’ in 2013. If you are aware of the twist, then the controversial themes would have been perfect to tackle with a Black cast. Yet, there was a slight offense taken with some of us when ‘The Strange Thing About the Johnsons’ was released.
We criticize the exceptional when it does not originate from us and fear criticism for being exceptional without guaranteed praise. Then, we try to popularize what is not an entirely exceptional basis while skirting around the reality that Black people are not a monolith and many of our kind have been inspired by a vast amount of sources. Emotion is one of them. To quote Mr. Nancy in ‘American Gods’: “Angry gets shit done!”
Melvin Van Peebles was angry when he made ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’ on a $150,000 budget and ended up grossing $15.2 million! Inspiring the Blaxploitation-era and influenced 1971’s ‘Shaft’. Jordan Peele was angry when he made ‘Get Out’. A racially multilayered science-fiction horror film that will stand the test of time. Dwayne McDuffie was angry when he and three partners founded the successful Milestone Media to create multicultural comic book stories while defying obstacles at that time. Tyler, the Creator continues to shatter expectations since his journey from an angry musician to an eccentric and fashionable poet. You cannot simply tell us to change our mindset without providing outlets to utilize burning passion instead of dwelling in victimhood that was the intended byproduct of frighteningly violent racism throughout 500 years. As the son of a history major, I’m still shocked that it took an adaptation/sequel to a comic book to teach viewers about the Tulsa Race Massacre, which isn’t even the half of what we have been subjected to in America. As highly controversial and bias as the documentary is, I do recommend watching ‘Maafa 21’. The film deals with how Black Americans were targeted by the eugenics movement and forced sterilization. Another documentary that I recommend is ’13th’ from director Ava DuVernay.
Another documentary that briefly touches upon poor eating habits that have been normalized in Black culture is ‘What the Health’. My choice of being a vegan wasn’t spontaneous. I hated cafeteria food in Elementary School and I became a vegetarian so that my father would make vegan sandwiches for lunch. I went back and forth throughout the years, however, my current dietary lifestyle has benefited me greatly. I don’t believe choosing not to consume meat is a costly effort. Even if the budget is raised a tad bit, it’s still less expensive than trips to the doctor and possibly being misdiagnosed. Which quite a few Black Americans are and we turn to mainly alcohol consumption for comfort without considering therapeutic measures. Personally, I hate the taste and prefer ‘Fre Non-Alcoholic Wines‘ for gatherings. Merlot, to be specific. I’ve found there to be no pressure in any of the choices that I’ve made so sympathizing discomfort when others share their troubles “being themselves” is admittedly complicated and a skill that I improve as time goes on.
Not too long ago, a Hispanic friend disclosed to me that she adopted an “American accent” because of harassment that she’s faced. I was blunt with how I felt as there should be no reason to assimilate and lose what defines your native roots to pardon the fear that stems from ignorance. It’s no different than when a mentor cut off his locs prior to an interview for a job as an electrical engineer. We both agreed that we would have been awarded the position regardless. There are people of color who are unaware that assimilation under supremacy at the risk of our identity has been an effective strategy for the longest. The dinner scene from 1974’s ‘Trick Baby’ is an excellent overview of this.
Thus enters code-switching. In 2014, I had a nice studio apartment in Kentucky that I also worked out of as a freelancer while writing the screenplay for an upcoming indie-film in pre-production as my then-girlfriend was in college. Unlike where I reside now, the populace of the city was mostly White instead of mixed and I discovered that many people were pleasantly surprised by my characteristics. I spoke very well, my writing was commended, and my dedication to the goals that I had set for myself was noted. One day, I had a conversation with a Black employee who handled maintenance. A topic that we went over was speech and mannerisms. How we could switch back and forth between “Slang” and the “King’s English” to achieve the desired outcome. It had me thinking about that afterward. Even more so when I use slang ironically and get corrected as if I’m unaware. I see it as another box that I’m being put in to safely carry from one destination to another. I don’t like being paraded around like I’m that “I am that one nigger in ten thousand”. That gut feeling warning me of apparent narcissism led me to permanently sever ties with a couple of individuals recently. Speaking of, if the word “nigger” has ever come out of your mouth in a context meant to offend any person of color, I don’t care how long ago it was, if you have a “mixed” child, or if your best friend is Black. I will not allow you in my presence. The opposite effect of assimilation seems to be extending an invitation to “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. This is not to say that all non-people of color are toxic or that people of color are without fault, but at the end of the day, as Muhammad Ali once said: “I don’t hate nobody, but I love my own.”