Tara Nafisa on being a black woman in the gaming community…
I’m either 1000% invested in something or I’m not and I’ve always admired that about myself; it rids me of pretence and means that I have a little less inner turmoil to deal with.
The only things I have ever wavered with have been my faith and my love for the nerd community. As you might have guessed, I’m not here to tell you what I think about evolution. I’m here to dismantle and unpack a lot of harmful, perpetuated tropes within the nerdy community and share my experience as a black woman who so desperately wants to embrace nerdy culture but can’t seem to catch a break. It doesn’t get spoken about enough, so I’m here to speak.
The experience of the average black girl nerd is like being locked in limbo, or fighting your way through ravenous alligators in a thick swamp (I think the second description is quite apt). Between dudebros and problematic gatekeepers who take it as their mission to decide who gets to enjoy gaming, there are so many things this nerd can’t deal with.
My experience as a black girl nerd has never been a walk in the park. I got picked on, ostracised and ridiculed for enjoying comics and speculative fiction. To be honest, I got picked on for breathing — so I wasn’t really hurt by the fact that I was a target for playground sadists, but I was hurt every time I had my blackness discounted and questioned because I had ‘alternative’ interests. That was, and quite frankly, still is an assault to my person. It isn’t just something that happens in the gaming community either.
Nerdy spaces are heavily dominated by straight, white males who have very little exposure or appreciation of the outside world. What this makes for is uninspiring and sometimes offensive work that doesn’t reflect reality. What’s more frustrating about this community is its willingness to remain in the dark. In so many ways, it shuns progressive rationale or inclusive dialogue: there is this fierce obsession with maintaining the status quo of ‘dudebro’ culture. I find that ‘post-racial’ and ‘post-feminist’ rhetoric is heralded in an effort to silence and gaslight black women. While many of us were excited at the prospect of a a new Iron Man, we were not as delighted to find that in order for her to be a darker-skinned black woman she had to be hyper-sexualised and fetishized. Not surprisingly, this was still chalked up as incessant whining and a push for ‘censorship’.
There is such a staunch dedication to regressive rhetoric perpetuated within this community. Commentaries and opinions provided by black women on comics, speculative fiction, anime etc. attracts abuse firmly rooted in misogynoir from fellow nerds of all shapes and sizes. We cannot claim to be a unit when Hollywood executives, writers and other nerds are still so defensive when confronted by black women.
There cannot be any progression if we do not open up the gates for minorities to share their experiences with audiences who might use comics or speculative fiction as their window to the world. When we stop entering every narrative on the privileged top tier we stand a chance to really create something substantive and impactful, but until then all we’ll have is over-flogged narratives that — quite frankly — I’m so over. When they only cater for the top 1%, they cease to give the majority what they’re searching for in a community.
Do you know what it feels like, to have to search far and wide for a story that edifies your experience, while the world expects you to celebrate with everyone else? Do you know what it feels like to finally, finally get something that uplifts you and then watch it get glossed over, whitewashed and marketed for the masses, when everyone else gets a shot at consuming a piece for themselves? Do you know what it feels like to have people invalidate a piece just because it centers around a woman like you? Do you know what it feels like to be invisible to the world?
I grew up idolising Storm (from X-Men) for these very reasons. In Storm I saw all the things I wanted to be — assertive, gracious, eloquent, focused and revered. I didn’t have anyone else to turn to, and looking back I count that as a grave injustice. Black girls aren’t a monolith — we deserve diverse representation, we are entitled to heroines and villains who appeal to the deepest parts of us. But not only that — these heroines and villains deserve to be brought to life by black women. This means we deserve thorough and genuine representation. Don’t sprinkle a bit of colour on a page just to tick a box, inclusive representation isn’t a fad. When comics, novels and screenplays are being created, CHOOSE a black woman. Give that dark skinned girl a shot. Let the African/Caribbean woman give it a try. Be honest or don’t do it all.
Life as a black-girl-nerd is tough, but I am still optimistic that there is room to make a change in the real world through this industry. The platform that we share gives us the opportunity to connect with like minds, have progressive conversations, connect and empower each other. I hope one day we can move on from begging for edification and explore our different facets.
Follow Tara on Instagram: @nafisaolajide
Illustration: Camilla Ackley