To Be Young, Nerdy, and Black


I lived out my early years in the retro arcades of Trinidad, and the video rental stores where my older siblings and I got our anime DVDs; some were probably pirated, but we were just happy to have them. That began my exposure to all things nerdy, and in the eclectic island of multiple cultures, I formed a persona as a being who was unashamed of their interests, geeky as they may be. 

Then I moved to Richmond in the fall of 2009. There were so many differences here, aside from the mundane things like how it snowed, and the way the traffic moved in a different direction. I noticed a different expectation in the States of what being myself was allowed to look like. When I enrolled in the public school systems, a month later than my peers, and scattered my Pokemon cards across the table, I was made hip to an unspoken rule book that I was expected to follow. One that told you what you could enjoy and how you should dress. It even picked a dialect I was allowed to speak; it did not include my island’s Patois. All of these rules told me I had to fit into a box, declaring that I couldn’t be both Black and nerdy. To be Black and nerdy violated the rules I was expected to follow upon my arrival. My Pokemon cards and special interest in anime weren’t typical interests that Black people were allowed to have, especially at the predominantly Black schools I attended during my K-12 years. 

I became hyper-aware of my race and how it related to my interests, and upon careful review; the things I had grown to love as a child were not allowed, seemingly due to this unspoken community-made list. Common responses like: “Aw, you like that Naruto shit, huh?” or “How can you watch and read the subtitles at the same time?” increased my sense of social isolation. How could I tell them that the characters on my shirt were not Naruto and that I’d rather watch the colorful characters on a screen than play outside in 90-degree heat? It wasn’t common, and people loved to remind me that it wasn’t normal to be interested in those things as a Black person. 

The constant teasing built a wall in me and protected my inner child from the hurtful judgment of my peers. It definitely built character, as most chronically online Gen Z would say, but it also made me repress my interests whenever they came up in conversations. It made me scared, so I had to hide that I liked anime for fear that I wouldn’t fit the stereotypical “what it means to be Black” mold. It made me fear that I would be perceived as someone who wanted to be another race solely due to the content I consumed. 

Then, quarantine hits and Megan Thee Stallion drops “Girls in the Hood.” Her music and her unapologetic lyricism demonstrating her love for anime went viral, and people ate it up. People started taking her recommendations which she provided through interviews and watched them with open minds due to their seemingly endless free time during the shutdown. My Hero Academia, Attack On Titan, Kakegurui, and many other popular shows were name-dropped by Meg. In doing so, it provided others who have been watching anime for years a safe space. There are many catalysts that I could credit to the “return” of anime, however, dedicating my love for a Black, and openly queer, female rapper to my newfound confidence in my niche interests is what I want to focus on.

Hottielations 3:16: “I’ma make him eat me out while I’m watchin’ anime. Pussy like a Wild Fox, lookin’ for a Sasuke.” That verse alone shook the internet and the minds of Black anime watchers, who felt recognized in the eyes of a cultural icon. Megan’s music and openness to sharing her niche interests began a new discussion of Black culture and the diverse identities of the Black community. Through her rap, she allowed others to find comfort in their interests as more people became aware of the genre again. And so, anime was back, and the idea of Black people enjoying it too was more digestible to the internet; now that someone famous and trendy expressed their love for it. There are still internal issues within the anime community, such as misogyny, mostly perpetuated by white incels. However, in response to Meg’s involvement, there is new social awareness and acceptability in the Black community. 

It would be a lie to say I don’t hesitate anymore when I’m in a room and someone asks what I’ve been watching recently. My mouth wants to fly open and say, “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure! Mista and The Sex Pistols never miss!” Yet, I stall. Should I say, “Outer Banks,” play it safe, and keep it pushing? I watch other things, so it’s teeeechnically not a lie. However, leaving something important to me out of the conversation feels disingenuous. Why pretend like I don’t have the Stardust Crusaders on my wall, or my favorite duo, Denji and Power? I’ve learned to realize that the people I want in my life will listen to my rants on why Gojo and Geto are meant to be, and not put me in a box because I am not a monolith. I’ve decided not to hide these things anymore because there isn’t one way to be Black or one way to enjoy media. Decolonizing your mind starts with understanding that it’s normal to have niche interests, and acknowledging that it’s ok to be different is also a part of that process. 

I find myself cringing because this article will not be for everyone. Some will disagree and dismiss my experiences; saying “it’s not that serious.” That’s ok too, there are other articles you may like! This piece isn’t meant to please people, or to cater to a broad audience; I’m writing a love letter here! One for those who are scared to share their particular interests, and those who are worried they don’t fit the mold. To others who are insecure about not being “Black enough” because their interests don’t align with the majority. It’s important I address those who are worried about making friends, especially with others completely different from them, so they are concerned they won’t fit in. You don’t have to! It may take time, and it might feel uncomfortable at first, but one thing will remain true. 

There is no “one way” to be, and the people worth befriending will understand that too.  

Graphic: Caleb Goss