It has long been maintained that race is a social construct rather than a biological impediment. In a May 2013 post for the Atlantic’s website entitled “What We Mean When We Say ‘Race Is a Social Construct’,” writer Ta-Nehisi Coates explains that the flaw in trying to study “race and intelligence” is that, “no coherent fixed definition of race actually exists.” In the same piece Coates provides a quote from historian Nell Irvin Painter, “Race is an idea, not a fact.” When I hear the phrase, “race is a social construct” in conversation it is usually followed by “so it does not exist.” And, while I believe that race does not exist in a biological sense I agree with Painter that the idea of race does. The idea that some people are inherently different than others both progresses and plagues our society. We are taught to respect differences because diversity, or as defined by Webster, “the inclusion of different types of people,” is vital for innovation. However, nitpicking on differences and categorizing people based on an idea of “one drop” or less than one percent of DNA has led to stagnation in American society.
We can’t just coin race as a “social construct” and then pretend this idea of inherent differences had no effect on our nation’s history as well as its current state. It would be like building a skyscraper and pretending it doesn’t change the skyline.
Over the weekend I attended “Blerds Night Out Chicago.” The event was hosted by Blerdology, “a social enterprise focused on the enhancement and celebration of the black tech community.” Jimmy Odom, CEO of delivery service WeDeliver and Neal Sales-Griffen, CEO of coding school The Starter League along with Julian Tilotson, founder of Indirap Productions were featured speakers for the evening. The term “blerd” simply means a black nerd. Prior to the event I wondered whether the term “blerd” was necessary. Did the “black” part matter? Couldn’t I just be your run-of-the-mill, average nerd without any other identifiers? As much as I would like to say that the term “blerd” isn’t necessary I believe it is for now.
I took advanced classes in high school. All of the students in my Gifted&Talented (GT) classes and Advanced Placement (AP) classes were nerds. Except a small handful of us. We were blerds. Back then I didn’t know what a blerd was, so we sadly settled for another title, “Token Black Kids (TBKs).” We didn’t go around claiming to be TBKs. It doesn’t have to be said aloud when you grow up in the suburbs. But, one day it was. We were working on activities for homecoming one year when one of my classmates happily exclaimed, “Anuli, you’re the new token. [Blank] you’re out.” [Blank] and I awkwardly laughed and continued working. I guess only one of us could win the grand prize of tokenism. The term “blerd” exists because the idea of race exists. The construct of race supports the conclusion that any black student in a suburban Gifted&Talented course is automatically a token, or an exception to the rule. Which is unfortunate, but a reality I’ve faced my whole life and will continue to face now that I’ve graduated into “the real world."
I was excited to attend “Blerds Night Out” because when you enter a room that is full of exceptions you become part of a new rule. This new rule praises and supports your very existence as just a run-of-the-mill, average nerd. And, for a while your actions are not representative of a group of people, but rather just yourself. It’s a really beautiful thing. When asked during “Blerds Night Out” whether the term blerd was necessary Blerdology founder, Kat Calvin expressed a need for the world to see black nerds out there in the spotlight.
“Unfortunately we’re still at a place in our country and the world where it’s necessary to add that qualifier, so it forces people to think about us in a different way,” said Calvin.
"The goal, my goal, is that one day you won’t need Blerdology, you won’t need blerds because there will be just a lot of us happy people just running around and CNN will have a story everyday about the Jimmy Odoms and Neil Sales-Griffins of the world,” she adds.
I agree that the term “blerd” is useful for the time being. I am a nerd, but I am also a blerd. More importantly, I am just a person who enjoys to learn. Why put a label on something that should be considered as commonplace? Maybe one day we won’t be called nerds, or blerds, but just part of the educated masses. But, first we must reinvent, re-imagine, and reconstruct what it means to be members of the human race as a whole. My charge to you is to simply be the best you that you can be and help others below you and beside you do the same. Together we can create new rules.