The great W.E.B. Du Bois may have underestimated things a little with his theory on double consciousness that he proposed in “Souls of Black Folk” – especially when it comes to Black nerds. There’s definitely the double-consciousness that of being both Black and American and loving a country that allows many of her children to dwell in the slums without caring much about them. But there’s also a treatment in America in general and Black America in specific that makes nerds feel like outcasts, like we’re weird or abnormal. In relationships, we’re stereotypically thought of as weak, or as the counter to the macho – testosterone images seen in movies. In school, the supposed sanctuary of a nerd, we’re often ignored – until mid-terms and finals when people beg for us to help them pass. These are just some things that come to mind as I sip my morning coffee, but I know that others can think of more.
And what’s more is that we endure much of this in silence. We’ve learned to simply smile when people compare us to Urkel or Carlton. Many of us have learned to ‘look the part’ as we walk down the streets. We think to ourselves, “Don’t think too much about that problem you were working on earlier today, you’ll look like you’re talking to yourself.” or “No matter how excited you are about finishing that program, don’t talk about it in the bar cause you’ll just get cold stares and confused faces”.
But is that really how we should respond to this? Should we hide from out intellect or our habits? I find that hard to do, bordering on the impossible. One thing is that I’ve been this way for so long that subconsciously I always find myself acting this way, analyzing patterns in things I see, looking for connections. But the more important thing is why should I care if you care about it? If it relaxes me, then why should I stop doing it? Just to please somebody (some people) who probably don’t like me anyway?
This brings up an alternative approach which is to just stop hanging around these people? But how can I disconnect myself from my community that practically raised me? Who else can I connect with about the plights of being Black in America and the challenges we still face? I’m not naive enough to think that I could just walk into another community and and share these struggles. This approach leaves the nerds in a life of isolation because nobody quite understands our struggle.
Unfortunately, I see countless examples of Black nerds taking these two approaches – either deciding that fitting in is more important, and thus living this secret life as a nerd, or simply deciding that they’d be better off outside of the harassment of our community. So the next time you see a Black nerd, try to understand that he’s struggling with a lot more than just some number crunching.