- Terelle Jerricks
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Growing up, Marqueeda LaStar was fascinated with the comic book world, specifically the X-Men and its array of super-powered mutants.
Her favorite character: Jubilee, a mutant with the power to generate pyrotechnic energy plasmoids from her hands, though she had heart for Wolverine and Storm. It was the geeky world of comics that inspired LaStar to get her degree in molecular biotechnology and genetics, with a minor in digital media at California State University Polytechnic Pomona.
“We did the Mendelian experiment with the color of the flowers,” said LaStar, recalling a science experiment in elementary school. “Mendelian genetics is the basics of all modern genetics. So pollinate different flowers, mix the colors, see the expression — very simple genetics. ‘This is genetics?’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve heard that word before: There is the X-gene.’”
Her world came full circle a few years ago, when she discovered a website that spoke to her interests as an artistic, queer woman with a love for science and punk music. She followed it and, in time, she became the social community manager and curator of Black Girl Nerds. The site is an online safe space for black girls, women and allies to geek out on anything from manga and technology to politics and pop culture.
“It’s a focus, but there is not tunnel vision, and when we get back to the whole geeking-out thing, different things you can geek out about, from cosplay, anime, languages, technology, games, that is something that every group of people, no matter what your background is [can enjoy],” LaStar said.
Creator Jamie Broadnax came up with the idea for the haven site in February 2012 after Googling the three terms and coming up with nothing. The name goes against the concept of black women being an anomaly to geekdom. Black Girl Nerds is not about one or two specific genres or categories. In fact, it goes in all different directions, offering something for most types of geeks. Also, the content is not specific to black people or issues.
“The term ‘Black Girl Nerd’ … is a term of endearment to all women like me who have been attached to a stigma that is not an accurate representation of my personality or my idiosyncratic behaviors,” said Broadnax in the site’s About page. “This is a website for every nerdy girl [who] can finally come out of the closet and tell the world that they are PROUD to be who they are — no matter what anyone says, does, or thinks.”
The stigma Broadnax speaks about refers to the idea that women and, in particular, black women, are outsiders to an intellectual world where imagination, science, fiction and technology inhabit the same realm. In American culture, people who have a fascination with that realm are relegated to geekdom or nerd status, an undesirable. Add color into the mix and an array of misconceptions rise to the surface. From an inter-cultural standpoint, being smart and enjoying things that are eccentric are often looked at as a form of dissimilation from black culture.
LaStar is one of those incongruent women, who, from an early age went against the norm.
“You can be a nerd about anything,” LaStar said. “There [are] art nerds; there [are] music nerds. I look at hip-hop and rap heads … ‘You a nerd dog … what you think you is? But that is OK. It kind of ties back with that whole being called an ‘Oreo’ thing, where you can be a class clown but you better not excel. … I definitely had the whole, ‘Oh, you’re cute but you act hella white.’ I was like ‘What does that mean?’ By the time I was in high school I would shut you down in a heartbeat.”
She learned one important lesson at 13, while she was in the seventh grade.
“When you don’t care, kids love you,” she said. “I was super popular in eighth grade.”
Unlike some who may have bowed to peer pressure, LaStar had a strong support system at school and at home.
“I had parents at home who were like, ‘My baby is fine the way she is, you need to back up,’” LaStar said. “They would check people… When I got older I realized [they] were like, ‘We didn’t always get you but we understood that we had to protect and nurture you.’ I often tell people that my relationship with my family and their understanding of me is not common. I recognize how unique it was.”
That’s why a space such as Black Girl Nerds is important, especially in this digital age, she said.
“Social media is empowering,” LaStar said. “You want your voice to be heard, just get out there and say your peice. That’s actually what made me step up with Black Girl Nerds … it’s the idea that it starts with me.”
As curator she tries to add value to the website not only by incorporating content that interests her, such as science or queer issues, but also content that is inspiring, empowering and interesting to her diverse audience.
“[Black Girl Nerds] fills a void,” she said. “You go there knowing that you can geek out.”
As a curator, LaStar wants to encourage bringing the virtual world into the real world, she is hoping to host meet ups where people in the Black Girl Nerds community can meet in person.