As a part-time southern girl, I remember how my family reunions in North Carolina used to be. After taking the 4-hour drive and getting to my cousin Mattie’s house, we would say our hellos, meet people I’ve never met but somehow knew me, receive warm hugs with toothy smiles, being asked if I just got here and if I’ve seen cousin So-and-So yet to say hi, and becoming overwhelmed with a sense of being home. That was what BlerDCon was this past 4th of July weekend.
BlerDCon or “Black Nerd Convention” was created and founded by Hilton George, and was held in Arlington, VA at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City at Reagan National Airport from June 30th to July 2nd. According to an interview conducted by AfroPunk, George stated that BlerDCon is, “…the first geek convention of its kind focused on highlighting people of color, LGBT, women, and those with disabilities active in anime, comics, gaming, and sci-fi.”
Just from a quick glance at the fully loaded panel schedule, the quote taken from George couldn’t have been truer; every panel that was scheduled screamed diversity and inclusion. Spanning the 3-day weekend, there were panels about sexuality, mental health/illness in cosplay, body positivity, gender support and equality, POC cosplay and nerd culture experiences, and so much more. Of course there were your typical panels that discussed anime, comics, bodypainting, how to do stunts, tutting, etc., but what I truly noticed was the overall vibe of the convention; it felt like a 90s block party without the food. It was amazing to see faces light up as they meet friends whom they only knew from online Facebook groups, such as POC Cosplayers, or cosplay Facebook pages meet for the first time in person. Seeing overly excited attendees chatting with people they just met outside of a panel room; saying a common phrase I heard throughout the weekend: “I wish this was around when I was growing up!” The music and sounds from the arcade cabinets lightly filled the small convention space, but the louder voices filled with glee were the true soundtrack to BlerDCon.
(Music: Sean McCabe feat. Nathan Adams – Back To Front (Extended Mix) WE DO NOT OWN THE MUSIC AND NOT MAKING A PROFIT FROM THE VIDEO. IT’S PURELY FOR THE AESTHETICS. )
As a black woman who cosplays and attends conventions regularly, the nerd culture we all love so much is deeper than just watching anime, reading a comic book, or spending 8 hours playing Overwatch. There is a much-needed conversation about diversity and inclusion as well. It’s no secret that the nerd world used to be a “boys only club” and even narrower, a cis-gender, white, heterosexual male only club, so everyone who didn’t fit into that narrative wasn’t allowed in. Little by little, the club opened up to the cis-gender white heterosexual women who fit a very specific, fetishized mold, and everyone one else was still on the outside looking in. Of those on the outside looking in were people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled, those who are plus sized, etc. I can’t speak for everyone else’s experience but I know from my black perspective, as a black nerd I was a walking target for bullying as a kid and was put down by my own people; all because I enjoyed something that was “white.”
Being a nerd or being allowed to do nerdy things isn’t color or race specific. I only learned that because of meeting the friends that I have made, who I can go to conventions with and feel like the nerd world is everyone, despite some people trying to make it the opposite. This is where BlerDCon came through for those who needed a safe space like this more than I did; people who wanted and needed the reassurance that the nerd world and culture isn’t limited to the majority, but open to the minority as well. BlerDCon didn’t shy away from being an inclusive and diverse safe space for all nerds with panels such as: A Transgender Journey in Cospositivity or Plus Size Cosplay and Confidence, but there were panels that reminded me and other attendees where the “Blerd” in BlerDCon came from; and the kinds of conversations we blerds need to have. The panels such as Creating a Safe Space for Black Girl Gamers and Surviving as Womyn of Colour with Mental Illness in Cosplay shed light on subjects that are specific to women/womyn, but can be applied to those of us who struggle with issues that aren’t always culturally appropriate to discuss, like mental health. Issues that are hard to talk about, such as being called racist or sexist slurs on a regular basis in nerd spaces.
Since this was round 1 of BlerDCon, there were some hiccups for me. As much as I loved the diversity in the panels, there were too many. It felt like the powers that be were trying to cover everything all at once and it felt overwhelming at first. Timing was so tight some panelists had to rush or omit some parts of their talk, which happens but it seemed too frequent. The activities for the kids only spaces was limited to just art and I wish there was more stuff for them like anime or TV show screenings of something kid friendly. Of course, no con is free from rumor mills and backstage gossip, but what made it worth it was seeing the Cosplay Contest Catwalk. Seeing a stage filled with mostly POC was amazing; ESPECIALLY seeing a little black girl no older than 8 walk the stage by herself in cosplay, natural hair in pony puffs. This is what cons like this is for. For the little kids who were just like us when we were their age and being shown that they truly can do anything or be anything they want; being different isn’t a bad thing but something to be celebrated!
BlerDCon was the beginning of a safe space for nerds who aren’t canon, especially for the unheard black nerds who were shamed for their passion that threatened their “black card.” This con created an environment that reminds us all that we’re not “the only one” who likes what we’re into, that our experiences aren’t isolated incidences and we can find people to talk to and relate to; to gain that sense of peace and comfort. BlerDCon was and is the cookout so many of us unheard, nerdy, alternative black kids needed and the happiness we walked away with wrapped in foil will keep us full until next year.