One of the most intriguing subcultural (r)evolutions lies in the rise of the Blerd. Over the course of the past several years, interest in geek culture has blown up, creating a space for more representation within border-breaking genres. At some pin on the timeline, the Blerd – a.k.a. Black Nerd – was birthed.
Roll on over to BlerdNation, Black Girl Nerds or Women in Comics to get a sense of the community. Progress towards international-normalization of inclusivity within the geek realm is being made at increasing speed through not only social media, but real-time conventions, talks and workshops as well.
When I bumped into Blerdcon via browsing this vast Net I was already packed and ready to go join my people. But, something specific caught my attention: Blerd, here, meant more than Black Nerd. The convention travels the marginalized gradient by highlighting people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ community and those with backgrounds in need or representation.
I asked creator and con chairman Hilton George to tell us more about Blerdcon’s mission.
What was your initial vision of the convention?
When I came up with the idea Blerdcon, I had in my mind a large scale convention which combined all of the elements of the cons that everyone loves but with an enhanced focus on issues of diversity and inclusion tackled by a representative roster of guests and panelists. A roster that would also bring content that is considered “mainstream”, only that the ethnicity, gender, orientation and/or background of said content would be of an underrepresented community. We expected our first year to be small, which is expected of most new cons. But the ascendance of the “Blerd” took off and has energized members of our and other intersected communities. Luke Cage and Black Panther blowing up the small and big screen last summer have made what was once considered “niche” into a much broader constituency. Now everyone wants to participate. Our partners and sponsors now range from other cons, to the city of Arlington and Crystal City. We have attendees flying in from Europe, the Caribbean and all over the country! There is a much wider understanding of the need for inclusion as the “Geek” star rises, bringing “Blerd” along with it. Our expected attendance has prompted us to enact a Kictstarter campaign to expand the venue, content and programming to meet the growing demand. It is going to be much bigger than we imagined and we are ready!
You mention that this is not just for blerds. Could you further explain why cons catering to the marginalized matter?
Certainly. It is important to note that the majority of Blerds are not just black nerds. Many of them have mixed heritage, are members of the LGBTQ community, have disabilities, are citizens of other countries or are members of our armed services. These con goers rarely see content that speaks to their issues, passions or contributions to their fandom. So having that highlight is important for the underrepresented. But it is also important that this celebration of diversity be shared with those who are outside of the underrepresented community. We as a nation have rarely made historical strides forward on any societal issue without doing so TOGETHER. The Blerd contributions to geekdom are valued and shared by all, even if it is not known or appreciated by some. Blerdcon is designed to welcome everyone into this experience so that the dialogue outside of the con can continue to elevate.
How do you think children would react to the convention?
Children are less worried about issues of race, gender, orientation and faith than adults. Fear and prejudice have to be taught, and children hold less adult baggage in that regard. The younger they are, the more open their minds tend to be. I posted a picture on our community page this fall of two kids at a North Carolina convention who were both cosplaying Black Panther. They were ages 6 and 8, and both were white. He was their favorite super hero and they had no compunctions in acting out all the poses catch phrases of a black comic book character. I talked to them for a few minutes about their cosplays and race never came up in their minds. I think the kids can be the example in some cases.
Would it normalize blerd culture in the eyes of their peers? I think it will. Mainly when people are allowed to see the commonalities we all have as geeks, it will be easier to highlight and celebrate the uniqueness that comes along with inclusivity.
Were you a young blerd? What was life like for you then?
I was a Blerd before there was a word for it. Before I knew other blerds existed. It was awkward in that I had nowhere to fit in. As a young black kid in the 80s you were either stereotyped 100% in one direction, or 100% in the other. I was not accepted by the black community in school because I “talked white” (this was due to my being from Philly and not having a southern accent when moved to the rural south), but I was too “black” to fit in with white groups. SO I fell into that nebulous middle where the geeks sat. Everyone in the geek group was rejects from one circle or another, but we gathered around nerd stuff and that’s all that mattered. The key difference between myself and any of my white geek friends is that for them, even as social rejects, they were never rejected for their race. Being a blerd held an additional layer of ostracizing.
What do you think of sister initiatives like Wincon or BSAM?
There are many cons and festivals that target underrepresented populations in very keen and direct fashion. They are absolutely necessary for the empowerment and celebration of those communities. We will actually be exhibitors at Wincon this March, to showcase the inclusion of women writers, artists, cosplayers, publishers and coders as a part of the Blerdcon mission. Without long running events like BSAM, there might not be self-proclaimed Blerds from which to call a con at all. Black people are just like any other community. We need to have conversations and education WITHIN and without. Cons whose mission is to educate, empower and organize internally form the springboard for all events with the mission to expose, share and celebrate externally. Wincon, BSAM and others certainly engage in some of all of this in serving their fans. Blerdcon is different in that we are multi-fandom, serving multiple communities in content, and taking all of this on in a large scale molded on the full-weekend gaming/anime cons we all know and love.
What would be your response to people asking “Why the focus on race?”
If it were just race! I smile when I get this question because culture is something to be shared and enjoyed by all. Imagine a new fusion soul food restaurant opens near you. No one would think twice about giving it a try to either get a taste of the familiar, or to take your palette on a new adventure. Blerdcon is that! We are creating a new and unique journey, and we’re taking as many folks as we can along for the ride. We all enjoy the fruits of a diverse world, but we only hesitate to share in certain arenas. Once people experience Blerdcon, there will be a new openness to inclusion among all fandoms. The key is to have a good time, see new things, have new experiences and grow from it. We are the first con of this kind to take on such a mission, and to get it right we’ll be focused on building an experience that everyone can enjoy!
Finally, just how far do you think this project could expand?
For the industry? Hopefully you will see more inclusion events in the future (as long as they don’t conflict with Blerdcons II, III, IV etc. LOL) that are willing to go bigger, trusting that there is a market willing to support it. For the future of Blerdcon, I could see us as a “DragonCon of the North” style event that activates the entire DC region!
Hilton George is the creator and con chairman for Blerdcon. With his background in outreach to underrepresented populations, he has assembled the group working on developing the content, promotion and staffing for this inaugural event.
Featured image from Brichibi Cosplays.