Jamie Broadnax Is Busting Nerd Culture Wide Open With 'Black Girl Nerds'
"That a Google search where you can relatively find anything didn't have a search term for 'black girl nerds...' It was at that moment that I just decided to create the blog."
Jamie Broadnax is part of Oxygen’s digital series In Progress 52. In 2016, Oxygen's Very Real digital hub is featuring 52 of these outstanding women: that's one woman a week, for 52 weeks. Check out the series here!
It all started with a simple Google search. In 2012, Jamie Broadnax - film buff and self-described nerd extraordinaire - began to notice that geek and nerd culture was steadily becoming more mainstream. Still, suspiciously absent was any hint of diversity in the comics (and the resulting comic books movies), in TV series being hailed as progressive, and in the popular voices representing the fan community. While being a nerd was starting to become socially acceptable, apparently being anything but white and male was still off-limits. When it came to finding viewpoints like hers, all Broadnax found was empty space.
"I wanted to know if there were any black women out there who were part of this great subculture, so I went online and just Googled the term 'black girl nerds,'" Broadnax explained. "I just wondered if there was anybody out there who had the kind of content that spoke to women like me and nothing came up."
"I just thought that was this was such a bizarre thing," Broadnax continued. "That a Google search where you can relatively find anything didn't have a search term for 'black girl nerds...' It was at that moment that I just decided to create the blog."
Black Girl Nerds may have started out as one nerdy black girl's personal musings, but it soon evolved into BlackGirlNerds.com as we know it today: a vast community of like-minded folks coming together all with one goal: unapologetically embracing their nerdiness. With contributors who come from all corners of the country -- and the globe -- on an any given day you'll find a variety of viewpoints covering everything from entertainment to relationships to social justice. It's a powerful, potent mix of voices in the form of personal essays, reviews, TV recaps, manifestos, and just about any other type of content you can fathom. It's also a place where work by black creators is given a spotlight, providing a rare opportunity for creators of color to reach out directly to their audience. Shonda Rhimes even shouted out to BGN in Marie Claire as one of her favorite people to follow on Twitter.
It's not at all what Broadnax expected when she launched the site four years ago. Back then, armed with a film degree and ample experience blogging on the independent film scene, her main goal was to create some type of proof of the existence of black girl nerds and imprint it online. Within 48 hours of publishing her first post, however, a published author reached out to Broadnax hoping to collaborate, and things took off from there.
"One contributor turned into two, and two turned into six, and it just got bigger and bigger," Broadnax said. "These women saw a need and really wanted to be a part of it."
Currently, there are 24 regular contributors (full disclosure: myself included) with a countless number of guest bloggers every week. The result is a chorus of voices coming together to form something beautiful and well-balanced, and it's an effect that Broadnax is both proud of and grateful for: "I'm very open to other people's opinions and views because I can't be the end-all and be-all for everything that's related to geek culture. There are things I'm not into as a nerd. For those who are in those fandoms, they can fill that need, and that's why I've always embraced having other contributors on the site."
The vast network of contributors at BGN can be found covering local fan conventions, or participating in the site's uber popular podcast of the same name, or maybe taking part in one of BGN's legendary live-tweeting sessions. They're published authors, fim buffs, screenwriters, gamers, and artists; above all, they're nerds in some way or another, and most if not all of them are black women. However, the site isn't just for "black girl nerds" to enjoy. The focus was never intended as exclusionary (and you'll see all kinds taking part in BGN's Twitter conversations), but sought to, for once, center an oft-ignored group.
"I never connected with [white nerd] spaces because they would always have white males guests and white males hosts," Broadnax explained. "But knowing that there are spaces where there are women of color, people of color that look like me and I can identify with them on a cultural level and being able to talk using AAVE and using our famous hashtags - 'thrones y'all' -and this and that... That kind of connection is very important and I think that's why these spaces are so highly valued because you really can't get that anywhere else."
Indeed, BGN and other sites like it are part of a steadily growing number of safe spaces for geeky POC - spaces that were sorely missing from the geek community back when Broadnax first performed the Google search that would lead her to where she is today.
Thankfully, black nerds are arguably more visible than ever in popular culture, and it's thanks in large part to social media and sites like BGN. Rather than searching blindly and often fruitlessly for like minds and kindred spirits in subcultures that can often seem far too filled with echoes of oppressive systems, what we've found - what we've created - is community.
It's because of this shift and the continuous growth of the black nerd community that Broadnax is optimistic about the future of diversity in the geek world. Aside from BGN, sites like Fanbros, Black Nerd Problems, Geek Soul Brother, Graveyard Shift Sisters are also connecting with the POC nerd community.
"It's a good time for us now. I just hope that this continues. I don't want this to be a phase and become kind of passe and then we're back to square one. The '90s had that boom where you saw a lot of diversity and then it just dissipated away," Broadnax continued. "I hope it continues and people understand that diversity actually helps, and that it's reflective of people in real life. This isn't something that people are asking for just for the sake of it. These are our real lives here, and media should accurately represent all kinds of people - people that are gender fluid and sexually fluid, people with disabilities... It's important for people to be able to see themselves."
Though Broadnax isn't able to manage BGN full-time yet (she spends her days working at a law firm), BGN as a community has grown into something truly revolutionary. Not bad for a project that started out as a personal blog, huh?