I remember being in love with the X-Men movies as a child. I would wake up at 5 AM on school days to catch some late night/early morning anime on Adult Swim. My first manga was Hot Gimmick… when I was twelve. (Not exactly the most age-appropriate purchase!) I was a weird Black girl, and it showed, especially when I’d bring manga to class, and kids would ask me why the books were backward.
I was a nerd, and I wasn’t ashamed.
My mom bought me a GameCube when I was maybe eight years old. She saw how much I had loved playing with my cousin’s, and surprised me for Christmas. I was the most excited I had ever been, especially as I indulged in the “Zelda Collection,” “Kirby Air Ride” and “Super Smash Brothers Melee.” This became how I made friends. I found out what they liked. The nerdy kids narrowed themselves in a corner, and I would try to penetrate their tight circles.
In high school, I found my true friends. Friends who joked about losing hours of their lives to “World of Warcraft.” Friends who introduced me to comic book shops, indie games, the benefits of PC vs console. We shared Humble Bundle codes, and spent many sleepovers playing whatever iteration of “Halo” was most recent.
My friends didn’t make me feel like an outsider, even if they were all white boys. The scene at large, though, was not the same.
Nerd culture is largely ruled by white men. They find themselves all over the comic book covers: Superman, Spider-man, Batman… the most popular characters are, unsurprisingly, cis white males. The X-Men was one of the first comic book collectives to challenge that, and that change still came later in the game.
The X-Men’s most popular Black character, Storm, came to be in Giant Sized X-Men #1, in 1975. The first issue of the aforementioned comic was in 1963, featuring a cast of white folk, and included only one girl: Jean Grey. Naturally, everyone (even Professor Xavier) pined after her.
I was not really represented. I found myself only in fringe characters like Scandal Savage (a queer, brown woman), Starfire (who is an orange alien, unashamed in her sexuality because her culture does not care about modesty), or Emma Frost (bitchy and a little evil AKA everything I wanted to be). I didn’t see myself anywhere near represented until Miles Morales became Spider-man in the Ultimate universe.
An Afro-Latino? In mainstream comics? The fact that someone even thought about my odd mixture of cultures made me feel special. It made me feel heard.
White nerds didn’t like it, though.
It’s an unyielding cycle. White male nerds try to be the gatekeepers of comic books. They quiz women who walk into comic book shops, trying to sell them everything pink and frilly. Men will walk into comic book shops where women work and accuse them of not knowing what they’re talking about. And they absolutely lose their minds if a character is race-swapped or gender-swapped in the comics.
The female Thor. Riri Williams replacing Tony Stark. Miss Marvel being replaced by Kamala Khan, a Muslim girl from New York.
Each time, white nerds lost their minds. They screeched that political correctness was ruining their childhoods, the legacy that the Big Two had created. They asked how Black folk would feel if Luke Cage was suddenly replaced by a white guy. They ran Anna Diop off of Twitter once the trailer for “Titans” came out.
Why? Because she is a Black woman portraying Starfire, who I previously mentioned is an orange alien from outer space.
The sexism and racism in nerd culture are one of its most paramount problems. While nerd culture is becoming more mainstream, it still as seen as a boys only club. God forbid you’re like me and marginalized in more than one way.
White nerds seem to want to protect the sanctity of their hobby. They believe because they were bullied for liking different things, they are the marginalized folks of the world. When characters are gender-swapped, fresh storylines begin, and things are changed, you’re fucking with their toys. They don’t like it.
I always felt excluded from these spaces largely because of this. My desire to see myself reflected in comic book culture was mired by these constant streams of outrage.
As someone who was bullied for being both Black and weird, though: Take a chill pill. Grow up.