Whether it’s the election, Ferguson, Flint, Orlando, or DAPL, one of the most infuriating things I hear from people, and by people I mean white people, is that there needs to be more dialogue, more education, more love.
If only there were more people out there teaching and educating then tragedies like #Orlando or #Ferguson or #Baltimore wouldn’t be a reality.
Why is that infuriating? Because there are people who have dedicated their lives, doing that very work. In fact you’re reading one of their pieces right now.
My name is Julie, and I am an actual woman in tech. Sometimes it’s hard being me in tech, because I am a woman… of color… with children… who hasn’t watched a single Iron Man or Wolverine movie. Call me Unicorn.
Have you read about the latest study that shows how shitty it still is to be coding while female (or, I assume, presenting as female)? The way they controlled for geekiness is especially awesome. There aren’t many surprises in this study’s findings; women in Computer Science and tech in general have always been excluded, implicitly and explicitly, and it seems the majority still likes to protect its vanguard.
The article’s flaw, in my opinion, is labeling Dungeons & Dragons, Star Trek, and other geek institutions as “masculine.” That’s too easy to dispute, and therefore, dismiss. We all can see why “masculine” is not the most accurate adjective to use: there are plenty of counter-examples of masculinity that have nothing to do with that stuff, and of course there are plenty of femmes who like that stuff. It is rather more a slice of the pop culture universe that is indeed white male dominated, but takes its identity from fandoms, the objects of those fandoms, and the general quest for purity within those fandoms. So for the rest of this article, I’m going to call this cultural archetype “ubergeek.”
“The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” — Constable Moore, The Diamond Age
Neal Stephenson’s 1995 science fiction classic, The Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, blew me away when I first read it as an idealistic NOC-in-training. I interpreted it as a heartwarming coming-of-age story about a down-and-out little girl named Nell who stumbled upon a copy of the Primer, a multi-disciplinary interactive textbook designed to train an upper-class girl to adulthood. She saves herself and the world through what she learns from the Primer. Girl power! The end!
It turns out, upon a recent re-reading, that I failed to recognize about ten other layers of the onion, all of them much heavier than the idea of an interactive book for girls. There is Stephenson’s grim portrayal of the future of China, for one, as well as his prediction that the boundary lines between people will not be drawn on a geographic plane, but rather by culture, and people will form tribes based on race, religion, or other creeds.
While I read often, I rarely read quickly. I am jealous of my friends who can devour books. I am not that way and am awfully indecisive. My reading habit is to start six or seven books hopping between each and hoping one amongst all of them will stick. And even then, sometimes none of them do. But I’m happy to report that Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King were books that I devoured.
This is all to say that I enjoyed those books immensely. And yet one minor passage midway through The Magician King gives me pause and illustrates why I am — in the end and inescapably — a Nerd of Color. Like most things, it has to do with penis, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
As nerds of colour, we’re all too familiar with the conundrum: what do we do when our geeky fare is both awesome and offensive at the same time?
It’s a problem born of the simple fact that the creative teams behind some of our favourite nerd media — comic books, video games, board games, and movies — tend to be overwhelmingly White and male, fostering a sort of nerd-bro culture that too often gets the voices and narratives of women and people of colour horribly wrong (an issue well-discussed on last week’s epic Hard NOC Life podcast episode featuring industry insiders Larry Hama and Joe Illidge). Often, the arguably racist or sexist mistreatments of non-White, non-male characters — while offensive — is a symptom of a much larger weakness in a comic’s creative team, resulting in a book that can be easily dismissed as universally bad. Take, for example, the much-anticipated upcoming Mighty Avengers book, which Illidge predicted in last week’s podcast was unlikely to succeed due to both racial as well as creative problems. On the flip side, a book like Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese gets things right on all counts: it is on the one hand both well-written and well-illustrated, and on the other hand a compelling exploration of the Asian American identity.
In short, things are easy when the politics of a book also fit the overall quality of a book.
But, what happens when a favourite comic book or video game is both incredibly good, and pretty racist? Or, vice versa, how are we supposed to react when the politics of a book are compelling, but the execution leaves something to be desired?
Put another way, what happens when we find our identities as Nerds and People of Colour at odds?
This conundrum was brought to a head for me this past week when J. Lamb and I snatched up our copy of Grand Theft Auto V.