Blerd City Con will celebrate black nerdom this weekend


A new two-day festival kicking off in Brooklyn Saturday will celebrate the “blerd”—aka the black nerd. Here, the organizers share with us why the event means so much.

Film programmer Clairesa Clay was like many kids growing up in New York.

“In my neighborhood, we would stop playing on Saturday because we knew it was time to go inside and watch kung fu movies,” she laughs, recalling that when 3 p.m. rolled around, everything stopped in order to watch badly-dubbed action movies with fight scenes that came from anywhere but reality.

But it was fun and she loved it, along with the other interests she’d been introduced to by her father.

“My father introduced me to Star Trek when I was younger, and there was only one TV in the house, so you were forced to watch what they watched,” Clay recalled. “That’s who started me, and his interests influenced me. Sometimes with my friends from middle school and high school, I would have an interest and talk about it passionately and they’re looking at me like, ‘I don’t know nothing she’s saying.’”

Blerd City founder Clairesa Clay, courtesy Clairesa

Clay laughs now, but for a long time, she was part of a group that really didn’t have a home. If nerds were the outsiders back then, well, women and people of color were often the outsiders’ outsiders. If you were both, you were really out of the loop. At least until she ran across the word “blerd,” aka black nerd, while researching Afrofuturism on film.

“I looked it up and I said, ‘That word fits you, who you are as a person and your interests. You can do a conference about being a blerd.’”

Two years later, she is. This weekend in Brooklyn, Fabulize mag will sponsor Clay’s Blerd City Con, a two-day event that will feature multiple panels, workshops, and screenings at five venues, with the focus being on the world of the Blerd and the creators that have found a home in a world that wasn’t always open to accepting them.

“It was cool to find more people and more avenues, and that’s the feeling I want people to get,” Clay said. “For a long time, it’s been seen as negative to talk about your intelligence, and I really want that aspect to be presented forward as an image and for African-Americans to be thought of in an intellectual way and to have those positive images.”

“It’s important for representation,” adds Robyn Warren of Geek Girl Strong, who will be the MC for Saturday’s Blerd City Cosplay Ball. “If you look around on the internet, you see a lot of black people who are looking for other people who grew up or who are geeky or nerdy in any way to relate to. I know that was a really big thing for me too growing up.”

Journalist Val Complex will be doing double duty at Blerd City thanks to a panel on the changing face of Nerd Journalism and a live read of excerpts from Joss Whedon’s 2009 Wonder Woman script.“In the arts, black women aren’t given their just due and I think this is a real way to see what black women are made of, and give back to a cause and an organization that will hopefully thrive beyond just 2017,” Complex said. “People should want to check it out because there’s a focus on diversity, specifically the black diaspora, and it is run and organized by black women.”

Until recently, nerd culture was seen—at least in the mainstream—as something exclusive to certain demographics. That has changed, in a big way, in recent years.

“I think the demographic is changing,” Complex said. “What people identify as nerd, that whole look is changing from the scrawny, white male basement-dwelling archetype that people think nerds used to be. It’s Robyn (Warren), it’s disabled people, it’s LGBT, it’s all types of people now because people want diversity more than ever. People pushed through. But it wasn’t easy.”

Journalist Val Complex, image courtesy Val Complex

And the work isn’t done yet. Sure, Black Panther on the big screen, Luke Cage on Netflix, and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxanne Gay writing high-profile comics are all positive signs, but there is still more progress left to be made.

“I think that it’s not going to be an easy road and I don’t think that Luke Cage and Black Panther are a quick fix, just like our last president wasn’t a quick fix for problems with race in our country,” Warren said. “But I think it’s a good sign and it’s heartening to see that these films and shows are being made and that they have such a great following.”

Geek Girl Strong’s Robyn Warren, image courtesy of Robyn Warren

The Blerd City Con is another forward step and, as Complex points out, technology has removed a lot of barriers that once existed. Now, it can be art for art’s sake.

“People are carving out spaces for themselves and they aren’t too concerned about acceptance,” she said. “They’re just really into doing their own thing and if you’re on board, then you’re on board, and if you’re not, then, ‘Oh well.’ People have the resources now. They have social media to spread the word, you have things like Kickstarter where you can raise money. You don’t need to rely on anyone anymore and you can do the things that you want to do. You skip the middleman.”

Couple this with the mega releases from the big studios, and things are starting to look up for creators who didn’t always get a fair shake.

“I think that having the really big successful titles is super helpful because it allows for people who don’t have that same platform to probably get chances that they wouldn’t have been given otherwise,” Warren said, making it clear that this weekend’s con is an important one for artists and fans. And no, you can’t forget the fans, especially the ones who now have a place to call their own.

“The main reason why people are looking for spaces like this is because they don’t feel included in the bigger events and they don’t feel seen at bigger events,” she said. “They feel dwarfed in a way or like a specialty group rather than someone who is a target audience.”

That ends this Saturday and Sunday. And it’s about time because this stuff is for everyone.

“Everybody’s parents, unless you’re Native American, is from another country,” Clay said. “People forget that their family went through a struggle. So we need to remember that America is inclusive.”

Next: How growing diversity just might save the world of comics

For more information on the Blerd City Con, visit