Moving “on code” has been a large topic of debate in the Black community for quite some time, and for some reason, we are still struggling with this (seemingly) simple concept even to this day. The latest episode of the “on code” debate has taken up residence within a community that is near and dear to my heart: the Blerd community.
Blerdcon 2021 was held last week, after taking a year off from activities, like a lot of other conventions, and with its return, it also brought major drama. Now I’m not typically a drama frog, since I sort of like to mind my own business and stay in my corner of the universe, but this drama was too relevant to why Blerdabytes even exists in the first place, so I decided that it was indeed a topic worth blogging about.
So what was this drama you ask? Let’s discuss.
Blerdcon, like most other conventions, hosts a cosplay contest, a place where its attendees can show off all of their hard work with cosplay creations that they’ve crafted via their own blood, sweat, and tears. Cosplay contests are typical convention fare, so nothing too weird here, but the drama comes in when we find out whom the winner of this year’s contest was: a White woman. A lot of questions can be asked here, so I’m going to walk you through my thought process as I try to answer most of them and gather my own thoughts at the same time.
The first topic we’re going to discuss is why Blerdcon was even made in the first place: to create a safe space for Black nerds. Taken from the official Blerdcon website:
“Blerdcon is an event that highlights and celebrates Blerd culture and creates a marketplace of ideas where sharing that culture can take place with proper context, attribution and positivity in an inclusive environment. Blerdcon celebrates our connection with LGBTQ, the disabled, POCs and the international community! All are welcome to partake in the experience as we are an open community who love all the same nerddom.”
Now I could argue that this mission statement is virtually written in doublespeak due to its backtracking from one sentence to the next, and I will. The statement starts off emphasizing Blerdcon’s focus on Blerd culture, and then moves on to include everyone else in the next sentence. This ambiguity creates a very confusing situation for readers, and I don’t think that this was done on accident.
If Blerdcon was intended to be such an inclusive convention, people question why it doesn’t just change its name to reflect that. Now if you remember the Great Universal Fancon Debacle of 2018, you can understand why wording matters. Blerdcon wants to advertise itself as a safe space for Blerds, but I now believe that this may only be a marketing tactic, since what better way to make money off of a demographic than by pandering to it?
Blerds deal with a lot of terrible things online just for being themselves and partaking in commonly enjoyed things like video games, comics, and cosplay. From being bullied, doxxed, stalked, and threatened, to being told that their favorite characters cannot be Black and being called every slur under the sun, if you can name it, a Blerd has probably experienced it somewhere on the Internet. Gatekeeping is a common occurrence in nerd spaces, unfortunately, and it’s quite odd when you consider that fact that all of this stuff is made up anyway; but I digress.
With a name like Blerdcon, you would expect for it to be a safe place for Blerds, correct? Yeah, me too. But that’s not what we got. A lot of people are (understandably) in favor of Blerdcon changing its name to reflect its inclusive policies because it’s clearly not adhering to its mission statement of “highlighting and celebrating Blerd culture” by pulling stunts like this.
Now I have no issue with White people attending Blerdcon, as it’s very much possible to attend a convention and support the Blerd community in many other ways. I am a believer that the best way to learn about others is to build bridges and to have open and honest discussions about our differences, but that doesn’t mean that I’m onboard with White people entering and winning cosplay contests at conventions that tout themselves as “highlighting and celebrating Blerds.”
If I’m being honest, I can’t even be mad at the White woman for winning the cosplay contest, since she didn’t vote herself into that place, but I can question her intentions and why she felt so comfortable even entering it in the first place. Like can we read the room? Why shamelessly enter a cosplay contest at a convention highlighting Blerds? I don’t care how many of your Black friends encouraged you to do so, just don’t do it. You can appreciate things without centering yourself in them, trust me. It’s possible.
After being relentlessly bullied (which I do NOT at all condone) online, she did issue an apology and return the prizes from the contest, but I still feel like all of this could’ve been avoided had a little bit of gatekeeping been done. But this would mean that I also need to take a more holistic look at the situation and focus on the parties that enabled this sort of situation to come about in the first place. The age old adage “Don’t hate the player, hate the game,” immediately comes to mind here, and I must say, it’s quite apropos.
I’m not saying ban White people from entering the cosplay contest completely, but you could argue that as well. What I am saying, however, is that a part of moving “on code,” is proper gatekeeping, and this could’ve easily been done by selecting a Black winner since that’s what the convention’s advertised focus is anyway. Gatekeeping is not always a bad thing, as I like to think of it as a form of boundary-setting. I think that if the judges of the contest and the founder of Blerdcon had been more outright in their gatekeeping methods, something like this would’ve never even come into existence. But I guess I can’t expect too much when the founder of Blerdcon himself often states that “anyone can be a Blerd,” (*cough* 4Weird *cough*) and has also been reported disrespecting Black women on several occasions.
I like to see gatekeeping as a necessary part of cultural preservation. Everyone does it, and it’s how strong cultural traditions are preserved and maintained over time. Other races of people know the importance of moving “on code” in order to further their community, whether it be for social, economic, or cultural purposes. But for some reason, Black people struggle with this concept. Our burning passion to be inclusive of others will also be our downfall. We are always so eager to share our cultural spaces with others and “invite everyone to the Cookout,” while getting zero reciprocation in return. This can also be seen with the praise often given to White people for being mediocre (at best) in Black spaces (see Sam Whiteout and The Hoff Twins), while actual Black people are heavily criticized, a lot of the time by their own people, for doing the same things (and more). I guess it really do be your own people…
If Black people truly realized how influential we are, we would never seek the acceptance and validation of others. I’m convinced that this level of people pleasing is actually a millennia-spanning trauma response that we’d best free ourselves from posthaste. When Black people come together in solidarity, amazing things happen. Powerful things. The fact that Blerdcon even exists is due to its immeasurable support from the Black community. We’ve seriously made it what it is today, and for some odd reason, we’re still overlooked, even at it.
Everything doesn’t have to be diverse and inclusive (sn: these two words make me cringe like no other, and I know I have 2018 to thank for that!). It’s okay to preserve spaces for ourselves. Healthy boundaries are a good thing. If Blerdcon was truly made to “highlight and celebrate Blerds,” then it should demonstrate that in the way it treats its Black creators. If not, then I agree, a name change would be more appropriate because there’s no reason to center Whiteness and place it on a pedestal at a convention made for Blerds. It also puts its Black supporters in a weird place, as the one place meant to support them does the same thing that every other space has done to them, as well. I mean, if you can’t be proudly Black at Blerdcon, then where can you?
As I close out this piece, I do think Blerdcon will need to invoke some major changes moving forward if it doesn’t want to alienate the majority of its attendees: Black people. If it wants to keep its culture thriving and not just become another convention, there are lots of actions that will need to be taken.
I attended in 2018, and while I had a great time, one of the things that I was quite disappointed to see was White people hosting panels, since I’m sure many Black panelists were denied so that they could have those spots. It’s already hard enough for Black panelists to get their panels approved at other conventions, so I know it must’ve really hurt being rejected by your own people, as well.
Now, a part of me wants to believe that perhaps this is all one big marketing campaign, akin to Starbucks baristas purposely spelling customers’ names wrong for added (and free) advertising. Maybe Blerdcon did this to stir up talk about it and get their name in the public eye, since we know that when it comes to engagement, negative and positive attracts the crowd, sometimes negative more so than positive, unfortunately. But if that’s not the case, perhaps the enraged supporters will sit next year out while they wait and see if Blerdcon is actually listening to their complaints by hitting them where it counts: their bank account.
If Blerdcon was smart, moving forward they would use this opportunity as a reason to focus on keeping events, vendors, and guests Black in future years, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. If someone out there is brewing up their own convention for Blerds, now would be the best time to swoop in and let the demographic know what’s up, since there’s clearly a market for it. Only time will tell what will become of Blerdcon, but I sure hope that they use this an opportunity to learn how to better move “on code,” so that something like this doesn’t happen again (lest they turn into another Black Girl Nerds Universal Fancon sellout situation). I love my community. I really do, but we still (clearly) have a very long way to go…