Adventures at BLERDCON DC

by Troy-Jeffrey Allen

How does BPM’s mission relate to something like blerd culture?

It starts with freedom of expression …

Before the millennium, the life of a sci-fi/fantasy fan was fairly lonely.  Remember, this was pre-Internet, so geekery was largely a solitary activity – just you and your novel/comic book/manga/film – indulged to support an already over-active imagination. The Internet and the astronomical rise of the comic book movie genre – with its massive merchandising opportunities – have shifted the landscape dramatically.

I admit I struggle with how prevalent geek culture has become. Once the mainstream embraced the world of spandex-clad superheroes and sci-fi exploits, it became clear that the days of docile geekery were over. That uneasy feeling of disruption accompanied me to Blerdcon on Sun., July 29. Disruption from the exile so many like-minded African Americans of my generation had foisted upon ourselves in response to  how the media has historically portrayed nerds, a stereotype that is antithetical to the Black “norm.”

Entering its second year as an event celebrating “inclusivity” within the nerd subculture, Blerdcon is quickly becoming the nexus for people of color who have fully immersed themselves in the world of science-fiction/fantasy. That includes but is not limited to video games, comic books, cosplay,  Anime, Manga, and the like. If it sounds like a whole new world, that’s because it is!

As popular as I think this particular realm has become, it still sits on the fringes of conventional tastes. Nonetheless, Black nerds (a.k.a. “Blerds”) are making their presence known in a very visible way. Walking into Crystal City, Virginia’s Grand Hyatt was like stepping into a Star Trek teleporter  (oh, my geek is show

ing!). It felt like I’d moved out of one reality and into another where I navigated through an array of brown faces decked out in costumes based on beloved sci-fi characters. I imagine that hotel is usually inhabited by stuffy business travelers drifting in and out on their way to Reagan National Airport.  The Blerdcon crowd was anything but stuffy. It was rife with exultant blackness.

Are you a fan of Marvel’s Luke Cage? He was there playing XBox against Black Panther. Love Eartha Kitt’s Catwo

man? You’d see her walking around buying jewelry from the Blerdcon vendor area. Never seen an African-American Sailor Moon? I spotted five of them at Blerdcon. As we tend to do, not only has Black America created a space for judgment-free expression, but they’re doing it in the most jubilant way possible.

The more time I spent at Blerdcon the less surprised I was by all the creative costuming. Reinvention has long been how African Americans cope with living in a country that treats them as less than. It’s how Cassius Clay morphed into Muhammad Ali, how the Bosto

n burglar known as Malcolm Little evolved into Malcolm X —  and even how Barack Obama became a superhero to win the 2008 presidential election. Don’t even get me started on rapper transformations…

People of color have long been the creative force behind popular culture. Blerdcon and similar events popping up around the globe are just the latest extension of a space we’ve always owned. It turns out, I was harboring the same monolithic viewpoint that coerced me into a box when I was young. Obliterating that narrow perspective is why contemporary blerds are creating spaces like the one at the Hyatt Regency.

We are not a monolith. We’re Storm and Bishop from the X-Men. Lando Calrissian or Finn from Star Wars. Captain Sisqo from Deep Space Nine. We’re determined to be whatever we want to be. And Blerdcon allows room for just that.

 

Writer Troy-Jeffrey Allen attended Washington, DC’s Blerdcon event to uncover a unique subculture within the realm of “geekdom.”