Tech Now + Beyond Interviews

Creating spaces for black girl nerds: An Interview with Jamie Broadnax

Jamie Broadnax is the creator of Black Girl Nerds, a site dedicated to black women in all spaces of nerdom. Jamie chatted with The Tempest about the beginnings and the future of Black Girl Nerds, growing the platform while working a day job, and what media she – a black girl nerd – is looking forward to in the future.

The Tempest: How was Black Girl Nerds born?

I was on Google one day. This was four years ago. I’d noticed on TV and in print and in a lot of forms of media that nerd and geek culture was becoming more mainstream. I thought that was really interesting so I went online and googled the term “black girl nerds” and nothing came up. I thought that was very bizarre to not see any images and no links and no information about black women. I’d already had experience as a blogger, and I decided to create a blog by that name and just put it on the web so when you do type in “black girl nerds” you’ll see something. It started out about me and my own personal musings. It was 24-48 hours after it was published and someone contacted me and said “Hey I really like your site, I would like to write with you.” That was when it began to develop into something bigger than me.

Black Girl Nerds is doing really well. It’s expanded into a podcast and Youtube so it looks like you’ve made it. Or are on your way there. But you’re still working your 9- 5 so as the site is growing, what have been some of the challenges of juggling both?

There’s not a lot required of me in my role [at my day job] so it gives me the opportunity to do some work in between for BGN, but most of the work that I put in happens when I clock out. I’m afforded a lifestyle where I have the time to do that. I don’t have kids, I’m not married so I’m really only accountable for myself. That said it’s still exhausting and still a ton of work. But I am very grateful that I have a team of people that are working diligently behind the scenes. From writers to copyeditors to podcasters to bloggers to folks that are handling social media sites for BGN. If it was just me by myself I probably would pass out from exhaustion. Sleep doesn’t happen often (laughs) but I really would like to be able to do this full time because having the 9-5, I’ve noticed as this thing is growing, is getting harder and harder. 

How big is the Black Girl Nerds team?

 I have close to 10-15 contributors that are listed on the site then I have a lot of guest bloggers. They’ll email me and pitch me stories. As far as how many of those I have I really don’t know. We have a team of podcasters which is about ten. Then copyeditors which is about four and the podcast editors which are two. And then the vloggers which are four. It’s a pretty large team. Everyone puts in the work they can do while they’re able to do it, but it’s not a fully consistent staff that’s doing stuff on a full-time basis because nobody, including myself, gets paid for the work they’re doing with BGN. People contribute where they can and a lot of the folks that contribute do it because they love it and they want the experience and they get a lot of out it. They get opportunities. 

Is there anything you look back on and wish you’d done differently?

I don’t know. If I did [do things differently] would I be where I’m at right now? I don’t know. It seems to be I’m on the right path. I wish I had a little bit more business knowledge and even more savvy from a legal perspective because there’s a lot of bloggers out there that have built brands for themselves and have been able to monetize it easily, and I just haven’t figured that out yet. I wish I had done my homework in that area, but at the same time BGN has never been something – I never saw it as a business. I never saw it as a way to earn an income – I just saw it as something that was needed. And I wanted to selfishly reflect images of women that looked like me (laughs). So I just never thought about those things going in. I don’t even know if I have any regrets. I feel like everything happens for a reason and that where I’m at right now is where I need to be.

Have you looked toward the future at all? What does Black Girl Nerds look like at its peak to you? 

Whenever I get these questions, I don’t know the answer to them. I try to focus on what’s happening right now in front of me and not look at the big picture or the future. Some would argue that’s not really wise. For me, I’ve had a history of being rejected. I’ve had a long history of having a goal and that not being accomplished and when that happens I get very frustrated and I give up. And I don’t want to be in that situation anymore so I don’t set any expectations for myself other than just focusing on what I’m doing now and just letting the brand and the community just grow organically.

But I don’t have a business plan. The only goal I have right now is to find a way monetize this platform to where I can leave the day job, do this full time, have a staff of people work with me – that are paid staff – and to make this an online community that can be something that reaches the masses. I feel like it’s almost getting there now, and I just have to find a way to convert that to money (laughs) so I can run a business.

What are you most proud of Black Girl Nerds accomplishing?

Definitely being recognized by Shonda Rhimes. Even to this day I can’t believe that happened. Appearing on Melissa Harris Perry’s show. And then just being invited to go to panels at these huge cons is a big deal for me. I’d never really spoken on a panel prior – no, I’d never spoken on a panel prior to BGN. Never. Public speaking is definitely not my wheelhouse but it seems to be something I’m doing more often because of this platform, and I’m grateful to be able to be someone who’s actually worth listening to I guess! (laughs)

One thing that’s really stuck out to be about Black Girl Nerds  is the social media push. Twitter especially has become a big thing for the site. How have you been able to turn the challenges of the medium to your advantage?

I think Twitter is definitely a space where it could either be the best thing or it could be the worst. The one thing I do that is very different from people on Twitter with large followings is I engage with all my followers as much as I can. It gets harder and harder (laughs) as the follower count grows, but I try to engage with people. For the most part people just want to be acknowledged. Even trolls! I think by [engaging with followers] it makes it a more interesting and fun space and also a space where you can learn from other people. The things I’ve done that have turned Twitter from a negative to a positive is live tweeting. Or you know making up a hashtag and tweeting out pictures of really hot celebrities that I love. That’s something that is very interesting that you don’t usually see on Twitter. Every once in awhile it’s good to just have a little bit of levity and laugh and geek out and be a dork. I’ve managed to use the platform in a way that allows me to be myself, and that’s what makes it a very comfortable space for me. 

The podcast has had a bunch of guests. Who’s been your favorite and who would you like to have on the show?

I really enjoyed the podcast I did with Levar Burton. That was epic to me, to talk to someone who I’ve admired for decades because he’s just so profound with his opinions and his comments toward people’s reactions toward the Roots miniseries. I really enjoyed talking to Rachel True. She’s someone I felt like in a past life we would have been best friends or something. She was just so easy to talk to. Really enjoyed talking to Cree Summer. She’s so laid back, and I had the opportunity to meet her in person as well and she’s just as cool as she is on the podcast. I definitely would like to have Shonda Rhimes. And Idris Elba. I’d really love to interview Oprah. I’ve been a huge admirer and fan for a long time and it would be dream to interview her.

Oprah’s a good place to jump off here. She’s got a lot of stuff going on. Greenleaf just started and she’s also part of Queen Sugar. So after this rough TV season for non-white, non-straight, non-male characters, what are you looking forward to for the fall?

Queen Sugar definitely. Big fan of Ava Duvernay who I interviewed a long long long time ago for a movie blog. And I have not seen Greenleaf yet, but I need to check that out. I also need to get on these two sci-fi shows that feature protagonists of color: Dark Matter and Killjoys. I’m a huge fan of Scandal, always will be. Even some people have a love/hate relationship with that show I’m always going to be a stan. Also How to Get Away With Murder is like everything to me…Viola Davis, I just love her. HTGAWM and then Empire is everything. It’s like my guilty pleasure at this point the show is so far fetched (laughs). But I really do love the show. I love Blackish

I know you’re really into comics, too. Is there anything impending you’re looking forward to?

Right now I’m going backward and reading some comics that I used to read as a kid. I have a lot in my stash that I’ve collected over the last couple years, and I’m going from issue #1 to #121. I got started on Excalibur. It’s a team that’s sort of a spin-off from the X-Men. I’m also reading Christopher Priest’s run of Black Panther. I really want to explore as much of T’Challa’s lore as I can before the movie. I’ve also got some Luke Cage in my stash. I’ve never really read Luke Cage but with the Netflix series I want to get as much of his lore as I can. I’m a fan of Saga and Bitch Planet and I’m behind on my issues of Ms. Marvel, but that’s a really good comic.

Since part of Black Girl Nerd‘s platform is to really talk about the problematic nature of media, and with this TV season being so rough, are there ever times you’d rather withdraw from the conversation?

Sometimes I do. I try not to immerse myself in every aspect of fandom because that can be exhausting. I usually just talk about the fandoms I’m passionate about. If I’m really not that super passionate about it, I just won’t have conversations about it. Or I’ll leave it to other writers on the site. But if it’s really something that means a lot to me personally like [the death of] Abbie Mills and Sleepy Hollow then I will have conversations about it, I will have a podcast episode about it. I will invite writers to publish editorials or I’ll write some myself. That’s usually how I operate. There’s a lot problems with the way black female characters are treated –  even on shows I don’t watch. I’m open to having those conversations, but I don’t try to immerse myself in every one because not one person can do that.

What’s one story that you really want to see that hasn’t been told yet?

I would love a story about black girls nerds! And not just me but about this archetype of women that are into comic books, cosplay, science-fiction genre tv or novels. Like all the aspects of “nerd culture” that have become very popular and you see it all over white media, you never see it reflected as space that features people of color. And there are so many of us now, podcasters and bloggers, and we’re doing this on a daily basis. Why don’t we see a story about us? Whether it be in the form of a book or a comic book or a tv show or a movie.

What advice would you give to young women of color looking to get into your field?

Make sure whatever you’re going to jump into you’re very passionate about it and you’re 110% committed to it and you’re not doing it because someone else is doing it or because you feel pressured by someone – that you’re doing it for yourself.  Whatever you go into, you’re going to have to go into it full throttle, and you have to be consistent. Consistency is the key to everything, and it’s definitely the key to success. You’ve got to stay on your grind 24/7. So if you’re a blogger and you’re publishing posts, whether the frequency is daily or three days a week or once a week you have to maintain that consistency and don’t stop.

That can be a very challenging thing for most people. You get very involved in something and then life happens and you just stop. It’s the stopping part that makes it very difficult to start up again. And don’t focus on the numbers. Numbers are relative. For someone who has over 70K followers and over 25K fans on Facebook, I’m still struggling to get people to sponsor me. I’m still struggling to get companies to run ads on my podcast. I still work a 9-5. I’m still hustling. Even though it may seem cool, the struggle is real. I’m still working just as hard now as I was when I first started. So keep in mind when you get into this that numbers don’t necessarily mean success, what makes you successful is diligence and consistency and that you put out really good quality work.

Make sure you follow Jamie (@JamieBroadnax) and Black Girl Nerds (@BlackGirlNerds) on Twitter so you can get in on the nerding yourself. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.