The other day, my father noticed one of the PC games I was playing and was pretty stunned — not just at the graphics but the overall presentation of gaming today. Growing up, the computer in our home was mostly used for homework, school projects, and of course, Math Blaster. I don’t know that my father knows how deep the rabbit hole of PC gaming goes, or its history, but he remains one of the single most significant figures in introducing video games to me.
After reading Desiree Rodriguez’s essay about Latinx representation and how we assume one’s race based on looks, I was inspired to write my own essay on the assumption of one’s race and biracial representation, while sharing some of my experiences as a black biracial woman.
Before we go any further, I’m African-American, Greek, French, and Scottish. However, I identify as being Black-Greek, black biracial, or half black/half white. I know this is a question I’m going to get, so I had to address it as soon as possible before diving even deeper into these subjects. Please remember that not everyone who is biracial and or a POC have had the same experiences as me; however, I’m simply adding my experiences to the conversation to hopefully give a new perspective.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is my 100th post here at the Nerds of Color.
To say I’ve been ecstatic about hitting this milestone would be a vast understatement, as my colleagues will tell you.
So for this special edition post, I wanted to do something special. I’m going to answer some FAQs, share some memories and some behind the scenes shenanigans.
But before I do anything else, I want to take this opportunity to thank the person who all of this possible, Fearless Leader. Though he’s known to some of you as Keith Chow. None of us would be here if it wasn’t for him. He works tirelessly to make the NoC the special place it is. More than that he’s been an amazing leader, friend, mentor and brother and I will forever be grateful for him taking a chance on me and giving me this opportunity.
Also mad love to the rest of the NOC team that welcomed me and made me feel like I joined a family.
A great visionary by the name of Cindi Mayweather once said, “Embrace what makes you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable. I didn’t have to become perfect because I’ve learned throughout my journey that perfection is the enemy of greatness.”
My name is Dennis R. Upkins. I’m a speculative fiction author who writes urban fantasy, YA, and superhero fantasy. Storytelling has always been my calling, but sometimes fate has to put you on the path. The key is to be astute when the signs present themselves.
It was two years ago and I had a homecoming of sorts as I was back in Atlanta for Gaylaxicon/Outlantacon. The con was a smashing success but that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected however was the revelation I would receive repeatedly throughout the weekend.
According to Webster, a latter definition suggests that a nerd is: “unstylish, introverted, and devoted towards academic pursuits.”
There is nothing unstylish about my nature, but for the purposes of this site, I’ll define the term as a person who has an affinity for certain forms of entertainment. For the purposes of this site, I’ll be that. A cinema nerd. A rap music nerd. A nerd divulging mythology through fiction, poetry, or graffiti walls.
Comic books were taboo in my parents’ Christian household; my collection was always stifled and intermittent. My stash was hidden in the clandestine manner young boys hid Playboy magazines; under mattresses, behind dresser drawers — ultimately found and discarded.
I am one of those nerds that came out later in life. Growing up, I was not hip to nerd culture, but I thought the things I was into at the time were the norm. Being an anime fan growing up in the Bronx, I was somewhat of an outlier. This made me feel like I belonged to an exclusive group of individuals. I was the only one I knew at my school, and the only one on my block, that was into Japanese animation. However, that exclusivity didn’t last long. I had to share anime with all of my friends, and soon everyone else got hooked as well.
My first introduction to anime was Akira. But my reaction to it might not be what you’d expect.
So my version of a nerd is a person who passionately and purposefully seeks out the way- more-than-necessary knowledge about a strangely specific subject1. There are barely-there nerd memories of inventing my own Pokémon with their successive evolved forms, obviously, Toonami afternoons of Dragonball and Dragonball Z, explaining The Adventures of Lois and Clark to my grandmother, and losing my elementary-aged shit when Hercules and Xena had their first crossover.
What kind of nerd am I? A black girl nerd. A TV nerd. A Harry Potter nerd. A watch-all-three-Lord-of-the-Rings-Extended-Editions-in-one-weekend nerd. A nerd who is still discovering new, awesome nerd things every day.
But let’s talk about being a TV nerd, since I’m going to probably do most of my writing in the TV section of this website. I guess I became a TV nerd when I was about nine and I had to miss an episode of Sailor Moon after school. I cried. I thought about how I might never get to see that episode (this was pre-DVR, of course and I didn’t know I wouldn’t be home, so VHS recording the episode was out) and I’d miss that time with Serena and Darien and the girls (it was the American dub, it has a special place in my heart even though I should know better).
The gun fired and we were off to the races. I was one of the first to dive in the water without a moment’s hesitation; it was as if Denzel trained me himself. It was the early-mid 80s so “Eye of the Tiger” was quite possibly in rotation on the radio as I stroked ahead of the pack, feeling fresh and new, keeping my eyes on the arrows directing our path.
When I first “went viral,” I was as skeptical about “why this Arthur Chu guy is even a thing” as much as anyone else, believe me. The weirdest thing about this year was seeing an explosion of media discussion of some random guy and not being able to blog about how weird and misplaced it was because for the first time I was that guy.
And the weirdest thing about that is seeing other people doing the obnoxious thing I used to do, blogging about complete strangers confidently making assessments about what they’re “about” based on the tiny slice of their life that made them YouTube famous.
The above image is from the cover of my upcoming book: Diary of an AfroGeek.
Being an AfroGeek is all about being comfortable, and expecting, to hold immense contradictions. It is loving Firefly, Serenity, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but having a strong feeling that Joss Whedon doesn’t love you back. It is about getting into passionate discussions about why and how Storm’soriginal mohawk incarnation was one of the more powerful political statements in comics, but being appalled at how uninteresting she became when she married Black Panther.
Believe it or not, today marks the one year anniversary of the official launch of this blog. (While we reposted Bao’s article that inspired the website on August 1, we didn’t officially kick off the site until this post on the 12th.)
A year later, we’ve grown exponentially across our various social media platforms thanks to all of you loyal readers, followers, subscribers, and likers. To mark the occasion, we’re going to look back at the secret origins of all of the NOCs who contributed this past year. Fortunately, our roster continues to grow, so you can keep track of future origin stories by following this tag.
Two mysterious lands far away from one another — yet linked by seas of soybeans — birthed a child born of melody, harmony, rhythm, and the smell of soy sauce. The child was destined to become a musician… and a tofu-loving pescetarian. But first, between musical gifts, came dreams of Jedi knighthood, ninjas, and flying with a cape.
My dad says he took me to Return of the Jedi when I was 3. I don’t remember it, but judging from the reaction my mom gives when this is mentioned, it happened. What I do remember very well from childhood is becoming obsessed with Superman in the early 80s. It seemed about right being surrounded by farms in a Nebraska town 60 miles from Smallville (okay, the Kansas border). Superman links farmland Nebraska with farmland Goiás (Brazil). My dad and my tio Laurinho took me to Superman III a year later. Remember, it took a bit more time for movies to travel back then. After that, it was capes and the same tio, or anyone else I could get, making me fly in both Brazil and the U.S. while trying not to break stuff.
In 1974, a baby arrived in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana from the planet Cripton. She looked like the offspring of two Chinese immigrants, Ma and Pa Wong, but something was different.
The Earth’s gravitational force made it difficult for this baby to raise her head. She couldn’t crawl and went straight from sitting to walking. Perplexed, Ma and Pa Wong took their baby to the doctor and found out: she is a mutant from Cripton!
“The Lion King. Disney. Safe bet,” I hear my mom say in the other room. And with that, my family is off to the movies.
Movies seem safe. An escape, a way to forget about everything that has just happened.
The Lion King opened in June, but it’s now October. Only one small theater near us is still playing it, but tickets are only a couple of dollars. The theater is empty except for my mother, my brother, my sister, and me. My sister has just turned six. My brother is seven. I am thirteen.
The lights dim and the film begins. Everything is fine. This feels good; it’s a nice escape. The colors are bright, the music pleasant.
I was caught making ice sculptures while wearing my X-Uniform in 5 Pointz, Queens, and someone asked why I would risk exposure.
I wear my X-Jacket when outside of the Academy to empower myself, and to remember that being mutant is a global phenomenon — our gifts, largely and widely, will go unrecognized as our existence is fundamentally iconoclastic in an otherwise conformist world.
I especially wanted to visit the 5 Pointz Academy after having been painted over white.
In gaming culture, an NPC (non-player character) is often a bit player in the overall story — he or she is there for no reason except to get the main character to their goal. Their backstory is never told.
Much like an NPC, people of color who desire to create music or art or think differently than their counterparts are often discouraged and forced to keep those thoughts and ideas to themselves. And to play the background.
I had an idea a while back to create a collective of like-minded, forward thinking creatives who have been through a lot of the same things I had as a person of color who enjoyed nerdy things as a child an as an adult.
I found the pattern for free on Ravelry. For the stitches I didn’t know how to do, I looked up how-to videos on YouTube, i.e, how to do knit with two colors and decreasing stitches. The pattern was easy once I figured it out: knit stitch (no purls), following the pattern around four times, and then changing over to double-pointed needles for the decreases. You can see the Totoros along the bottom, and above them, the sootballs. Add a puffball at the top, and I had a Totoro hat. Not bad for someone who’s only been knitting for a couple of years now.
My grandmother knits, but I never had the patience to do the large afghans and blankets that she loves to do. It was only when we moved to Wisconsin that I discovered that hats and gloves and scarves are a given up here. I got a Stitch and Bitch book as a Christmas present and thought, well, why not. So far, I’ve knitted scarves, fingerless gloves, and a sort of shawl which could be a poor excuse for a Snuggie. But this was my very first hat, and I’m proud it turned out well.
True story: several of the rejections that I got for Super Justice Force made mention of how difficult it was for certain editors to relate to my hero, Darius Logan. None of them came out and said they couldn’t relate to him because he was black, just that they couldn’t relate to him. Fair enough, I suppose. But I can’t help but wonder exactly what it was about Darius that they couldn’t relate to. Was it the fact that he was an orphan, like Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Tarzan, Superman, or Batman? Was it that he found himself stuck in a violent world not of his own making, like Katniss Everdeen? Was it that he was a tortured soul struggling to survive like… well… like many characters in some of the most popular stories of all time?
The fact of the matter is that aside from the recurring “teenage boys don’t read” and “this isn’t girl-friendly enough” responses that accompanied every single rejection of Super Justice Force, one of the most common complaints editors had was that they couldn’t relate to Darius. Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what that means, and unless it meant that my book was so poorly written that Darius was an unlikeable jerk, then it most likely meant that some people couldn’t get behind the fact that he was black.
In the 1982 graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Kitty Pryde gets in a fight with a boy in her dance class. The dance instructor, Stevie Hunter, along with Peter and Illyana Rasputin, who come to pick Kitty up from class, break up the fight and discover that the boy hates mutants (ignorant that Kitty is a mutant, herself). He calls Kitty a “mutie-lover,” but Stevie, eager to diffuse the situation, laughs it off and tells Kitty “they’re only words, child.” The boy runs off before Kitty screams at Stevie “suppose he called me a nigger-lover, Stevie? Would you be so damn tolerant then?!”
Kitty storms off full of teenage rage, but we have to turn the page to see Peter’s awkward apology to Stevie, reassuring her that Kitty didn’t mean what she said. It’s only after Peter leaves that Stevie says, “of course she did… she meant every word… and she was right,” with a tear and a clenched fist. It’s the first and last time we see Stevie in the comic. But she stole the whole damn show.
When this site was in its early stages, each of the contributors told an “origin” story about how they came to Nerdhood. We’ll be revisiting some of these origin stories once in a while to give you a little insight … Continue reading Origins Rewind: Junko’s Nerd Emblems
As a child, I did not collect comics weekly. At ten, I lacked the funds and access to a friendly neighborhood comic book shop. Travel to the closest store required leaving Black suburban safety, crossing highways and railroad tracks, and strolling through an alien White community three miles away to feed a Cable and Nightwing habit. No. Besides, graphic novels offered complete story arcs, so to read new comics I would cajole my mother into forking over twenty dollars American (not including sales tax) each time I wished to depart Waldenbooks in Chesapeake Square Mall with the Spider-Man Clone Saga, or Batman: Contagion.