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. 



Snowy Princess said...

Great Piece!

Jennifer said...

Scary how true it is though. Look at all the 'back lash' in regards to Rue being Black in The Hunger Games. Many not realizing it until the film came to play and even then encouraging that character to die. And in much writing while they create many different types (see LOTR) to represent the diversity of nations and such we still may not see people of different skin tones outside of the monsters. And even the presence of minority characters in comics doesn't necessarily mean they will serve a great purpose, see Storm in X-Men, unless they hold their own comic but how many do that?

janet "saltygirl" wade said...

& now, i must subscribe to your blog.

thanks for addressing this.

Jen MidnightDBA said...

People are dicks. It's just a shame more people - geeks especially - don't apply Wheaton's Law liberally.

*continues to nod silently*

Nathan Wolke said...

see, being a geeky white guy, I immediately resent this opinion on it's generalizations of the color of MY skin and therefore how it will affect the worlds perception of me. You know why? Cause I would never do that stuff. I would never treat you or anyone else like that. It's why I despised Scalzi's representation of me, being a "SWM". Because it's lumping me in with people I don't know, don't like and frankly am continually surprised even exist. Just being honest. Better than lying, right?
But then again, nice guy + internet + anonymounity = fuckwad so really, I shouldn't be surprised.
In all seriousness I wish this would just die already and we could all be human. That would be nice.
Also, going to check out your blog more. said...

Nathan - I get what you're saying. But my experiences haven't been great being the only Black male around a bunch of White folks at sci-fi cons. Recently, as a professional, I've dealt with a different kind of prejudice, but during my "Fandom" years, many White geeks just weren't as open or encouraging as you'd think they'd be (in the sense that we're all in the same "boat" regarding our mutual love of certain shows, books and movies).

Just because YOU don't believe you behave that way, doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist. These conversations always get caught up between the personal and the societal. You might be a great, open-minded person who treats people like human beings, but you mean to tell me that no White person you've ever known in your entire life hasn't had a negative attitude toward Blacks? Is your personal inner circle a diverse mix? Think about what I am talking about instead of taking it personal.

Thomas Pluck said...

Well said.
We geeks like to think we are smarter, more enlightened and less cruel than the rest of the culture, but very often we are not.

Peter Anargirou said...

Are you sure that geeks are any more racist or bigoted that any other group? There are many that are but many that aren't as well.

While I don't know that I agree with the idea that some white people are hiding from what they imagine to be a black-dominated pop culture, I did find it amusing. I also have to wonder where we'd be musically without African influence. Rap and hip-hop are commonly seen as "black" music, but you'd have to include anything based off rock or jazz. That would be all modern music.

ATDT1991 said...

Here from Scalzi.

Come to ConFusion, outside Detroit, (or Penguicon if you're into both sci-fi, tech, and more).

We'd love to have you, and I will introduce you to scores of amazing nerds who'll be interested in what you have to say. said...

Peter - Read this article when you get a chance. It covers the idea about how music preferences are racially based. It connects to the idea that "Black" creative efforts are inferior to White ones.

Nathan Wolke said...

Brandon right?
It's a very societal thing and personal thing, y'know? Just as it's a very personal thing for you. I don't deny that there are bigots that exist out in the world. But I suppose the part that does surprise me is that in a subculture that thrives on being different and embracing such a view (just think about D&D races and mutant suppression in X-Men and other genres) that some could be racist.

To be honest, I don't have much of a diverse group of friends only because I'm too much of an introvert to make friends. that, and between work and family (wife and two kids), I don't have time to spend with friends. But it certainly isn't because of a lack of trying.
I can honestly say though that in the cases where I met non-white geeks, I wouldn't say it's a pleasure or any different. Geeks are geeks and I've never heard white geeks speak ill. If anything, it's that they are intimidated. Especially Black geeks. You know, especially around the early 90's (my teenage years) when gangster rap was all teh craze and our MTV was covered in Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg while the news had OJ Simpson being prosecuted and the LA riots around the same time for Mr. "Can't we all get along?" (whatever his name was). I, again, don't deny some may have been racist, but some may have been unsure about how to talk to someone like you.
Hell, now that I think back to when I worked at CompUSA, I used to have great discussions about quantum physics and stuff with a Black dude that I worked with.
So, ya, it's personal and societal. It's kind of hard to not take a look inward, consider what you've said, and not feel a little bit of resentment.
However, I really appreciate the honest discussion dude. It's hard to find that in this day and age.

ATDT1991 said...

One more thing - people for whom this doesn't apply aren't generally the ones who resent it. It's those who aren't sure, or who feel like they are being called out for something that isn't cool that resent it, and ultimately it is SO HARD for ANY of us to take criticism, no matter how well-meaning it is.

If you care about people who are very different from yourself, if you engage with and learn about people with different perspectives on a regular basis, if you challenge your own insecurities and biases, bravo my friend.

But if there's someone out there who says "My experience is that most of the white people I meet are afraid/disdainful of me, even when we are very culturally similar", don't talk like that experience can't be true because YOU have never been that person, and have never seen it happen.

The one thing about this post that makes me a bit uncomfortable is the commentary about not being in the in-crowd, but not being hideous enough to be with the total pariahs. It might be true, but I think it makes it sound like you have your own biases, there, know what I mean?

Jason Ramboz said...

Bravo and thanks to you for writing this.

You can accuse me of being overly generous, but I would guess that most of the people who've marginalized you weren't consciously trying to be racist (or subscribing to Western White Supremacist Psychological Hegemony, as you put it--a good term!) or exclusionary, but rather were acting on hundreds and thousands of unexamined and unconscious biases picked up from the people around them. I don't say this to excuse anyone--far from it! Rather, it's to point out why I think this post (and Scalzi's as well) are so important: you can't fix a problem if you don't know it's there. Sometimes even good people do bad things because they're not even aware that they're doing them.

I know that I, personally, have struggled with this kind of thing from time to time. I know I have a lot of biases from growing up, and from the attitudes around me. The problem isn't what I do when I'm thinking about it, it's what I do when I'm not. I try hard to catch myself when I slip up, and that's why I really appreciate you sharing your experiences. It's always good to have another reminder in my brain to say, "Hey, that thing you read? About how people sometimes exclude other people for stupid reasons? Yeah, you're doing it now. Stop that!"

I'm not saying this to try to pat myself on the back, but rather to make the point that even for those of us who should know better--indeed, who do know better--it can still be an uphill battle. And, I guess, to anyone who goes through the same thing: it doesn't mean you're a bad person; it just means that the problem still exists, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise.

Anyway, thanks again for posting this. I suspect I'd very much enjoy hanging out with you and having some good conversation. I think I'm off to read some more of your blog!

Otter said...

The only part of your article I feel the need to disagree with is your comment that 1000 people are nodding along with the foamy idiot. I'd say probably a handful are nodding along, but not a lot -- complete idiots tend not to be shy about displaying their idiocy.

Not disputing that there's a lot of racism. I've seen a fair bit, but a lot of it seems to fall into the category of "thoughtless idiocy" rather than "foamy idiocy". Similar to guys who feel the need to tell geek women how hot they think it is that she's a geek in the middle of a conversation about, say, comics. It's creating an unpleasant atmosphere, creating barriers, etc, and it's the kind of foolishness that needs to stop -- but it's not coming from a malicious place. I won't say they have good intentions, but at least they don't have bad intentions.

A thousand idiots is a thousand idiots -- but if most of them are idiots due to cluelessness, at least there's hope that someday they'll be given a clue and the idiot count will go down.

OK, I'm rambling, I'll shut up now. Nice piece. :-)

Nathan Wolke said...
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Nika Jewell said...

Wonderful article and so very true.

While hiding behind my beard pretending to be a SWM in a desperate attempt at denial, I recall several instances where people's body language and even comments would give away their racism.

One 'tell' that sticks in my brain happened in line at the movie theater waiting to get into a Harry Potter movie. I was with a bunch of my geeky friends. One of my friends was engaged in animated conversation with another until he noticed that a mixed race couple came up in line behind us. He shut right up, looked uncomfortable, and slowly edged away in front of us in line.

Sure, I ended up talking to the couple after a while, but I'm not trying to paint myself as a better person, to give an example of how I'm not racist. That sort of thing is ALSO racism. Crap, I think I only managed to stick myself further along the infinite regression there. Oh, well. You get the point, I hope.

Racism has popped its head into so many different groups that I have been or am a part of that I have no more illusions that any subculture is more or less bigoted than any other. Geeks (of all forms), BDSM, LGBt, you name it. Nowhere is safe from that monster.

After 'coming out of the closet' as a transgender pansexual platypus, I've noticed the 'tells' directed toward myself, too, so this definitely hits home.

Thank you, Brandon.

Nathan Wolke said...

Nika - Did you ever find out *why* your friend in line moved away from them?

Nika Jewell said...

Nathan - Yeah, he said that he just doesn't feel comfortable around black people and that mixed couples were wrong. I haven't spoken to him in a few years.

Nathan Wolke said...

Nika - Oh, well, good riddance that moron.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I did the homework. :-)

Glad I took the time to read this, but if Nnedi Okorafor recommends it, one must take a gander.

M. Rasheed said...

GREAT post, Brandon. The part about black geeks not liking to be jarred out of the lily white fantasy either with mentions of race issues, had me shaking my head at one of the scars of what racism has done to the victims of it. I have plenty of black friends over the years who've (with tears in their eyes and not even realizing it in the moment) wished they were white. Thank you for this; we can't possibly cure racism without talking about it and continuing to boil in our collective scars/privileges.

Beth said...

Came here from Whatever. GREAT post.

FWIW -- white geekgirl here -- I still worship the memory of Octavia Butler. Her books kicked such beautiful holes in the boring fabric of my white-default assumed universe. I was afraid to want to be able to write that well.

Since then, I think I've made some progress. I've lived most of my adult life in reasonably diverse parts of the country, and I now get more than a little creeped out in crowds that are all white. It just seems wrong now. If I'm in a location where only whites want to be, or are allowed to be (by either overt or covert forms of pressure and control), there has to be something wrong with it.

badweather said...

Great post! Absolutely love it.

As a dirty hippie, I have a few years of grappling with this issue. I'm constantly amazed at the process of losing your privilege when you step out of line. Being a dirty hippie, atheist, bisexual, weed head, certainly has the difficulty level toward the "hard" end of the spectrum. I've taken decades to prepare my family and that probably is part of the problem. I can't even break through their fantasy with the sledge hammer of bisexuality the lies run so deep in America.

Thanks for writing this!

badweather said...
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badweather said...
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Elisabeth Staab said...

This was a really interesting, enlightening post to read. I was a "crossover" nerd in school. Dorky enough to get along with the geek kids but social enough to get along with the jocks and whatnot. These days I attend cons as an author promoting my work, not so much as a fan, so I see things from a different perspective probably, but I always viewed getting along with everybody as one of the perks of being a geek. A lot of my readership is African American and from my perspective everyone *seems* to get along at cons. Your perspective is disappointing to read, but eye-opening. I hope this changes for the better sooner than later, and that maybe I get to see you at a ComicCon one of these days.:)

Erica said...

It's unfortunate but I've to agree with your blog Geek Racism. People often ask what genre I write and when I tell them sci-fi/fantasy they nod their head in "understanding". Shortly after the questions begin. Instead of debating who has the best super power I'm asked questions to check my sci-fi/fantasy knowledge.

Unknown said...

A few points as food for thought:

Did you, the poster, ever feel like maybe you are a bit of an "Othello" type character. You have abilities (or interests) that make you sort of exceptional or stand out from the preconceptions that people have about your tribe. But like Othello, people in Venice still can't quite believe that you are on their side and they can't shake their negative memories about "the Moors."

There are two ways you can take this: 1. You can get angry about it and walk into future panels with a sense of resentment because these people have some negative ideas about "Moors." And you are paying for that.
2. You just have to be that much better to win people over and to convince them that Othello is a stand-out guy and a guy who earns people's trust and respect.

You mentioned nerdom as being sort of a white refuge. It's an interesting idea but it doesn't explain Asians, or why Anderson Silva grew up on spiderman comics. Where I agree with it, is that maybe nerds and weirdos have suffered at the hands of stronger people, many of whom were "Moors" to use that metaphor, in their younger days.

But you must remember the single greatest meme in the multiplayer gaming world is the Leroy Jenkins video. That guy was a black guy too who has left his imprint on the whole Universe of Geeks. So, in summary, don't let people's judgement get you down. A lot of those people are traumatized from their youth.

Mythos Lore Master said...

This is a great piece and I can relate as an African American RPGer of over 20yrs. Am at GenCon for the first time and it is crazy how everything you have mentioned is in full effect.

Aaron Magno said...

I've come here from your article over at Bleeding Cool, which was a very good read. This piece, not so much. I'm not saying that this piece wasn't insightful or a true representation of your experiences but it seemed to me there was a heavy dose of Fear the White Planet in there, which I believe may detract from the heart of the piece. I should point out that I live in Australia and while racism does exist here it's very different to how it is in America.

I think the lines "You see, there's this thing called racism. Or a better term would be Western White Supremacist Psychological Hegemony." really made me feel defensive. Then a commentor said it was a good definition. My RACIST response to that is, "Yeah, it's a good definition in the Webster's Dictionary!" Considering that I've recently had a conversation lamenting the level of racial segregation among local amateur soccer teams (with the Serbians, Croatians, Italians, Greek and English all having fairly ethnically pure teams) and how this phenomena is starting to see a resurgence at the professional level it's a little jarring to come across a phrase painting all white people as one united force with one view.

Also the segment of text you decided to make bold seemed like another comment against the White Menace. Of course you did use qualifiers like "some" so there isn't any problem with the statement it's just that making the text bold suggests (to me at least) that the "some" are a significant percentage. Maybe they are but I have to remember the other Black stereotype that Black people are inherently cooler than White people. I can still remember fondly when the Dave Chapelle show came out and amongst my mostly white friends it was te greatest, most quoted thing in the world.

To be honest, I'm just nitpicking but I think it's because I believe in your message because it helps people like me realise everything isn't as ok as I see in my small part of the world and I hope you keep expressing your opinions and experiences but perhaps try to avoid the broadstrokes that paint all X people the same and all Y people are that.

mephisto6349 said...
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mephisto6349 said...

Watching the predictable comments from the overly defensive comic book fans on your thread at Bleeding Cool was both pathetic and infuriating. Seeing the few of the apologists trying their darnedest to "Muddy the Waters" because their sacred cow was in the cross-hairs, gave me so many flashbacks to the conversations I've had with like minded white folks in the past.

There were obfuscations, misinterpretations (that not even a 10 year old would make), and such a degree of blatant obtuseness that it was so painstakingly clear just how child-like these types of posters are.

What actually infuriated me though, wasn't even all of that. It was the newest tactic that (this category of) whites use whenever white racism is brought up. Where they engage in this "I'll Meet You Halfway!" tactic when it comes to racism/sexism. Where they will continually say, and make it a point for you to realize, that they as an individual DO acknowledge (in this case) "that racism exists". But for EACH AND EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE you bring forth, they'll claim that "it's not racism". That long as long it's not on the level of "Niggers Must to Die!" or the slightly less overt "We won't hire you because you're black." Because THOSE are blatant and are what this nation sees "as racism". Everything else is just "Black Superstition/Oversensitiveness" because it's not blatant.

Combined with "Muddying the Waters" and the other examples of distractions, it's quite easy for them to control the flow of the conversation. One easy way to make them "tell on" and out themselves as the frauds they are, is to ask them...

"Outside of Niggers need to die!" and "We won't hire you because you're black!" what would BE racism to you in the comic book industry?

Eliminate the blatant examples that they bank on so heavily. If they say "there's nothing" then they've outed themselves as a simpleton/moron. If they don't go this route then (in this case), they'll no doubt answer with the same issues that you and other black posters in the thread have already brought up. Either way, you lasso the conversation back in the direction it was meant to go in.

There is so much more that I could write on this issue, but I'll leave it at that. For the moment.

Eric said...

I got sent here from Tobias Buckell's twitter, so I'm considerably late to the party.

Just wanted to say, great post. I hope it helps some people understand others' experiences, and helps them to identify, correct and guard against those things creeping in on them.

I know it will for me.

I was lucky enough to meet Dwayne McDuffie at my local con before he died. He had some great things to teach about race & fandom & writing (not to mention simply about writing). People who would discount his experiences and knowledge based on race would definitely be the poorer for it.

Alex von der Linden said...

Also sent from Tobias Buckell. Great post.

Mishell said...

Ugh, all I can say is, if you ever see me at a con, and other folks are making you feel unwelcome, just come up and start talking. Seriously. I can't guarantee I will get all your references (I come from the fantasy side of geekdom rather than science fiction) but I will be so happy not to have to start a conversation that I will probably buy you lunch.

Adrian Reynolds said...

I've seen this again and again in one form or another. And I'm a white guy. Which makes me glad for intelligent articles like this. For sf writer Samuel Delaney whose autobiographical Motion of Light on Water showed me there was more diversity of experience in sixties New York than you'll ever come across in Lord of the Rings. For the sf/f novels and general political savvy of Richard Morgan whose gay hero causes ripples in fantasy circles. These things need saying. Repeatedly, unfortunately.

lkeke35 said...

I'm very glad you wrote this. I am a Black Woman geek and the things I've had to put up with...(*sigh*) and then to add gender on top of that as well. Its just mindboggling.

But here's the thing, Black people aren't any better at dealing with the Black geeks in their midst either. Since I spent the majority of my formative years in the presence of other Black people, that's where I experienced most of my problems.

Have you written any articles about that? I'd love to get the perspective of another Black nerd about that. My experiences have been pretty bad, and I often wonder if I was alone in such treatment.