• Daniélle Awogbemi

Blerd Reality: Anti-blackness & Othering in the Black Community




This morning, I perused posts on Facebook as I got my breakfast. Some of it was routine stuff--a meme I laughed at, then instantly forgot, a few selfies of people with that Starbucks unicorn frap I'd been too lazy to go out purchase myself...then one post caught my eye. In it were several steadily-growing threads, one of which made me stop scrolling.


As you've guessed from the title, that particular thread was about black people who believe that it's okay to dismiss other black people's blackness on the grounds that having different interests than the "norm" is unacceptable, and makes someone less black and by extension, anti-black. It not only disturbed me, it got me thinking about the serious flaws in that view.


For starters, it's purposely excluding other black people for not being your particular brand of black, which people seem to confuse as being pro-black. It's not. Pro-black is accepting every black person's blackness. What this is is actually the opposite. It's being against those in your own community because their interests don't match a stereotype or model. Instead of embracing the fact that black people aren't a monolith and that we're individuals with a variety of talents, hobbies, and interests, people who subscribe to this ideology are essentially saying that being different, being something other than what's expected--hence the term "othering"--makes one unworthy of their black identity.


Yet, the same black people with those views are the first ones to get angry when other people paint all black people with the same stereotype brush. That. Floors me. You can't have it both ways. You can't call it out when other people do it to black folks, but do the same thing to other black people and say that it's okay.


Now don't get me wrong. There is certainly something to be said of black people who do reject their black identities. There are a lot of blerds who do that. And damn right, they're anti-black ASF and beyond wrong for doing it. However, there are still some layers to that particular conversation that should be talked about at when it comes to that. So let's talk about them.


Blerd anti-blackness, in my experience, often stems from one or more of these things: 1) A feeling of rejection from black peers, 2) Wanting to fit in with a non-black majority in a mostly non-black area, or 3) Not being able to properly relate to black peers due to differences in heritage or culture (foreign/immigrant vs. American).


I'll use myself as an example. I grew up in small-town America. When I was in middle school, I found it hard to connect with other black kids because they considered me a weirdo. (In elementary school, none of that mattered. At that time, my peers were much younger, and much less judgemental.) I lived in the same apartment complex that a lot of them did. It didn't matter. It didn't matter how many of the popular songs I listened to nor how much I tried to emulate the current trends, my interest in art and anime, along with my mother's religion and the way I spoke, made me a "f*ckin' loser" and a prime bullying target, which continued until the year I graduated high school.


In seventh grade, I stopped trying to fit in with the other black kids and instead distanced myself until I found a ragtag niche made up of honors kids--most of whom were socially-awkward, like me. They accepted me into the nerd group and, grateful for the invitation to belong somewhere, I settled into my place in their ranks. Unfortunately, these nerds saw the other black kids as either scary walking stereotypes or unintelligent, which soon rubbed off on me. The feeling of rejection and the constant bullying made me angry and left me wanting to prove that I was not only worthy of being included, I was better than they were. Smarter. More well-mannered. The false, hollow feeling of superiority helped me cope.


As you can imagine, that led to an even worse mentality by high school. By that time, I'd developed an elitist attitude. I wanted to separate myself from the people bullying me, the majority of which had been my black neighbors and peers, but more so from the other black kids who'd let the bullying happen. The ones who'd either laughed or agreed when they saw things being thrown at me or witnessed yet another public verbal assault of my self-esteem and right to live. Apparently, to many of those who'd been involved, my being unattractive to them meant that my life was worthless to them. "No one f*cking cares about you. You could die tomorrow and NO. BODY. Would caaaaare, b*tch." This was repeated to me by the neighbor kids in my apartment complex, and no matter how many times I'd gotten up the nerve to actually try to talk back, I was small, I was scared, and I was broken. They knew that.


Every day, I went home as quickly as possible, sometimes taking a long route to avoid people I knew would start something on sight. While still wanting to belong, I prayed to be left in peace, but the torment persisted, escalated.


And I hated them. Slowly, I started believing what they said, but I hated them.


Let's get something straight. Even with everything that had happened, my attitude back then was still wrong. All kinds of wrong. It was wrong of me to classify other black people unlike myself as being lesser and it was wrong of me to assume that just because a lot of the other black kids in my age group at my school were a certain way, that every black person who spoke like them or dressed like them would also be that way. But hindsight will always be 20-20.


The day my honors English class got a new student is the day I started seeing the big flaws in my thinking and attitude. She had a "stereotypical" black name and dressed and spoke the way the other black kids did. I assumed that she was going to be mean like they were, so I avoided her. When I finally got up the nerve to get to know her, I was shocked and ashamed of myself. She was one of the nicest people I'd ever met and more intelligent than a lot of us so-called smart kids. (She put me to shame in science and math.) It was she who showed me that my "friends" were actually racists and that I had been an enabler of their BS--their designated Black Friend.


If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have met my college best friend freshman year, another black peer whose friendship and insight are the reasons my attitude changed for the better. I'm grateful for both of them. Without them, it probably would have taken much longer for my toxic mentality to change.


I shared this story so that people can get a better understanding of why some blerds are anti-black. Again, I'm not saying that it's right to be that way because it isn't. Being an anti-black black person is not only a ridiculous conundrum, it's denying an important part of yourself and in turn, hating yourself.


So if you can see why being an elitist, classist, respectability-politicking type blerd is a bad thing, you can see why being a supposedly pro-black black person who only accepts certain types of blackness is just as anti-black. Whatever interests we have, WE ARE STILL BLACK. I shouldn't have to prove my blackness to anyone and no one should have to prove theirs to me.

If you've ever watched or heard of A Different World, then you've seen the many unique kinds of blackness we all bring to the table. We're math lovers, book fans, artists, musicians, dancers, scientists, athletes, gamers, and so much more. We shouldn't be creating "You Must Be This Type of Black to Enter" clubs, we should be embracing and celebrating that broad spectrum of blackness because it. Is. Glorious.

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