THE COLOR BARRIER: A Voice for Black Female Nerds

Wed, March 26th, 2014 at 11:58am PDT

Comic Books
Joseph Phillip Illidge, Contributing Writer

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THE COLOR BARRIER is a "magazine" spotlighting discussions on diversity in comic books, graphic novels and popular culture.

The interviews, profiles, and subject matter featured focuses on men and women whose accomplishments serve to create a more informative and culturally diverse landscape of entertainment.

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Jamie Broadnax is the writer and creator of the niche blogsite for nerdy women of color called Black Girl Nerds. She has written for Madame Noire and AfroPunk, and is the VP of Digital for the SheThrives Network, a company she co-founded with 5 other bloggers about contemporary women of color. She was named as part of The Grio's Top 100 and featured on PR Newswire's "Blogs We Love." In addition to her writing and blogging, Broadnax hosts a weekly podcast called the Black Girl Nerds Podcast, which was awarded 'Best Podcast' in 2013 by the Black Weblog Awards.

THE COLOR BARRIER spoke at length with Broadnax about her transition from fan to pop culture blogger, why Black females were underserved by nerd entertainment sites and how her site serves a larger cultural need beyond that specific niche. She also explains the characters that have shaped her entertainment experience and what's next for her many ventures.

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Joseph Phillip Illidge: Which comic books made the biggest impression on you during your transformation from simply being a fan to becoming a well-known pop culture blogger?

BlackGirlNerds.com founder Jamie Broadnax talks to THE COLOR BARRIER about giving a voice to an underserved portion of fandom

Jamie Broadnax" Since I started the blog, I have been re-introduced into the contemporary world of comics. I read Marvel comics like "Excalibur" and "X-Men" growing up. Reading The Walking Dead and Frank Miller's "Martha Washington" series has been an eye-opener which allowed me to connect with pop culture comic geeks.

Blackgirlnerds.com was, reportedly, the first site of its kind for Black female geeks. Why do you think no one created something similar before you? Was it socially unacceptable for Black women to be geeks?

I think for the most part no one knew we existed. As a Black female geek, I always thought I was the only one. When I Googled the term "Black Girl Nerds," I managed to stumble onto a Yahoo! Answers site where someone actually asked the question "Do Black girl nerds exist?" Coolness and trendiness in the African- American community has become a social norm, and anything outside of that is unique and, for lack of a better term, weird. It's okay to be the uncool Black girl. Being a Black nerd myself, I have always been questioned about my "Blackness" because of certain fandoms and interests. If I prefer listening to a certain genre of music that is not "Black" or enjoy attending a gaming convention with friends, my allegiance to my Blackness should never be questioned.

Do you feel the Black female nerd community has peaked in terms of numbers and buying power, or is it still growing?

I think it's still growing. Every single day I receive tweets from followers who say "Wow, there's finally a community for people like me!" It's refreshing that we can all connect, and for some girls they may not necessarily find themselves to be a "nerd" or "nerdy," but they can identify with the community and that is equally as important. We are an inclusive group not exclusive.

When we first talked, I mentioned Misty Knight from Marvel's "Daughters of the Dragon," but for you it was all about the X-Men. The X-Men speak to diversity in so many subject areas. What are the main reasons you gravitated to those characters and that mythos?

While she grew up on the X-Men, Broadnax discovered books like Frank Miller's "Marth Washington" as she dove deeper into comics culture

I grew up on The X-Men. My brother and I collected the comic books, and also collected comic book cards. I was an avid viewer of the '90s "X-Men" animated series while growing up, so most of my knowledge of X-Men comics is based in that universe. I gravitated to Storm for obvious reasons. She was the only Black female superhero that I knew of, and connected with, growing up. I had an affinity and love for Gambit, who I will openly admit that I have a crush on. Yes, I have a head-over-heels crush on a fictional character.

There was a time when, after both the X-Men's Bishop and Luke Cage were made bald by Marvel, people within the Black community felt that both characters were made less culturally distinctive; The symbolism of male hair as a level of masculinity, and both men losing theirs. Do you feel the same way? And are you as thrilled as I am that Bishop will be sporting his long hair in the upcoming "X-Men: Days of Future Past" film?

I find that interesting. I remember seeing images of a bald Luke Cage, but never a bald Bishop. That's crazy! I will say this, though: as a '90s Bishop fan (he made several appearances in the '90s animated series) I am a little disappointed he's not sporting the jheri curl mullet. I love my locks, but c'mon, no mullet??

Blackgirlnerds.com deals not only with comics, but pop culture across the board. Do you see the interests of Black female nerds encompassing all forms of entertainment with a specific view or mindset? Is being a nerd less niche than people may think?

What allows the Black Girl Nerds site to thrive and stay relevant is our sense of diversity within nerd culture. There are so many nerd-centric websites out there that have a monolithic approach to nerdiness.

Nerdiness is an elusive term that is encompassing of so many things. It's cool to see nerd websites feature tons of information on comic books, nerd fandoms of Doctor Who, Star Wars, and other Sci-fi fandoms. However, there is so much more to nerd culture than those fandoms.

On BGN, we talk about areas of the STEM community [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math], computer programming, book reviews, we are a part of the Blerd Book Club, and conduct a podcast that has dealt with topics like interracial dating and Black women into heavy metal music. It's more than just being a nerd; it's about living beyond the status quo and a disregard for conformity. That is what the site represents, and I am grateful to have a team of contributors with various eccentricities and identities to help illustrate that to our readers.

Some would argue that making Luke Cage and Bishop bald removed some of their cultural identity

On Twitter, I've seen a lot of Tweets from Black men speaking to you. Do you think Blackgirlnerds.com is not only bringing together the Black female nerds, but becoming a central location for the Blerd community in general? If so, was that your intention, or a positive by-product of the Black female nerd way of life?

Twitter is how this community was built. It started on BlackGirlNerds.com, but it grew on Twitter. The beauty of Twitter is you can unapologetically be yourself and others will naturally gravitate to you. I talk about EVERYTHING on Twitter; my affinity for comic books, TV shows, movies, cartoons, books, music, etc. These topics are not always gender-based and guys identify not only with my comic fandoms but my fandoms in TV shows like "Game of Thrones" and "Orphan Black."

So many people who understand the BGN mission follow the account on Twitter, and listen to the podcasts, know that we are not exclusive. That is why many men participate on the podcasts as hosts, write for the blog and follow us on Twitter. BGN also receives support from non-Black nerds, which also speaks volumes into how open our space is for other communities.

What is the next evolutionary stage for you, the Black female nerd, and Blackgirlnerds.com?

Ahhh, the million dollar question. Well, I'm approaching this in baby steps one day at a time. As editor-in-chief, podcast host and social media strategist for BGN, I wear a lot of hats. My goal is to develop this into a company and work with non-profits in high schools, universities, workshops, hackathons, comic cons, etc.

I would love to have this webspace provide a comfort zone for Black women to feel comfortable with their nerdiness, and even participate in activities they have never heard of before; to have an open mind when it comes to your sense of self and your identity. A place where you can either geek out on social media by live-tweeting an episode of "Jem & The Holograms," or you can meet up with other Blerds at a comic con and cosplay as your favorite characters.

This is a place where you can just take a deep breath and exhale. You can finally be yourself.

While Bishop has also gone through a bald phase in the comics, his first on screen appearance in "X-Men: Days of Future Past" will see the mutant sporting dreadlocks

TAGS:  the color barrier, jamie broadnax, martha washington

 
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