Okay, this article is all kinds of awesome. I’ve accidentally been following Dawn Richards career for quite awhile (as I watched the hypnotic train wreck that was the Making the Band series). Long had friends of mine tried to interest me in the prog rock ways, with many of the groups I quickly dubbed Middle Earth Metal, but this is the first I’d seen, well, a black geek princess incorporating her love of fantasy into R&B. I can’t imagine her journey/struggle to be able to pull this off.
I don’t really consider myself a fan of much. Admittedly, certain people—Neil Gaiman, Spike Lee, Public Enemy—have reduced me to a 15 year old every time I’ve met them (think that scene in Community when Troy meets Levar Burton). That’s about the only time I can even begin to understand the mentality that can have you waiting in line for three hours not to ride a roller coaster, but to get to a John Landis tired of autographing stuff.
I’ve never fit in comfortably in fandom circles. Fandom is this strange, double edged sword. It’s this seeking out of your tribe—I like this “stuff” and you like the same “stuff” and no one else is around to make fun of us—and finding a place of belonging. The thing is, people are tribal by nature, and one odd reaction to being collectively squeezed out of the cool kids table is to run off and set up their own cool kids table. Thus we get people running around as Supreme Masters of Fandom and other such nonsense.
Growing up black in fandom was a double isolation. You have to be a closet nerd or face possible ostracizing from our own community or you end up running in circles where we’re the lone POC at the table. There was a certain amount of social cluelessness, and it is tempting to write some offensive behavior off as fans not being the most socially adjusted folks to begin with. On the one hand, some of the guys in one of my early D&D circles couldn’t understand why dressing in full regalia to go LARP-ing for/as vampires wouldn’t be a good idea in my neighborhood (seriously? In ANY neighborhood outside the comfort of GenCon).
On the other hand, some of them didn’t know how to act with a black person at the table. I mean, it was like they were aware of black “in theory”, but to actually have one in person, playing Magic: the Gathering, was mind-blowing. The common instinct was to ignore race: at the table, you were just another behind to kick. Unfortunately, this left the door open for a couple to occasionally drop the n-bomb under the “I don’t mean you” or “you’re not like them,”as if owning my own d20 endows me with a new cultural identity that makes me “not one of them.”
Sorry, I get enough casual racism in the rest of my life. I don’t have time for it when I’m participating in the things that I love. And just like in the rest of my life, too often people don’t know how to be around “one of them” without our complete assimilation to becoming “one of us.” (I’d like to believe this was fairly isolated, but then I recall Balgoun’s story about racism in role-playing.)
Being a fan means that you’re passionate and passion’s great. In fact, fans of mine are great (though, let’s be straight: as egotistical as I may be, it’s a little weird being thought of as the object of fan attention). I understand that every group has that faction of it that makes them look bad, the radical/hardcore branch of them (not that I’m equating LARPers/Filkers/Furries to Tea Partiers). But the Grand Wizards or Supreme Masters or whatever they’re calling themselves amount to gatekeepers of exclusion. The Nerdier Than Thou crew who set themselves as the standard bearers able to vet your bona fides. They are the kind of fan who view The Big Bang Theory as a mainstreaming of their culture and identity, a threat even, as opposed to a loving tribute and recognition of their mainstream impact. They come across as inbred (incestuous as fandom communities tend to be), gray hairs who end up wringing their hands wondering why their conventions are shrinking.
So don’t be surprised when or wonder why all the black nerds all sit together at the convention cafeteria, listening to Dawn Richards and being proud of one of our own.