Monday, May 21, 2012

GEEK RACISM (a reaction based on experience)


READ THIS FIRST!!! (hate to give you homework, but nothing will make sense unless you explore these words):


This is a great exploration of race privilege. As a man who has been into the geek stuff for years, I enjoyed that article because the comments section reveals something else about American life - hardcore geeks can be the most racist people on the planet. 

This is a subject that has plagued me for decades. Being the only Black guy in a room full of White geeks who have no desire to get to know me and share our collective passion for Sci-Fi and Fantasy properties feels like crossing the valley into the promised land only to find it filled with Donkey carcasses and biting flies.

I've long been the kind of guy who is willing to accept anyone in my life, regardless of race, class or gender. I used to catch a lot of heat for being friends with "weirdos" - my high school years were renown for me keeping a motley assortment of buddies. We were outcasts, not "cool" enough for the in-crowd, but nowhere near physically repulsive enough to be included with the truly marginalized around campus.

My in-crowd friends never understood why I, a somewhat "good looking" guy, spent my spare time around a bunch of losers and wimps. What they didn't grasp was that the only thing that mattered to me was whether or not someone "got" my jokes and obscure pop culture references.

That was it.

In fact, that's all that matters to me NOW.

I can vibe with anyone as long as they know what a Flux Capacitor is; or know what I mean when I say the words "Tears in rain..."; or when I say the "matrix of leadership" that I'm not referring to the Keanu Reeves movie; or I don't have to explain anything after uttering the phrase "Dark Phoenix Saga." If you understand any of that, we could be friends.

Alas, that's not how the real world works.

You see, there's this thing called racism. Or a better term would be Western White Supremacist Psychological Hegemony. It's the ingrained and unspoken belief shared by just about anyone born in the Western hemisphere that White skin is "better," white people are smarter and imbued with inherent virtue, poor people are the victims of their own stupidity and laziness, gays and lesbians are afflicted with deep mental imbalances and that anything other than the standard nuclear family structure will engineer the downfall of a society.

This mode of thinking is like the force of gravity. It's everywhere, affecting everything. Pushing and pulling on us at all times without us ever realizing it. However, without it - like gravity - life would be much different, and like gravity, it takes an extraordinary amount of force and effort to resist and counteract its influences (see Frederick Douglass, MLK jr., Malcolm X, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks).

I used to be the world's biggest naive idealist. Captain America without the irony. Superman before 1980. Yea, that was me. I used to believe that anyone into comics, sci-fi, animation, video games etc., would be automatically "better" than the layperson. I figured that anyone with the mental faculty to connect with the lofty intellectual and societal concepts within most decent genre material would be above the petty contrivances of race and ethnic strife.

Enter big boot kicking me squarely in the ass.

I've had far too many situations to relate here. Too many examples of how uncomfortable I've been made to feel at conventions and panels. Too many stories of how I've made someone visibly uncomfortable with my presence. Once you learn how to read human body language, you can immediately identify those who fear you and/or are deeply bigoted individuals. While I won't give you an academic treatise on how and why folks behave this way, I can sum it up this way:

Some White sci-fi/fantasy fans look upon sci-fi and fantasy as a "refuge" from a constantly "browning" pop culture that automatically (in their minds) alienates and confuses them. These all white fantasy worlds are their only respite from the (imagined) Black hordes of pop culture and the moment they hear that their pristine genre worlds are going to be "touched" by Blackness, they lose their minds because they feel that we are "taking" something else from them. I call it the NASCAR/NHL effect. Hardcore white fans of both tend to react negatively to increased participation from Blacks and Latinos. 

These folks also tend to ignore the existence of Black nerds, preferring to assume that we all are gun-totin', blunk-smokin', Sam Jackson-soundin' hip-hop junkies without the intellectual ability to imagine alternate worlds and other modes of thinking. Whenever the subject of race comes up, they cannot understand why this conversation exists in the first place. Why should we care about race: 1) Blacks don't read/write sci-fi, 2) the author/creator can put anyone he/she wants into their story, 3) diversity shouldn't matter in xxxxxxxxx setting because xxxxxxxxx, 4) the thematic intent and plot of the story doesn't need to include race, it's already a comment on oppression. 

Anyone who has been to a big comics and sci-fi convention recently can tell you that the crowds are super diverse with many Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native folks engaging in cosplay and involved as professionals in the business. What's hilarious about many geeky people of color is that they also don't prefer to read sci-fi/fantasy with a racial element, preferring to enjoy the all-white universes of Tolkein and his ilk. If some of these White geeks could get past their own racist mental programming, they would realize a fundamental truth - we are all the same at the end of the day. Sure, there are some differences, but if two folks can kick back and enjoy AVENGERS or RANGO or STAR TREK  together, regardless of their station in life, haven't we moved toward the progressive worlds we love exploring? 

I shouldn't react so strongly to the comments made on the internet. Cowardice is the rule of the day online. Anonymity is liberating for the phony tough. But it wouldn't sting so much if I wasn't 100% sure that for every person behaving like a racist neanderthal online, there were another 1,000 silently nodding their head in agreement.