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How To Be A Black Girl Nerd: An Interview with BlackGirlNerd Contributor, Kayla Sutton

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Kristen Pellot

22. Intersectional feminist writer and flailing, fangirling nerd.

Being considered a “white person” has been the bane of many people of color’s existence. It’s a point of humiliation and belittlement for those with certain interests, speech patterns, demeanor, or even skills and talents that has plagued our own understanding of ourselves as people of color. Further, people of color often find themselves feeling excluded from certain circles that are dominated by white, cis, straight men. Many people of color are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to having certain aspects of themselves validated.

As an Afro-Latina girl nerd finding a balance between race and ethnicity and a community that continuously excludes you or is blatantly racist can be hard. It’s difficult to know how to operate and protect yourself in this kind of environment. I have personally found solace in platforms like “Superheroes in Color” and “Black Nerd Problems”, but one in particular has been particularly comforting: Black Girl Nerds. Black Girl Nerds is an all encompassing online platform for women of color. It’s not exclusive to black women. It’s name comes from  “the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is somewhat of an anomaly” (from the BGN site).

Luckily, I was able to talk to Kayla Sutton, a contributor to Black Girl Nerds about how to be a black girl nerd.  

KP: Talk a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to work with BlackGirlNerds? What kinds of things are you into that makes you a nerd?

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Kayla Sutton

KS: My name is Kayla Maria, I go by either Kayla or Marie/Maria on the webs. I honestly found BGN at a really low point in my life. I was not happy with myself and I think because my life was home and work.  I did not have something that I did, just for me. I saw that Jamie, the founder and managing editor, was looking for new contributors and content creators, so I took a leap of faith and applied. The reception from her and the whole team has been AMAZING and quite life changing. I was an Afro-Latina into all kinds of geeky things from anime to video games to literature and pop culture.

KP:Do you ever feel weird about being a black girl nerd? Do you ever have any problems with your own personal nerdness because the media and culture is often so male and white dominated?

KS: I do. I mean it comes with the territory. I was outcasted from my black friends who were not into the things I was into, and treated with kid gloves from my white friends that were into the same things I was. I feel as if at times, I am not taken seriously when it comes to talking about comics, so then I doubt myself.

KP: What about our place in fandom community? Being part of fandoms, cosplaying, and going to cons is often some of the best parts of being a nerd. However, these communities, generally, aren’t very welcoming or friendly to women, let alone women of color. In your experience, what is the best way to navigate this?

KS:When I am in cosplay, a sort of fiery attitude comes over me, a “No Man, No Cry” rage. So when I encounter racism or sexism while at a con in cosplay, I’m quick to shut it down. It’s all about knowing that person is trying project their insecurities on you and you have to deflect it back with sass to get the point across.

KP: When most of the representation for women in mainstream nerd media culture comes from white women, what are our positions as black girl nerds? How do we should celebrate the feats of all women (who are often white), while still advocating for better representation and enjoying the entertainment that we love?

KS: Growing up, I would find I guess the “blackest” white character and identify with them. And I think with the change we are seeing from the “black girl nerds” behind the scenes in the comic, movie, and tv world we creating a world where little black girls no longer have to do that. I think that our white counterparts are coming around and uplifting us as much as we uplift them, that’s what we have to keep doing.

KP:What do you mean by “blackest” white character and what about those characters made you identify with them?

KS:I guess it would be the spunkiest character. Like Buttercup from Powerpuff Girls, for whatever reason, in my mind as a child, as a little black girl, she was me. And so that thinking kind of followed me, like to Charmed, I fell in love with Phoebe because so much of her again was in me, so it would come off as “black” traits that I saw in the characters I loved.

KP: In the case of Miles Morales, the issue that erupted after issue #2 in the most recent series was that he wanted to be just Spider-Man as opposed to the “black” Spider-Man. In the article I wrote about this, I mentioned Noma Dumezweni and worried that she would just be the “black” Hermione instead of just Hermione in her own right. Do you think the direct qualifier “black” (or any race or ethnicity) for characters is important for representation? Do you think adequate representation has to have race or ethnicity at the forefront for the characters?

KS: I don’t think that it is. I think that phrase ‘the black “insert here”’ takes away [from the character] at times. For example, the original Uncle Buck film featuring John Candy had an all white cast, where as the TV show coming this Summer features an all black cast. But to say Mike Epps is portraying a “black” Uncle Buck is insulting. He’s just playing a role that can be either black, white, Asian, or Hispanic. We can have representation without having that “the black” tagline.

KP:Though we talk about representation within the media a lot, I don’t think we talk about POC nerds in general enough. How do you think platforms like BGN help give a voice to POC nerds, regardless to race or gender?

KS: Social media has changed the game. Now we can create the hashtags and get them trending and talk about all the representation mistakes  and bring all the these things to light and get change going. BGN has done this and will keep doing this until the day that we no longer need these hashtags or roundtable discussions.

KP: When I first stumbled upon BGN, I was surprised on the scope of the platform. It’s not only the main site with great  articles, there’s a podcast, it’s really involved on social media from doing live tweets of movie nights to being involved in engaging conversation, you cover cons, you have a YouTube channel with interviews, it’s really amazing to me as an Afro-Latina who was made fun of for being a nerd. How do you think BGN, and platforms like it, are changing how black girl nerds are seen either to themselves or to communities that try to belittle us?

KS:I was always picked up by kids in school, even my younger sisters would call me nerd because I always had a book permanently glued to me. But that’s what I love about being a part of BGN, Jamie has created a space that helps to show that we are not alone or different, we come by the hundreds and we have allies. And it’s making the outsiders take notice.

KP: In my experience and in the experience of others I’ve spoken to, being ridiculed for being a POC and a nerd is coded with racism. And, for black girls, there’s obviously the added stigma of being a woman which makes the territory feel like it’s dripping in misogynoir. Do you have any advice for overcoming that, especially for young girls?

KS: It’s hard. To be considered one of the guys but then be told you can’t be part of the things that guys take interest in. My biggest advice would be to stand firm and not give a damn about what you are not supposed to like and just like what makes you happy. If it brings you joy, then it’s yours.

KP: So where can people find you?

KS: By searching the BGN sites for my name. My Twitter is: @maria_giesela, And my work can be found on: http://www.gafollowers.com/author/kaylasutton/. Also can catch me as a co-host for the #BGNPodcast.

You can check out BGN at their social media:

Black Girl Nerds site 

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