Writing an article about pop/geek culture and African-Americans is a difficult task for me. While I can certainly discuss academic knowledge, objective facts, or logical arguments, I find it far harder to write about the human and subjective side. As I have not lived these lives, how can I speak for others’ experiences?
Thus, I refuse to do so and will instead let people speak for themselves. What follows are the experiences of three PoC geeks and creators, discussing their pursuits and careers with their own voices. I hope readers find their words informative, enlightening, and inspiring, and carry that insight to others.
I would like to thank the following for joining me…
- Danielle Grace, author, and poet;
- Herman “Ninjasmacks” Brown, webcomic artist; and
- Holdt, vidder, and author
So, could you please tell me how each of you got started in the world of geekdom?
Danielle: Well, I was raised by parents who loved Star Trek, comic books, and Science Fiction movies. I was always encouraged to create my own stories, no matter how out of the mainstream and to embrace other people who enjoyed exploring unusual points of view.
Holdt: I’m similar. I got started at the ripe age of six, watching Star Trek: TOS syndicated reruns with my mom. I started writing Kirk/Spock and McCoy/Spock slash fiction at eight.
You started through a different medium, right Herman?
Herman: For me, it started with seeing a Jim Lee cover of Uncanny X-Men #269 at a 7-11. Seeing it, I wanted to know and see more of the book. That alone got me looking for comic book stores, and it all snowballed from there.
Each of you is into similar pursuits but have very different preferences. What hobbies, fandoms, or even careers do you primarily focus on?
Herman: I draw as much as I can. Jim Lee sparked my style that I originally used. Learning more about other artists and being introduced to Anime started to evolve my style. Fandom is heavily Marvel movies and TV Shows now.
Danielle: I also like to draw, in addition to playing video games, and collecting Science Fiction and comic book paraphernalia. Many of the fandoms I focus on are those in the Anime world such as Voltron, Robotech, and Full Metal Alchemist; Supernatural and Fantasy mythos in the vein of True Blood, Penny Dreadful and Once Upon a Time; time and space series like Dr. Who, Star Trek and Star Wars; and comic book adaptations like the various DC and Marvel movies and television programs.
An all-around geek, just like you Holdt?
What many people in geekdom don’t understand is that not everyone has the same experiences. What differences did you face as PoC geeks?
Holdt: I am usually one of few brown faces in an audience or at a Con. I have the burden of having to explain to other fans why intersectionality is important, why PoC characters are important not just as a backdrop or to be fridged, but as major characters in their own right. I have the burden of having to be the change I want to see, vidding PoC characters, reading and rec’ing PoC fiction and still being able to smile and enjoy my very white SG-1 OTP.
Sounds overwhelming and disheartening at times. Danielle?
Danielle: Yes. I was discouraged from dressing up as characters who were traditionally portrayed as being Caucasian on shows or in comics. Also, it surprised many people that I, as a woman of color, would want to write Science Fiction or Fantasy stories.
Herman, did you share the same experiences?
Herman: Not really. I don’t feel that I’ve encountered any differences compared to others.
Do you believe being a minority influenced your pursuits or career?
Herman: As I mentioned, I don’t feel that affected my hobbies or art. Instead, everything I’ve learned and everyone I met at comic stores and conventions combined into a big part of what I do today.
But not you, Danielle and Holdt? Being a PoC had a notable impact on your own art and fandoms?
Danielle: Most definitely. It affects how I portray characters and who I choose as the main protagonists in my stories. There are characters I can identify personally with because they reflect my own experiences, some of which specifically have to do with the subject of my race. Even if my characters do not share my racial background, I can identify closely with themes of bias, superstition, and social isolation that appear in my writing projects.
Holdt: Without reservation, like Danielle. When I was little, the only woman on TV like me was Nichelle Nichols. She paved the way for everyone else, and I feel deeply in her debt as a fan and a creator/artist. I can still remember watching Roots, The Color Purple and Shaka Zulu for the first time. I was amazed that there were people like me on TV who weren’t Nichelle Nichols or Bill Cosby. Now I’m a video editor and a writer because of my love for all things fandom.
So, what advice might you have for young minorities in these hobbies and fandoms?
Danielle: Don’t let anyone confine you to a single idealistic or creative box. Do whatever makes you happy and inspires your inner growth. Nobody should tell you who you are supposed to be especially by looking at your color, geography, or circumstances.
Holdt: Don’t give up. Don’t ever let anyone be your gatekeeper. Don’t let people violate your safe spaces. Don’t allow oblivious fans to get away with faulty type-casting or wildly stereotypical OOC fic, race-fail fics and be active in your chosen fandoms. Problems with disability portrayals or violence against women or PoC in your fandom? Write about it, meta about it, blog and fic and vid about it until people stop making these mistakes. Fandom belongs to everyone.
Herman: Go to a convention that has things you love! It’s a great way to find new friends.
I’d like to thank all of you for sharing your time and voices with us. I hope others take your words to heart and find them inspiring.
For those out there, especially PoC geeks and artists experiencing differences and difficulties, please remember that you are not alone. Let your voices be heard and continue to build fandoms and worlds. If you need, take to heart Avery Brook’s words: “Hold on to your dream. Don’t let the people shake you from your dream.”