Thursday, March 16, 2023

On Being an Blerd in Western Jamaica

What is a Blerd?

A "blerd" is a slang term that combines the words "black" and "nerd." It is often used to refer to a black person who is passionate about science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields, or who is a fan of traditionally "nerdy" things like comic books, video games, and science fiction. As one might imagine in an age where many Jamaicans have taken on "Dunce" as their moniker, being a nerd in some instances can be frowned upon or make one a pariah of sorts.

It can lead to odd social situations. I remember being on a corner full of young smokers and we were calling an instance of a woman beating a man and I said "she discombobulate him," the crowd went silent till one young man bravely came forth saying "Rasta mi nah go pretend yah but mi nuh know wah dat mean, and me think me a nuh the only one.

In Jamaica, as in a lot of places, black children are allowed to ignore the interests and accomplishments of the black adults around them, and to focus their admiration on white folk (am just being honest). Being a blerd in Jamaica is a paradoxical experience, as the country has a rich cultural heritage and a strong tradition of education and academic achievement. Jamaica is home to many successful scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, and the country has a vibrant community of people who are passionate about STEM subjects. Yet this is not advertised, promoted or trumpeted and the stereotype of Jamaica being a land for the hewers of wood and drawers of water, or sun, sand and sex, or track stars and reggae stars, when we are so much more.

Being a Blerd in Jamaica

Growing up in Jamaica, I often felt like I didn't quite fit in with my peers. Like many of my friends, I was interested in sports and music, but seemed to distinguish me from them in my own mind was that I was also very drawn to science fiction, fantasy, and technology. Probably inherited from my father. He would buy me astronomy books and discusses Pleiades, Orion, Betelguese and show me Saturn and Jupiter through his telescope. I would spend hours immerse in his National Geographics and perusing the past, pondering Mesopotamia and such. But I digress... It was this intense romance with science and even current events and world affairs that sometimes made me feel like an outsider, that layered with imbibing Bob Marley to Bob Dylan, the trippy surreal sounds of reggae created an interesting mental tapestry... but over time, I came to embrace my love of nerdy pursuits and to celebrate the unique perspective that being a Blerd brought to my life. At key points like this X-men and The Chrysalids really hit home.

I can't speak for every household in Jamaica but I grew up in the crossfire of intellectual battles on Sunday evening. When the religious in the family would battle the atheists and the philosophers. Sometimes it would politics at the crux of the debate other times there would be just linguistic showing off and semantic pageantry as the members in the family versed in Spanish would match wits with the dictionary aficionados and the clique schooled in Latin. It was a vocabulary ego show, with dissecting of etymology, Greek prefixes and the nuances of pronunciation.

It's really easy to feel different in Jamaica, because the country is so different from what you see of Jamaica on television. Also the world outside of Jamaica on television seemed so different from Jamaica too. One of the challenges of being a Blerd in Jamaica was dealing with stereotypes and misconceptions. Many people assumed and still do that because I am Black or Rastafari, I must not be interested in intellectual or academic pursuits,or speak a particular kind of way or am limited to a particular vocabulary. They would try to steer me towards more "traditional" Black interests, such as music or sports, and would sometimes mock me for my love of science fiction and technology. But times have changed.

I've never been one to let these stereotypes get me down. Instead, I embraced my inner nerd and used it as a source of strength. I joined online communities of like-minded Blerds and found support and fellowship with others who shared my passions. I also began to see the value in my unique perspective and how it could be used to challenge stereotypes and push back against the narrow-minded thinking that had held me back for so long. Not only that new modes of black lifestyles (livity) and identities I believe are needed for the future, and the new black male, be he Rastafari or not must not only be physically fit, but intellectually agile and creative.

As I grew older and entered college, I found that being a Blerd was actually an advantage. I was able to connect with a diverse group of people and to learn from their different experiences and backgrounds. I also found that my love of science fiction and technology gave me a unique perspective on the world and allowed me to think creatively about problems and solutions.

Conversely being a blerd in Jamaica has it's downsides as there is a facet of our culture that is very suspicious of intelligence and views it as a threat. "Think yuh a go use yuh big brain pon me an twist me up!" Yes, Jamaica which has a culture of "bandooloo","Anansyism" compounded a fierce and competitive sense of oneupmanship. So being smart in a lot of environments is perceived as a threat, from the workplace to the streets, and especially in the world of scamming.

Blerdism Today

Despite some of the negative aspects of being a blerd, it seems there are good times ahead for blerds in Jamaica, there are many opportunities to pursue their interests and connect with like-minded individuals. The country has a number of science and technology organizations, including the Jamaican Association of Science and Technology (JAST), the Jamaican Association of Engineers (JAE), and the Jamaica Computer Society (JCS). These organizations host events and workshops, and provide support and resources for people interested in STEM fields.

Not only are there academic avenues for blerds but fun activities too. When I was in high school and University I dreamt of visiting a comic convention. I'd hope that maybe I'd be in the states one of those summers I went and there would be one near by. It never happened, but my daughter is an anime junkie and guess what there was an AnimeCon... of course I had to take her. It was one of the proudest moments of my life that I connected so well, carried her to where she wanted to be and in a space in Jamaica where she can get a tiny tiny glimpse of Japan and Japanese culture of which she is also a fan. I am not into Anime, am a fan of the old schools... Marvel and DC and as of late lots of Image and independent comics.

In addition to these organizations, there are also a number of schools and universities in Jamaica that offer programs in science, technology, engineering, and math. For example, the University of Technology, Jamaica offers a range of programs in these fields, including computer science, electrical engineering, and mathematics. The University of the West Indies also has a strong focus on STEM subjects, with programs in engineering, computer science, and mathematics.

These days Jamaica has many high schools with robotics clubs. In the earlier part of 2000 there was a JaLinux user group I used to be in regular contact with. Poetry groups are more prominent. The space is growing. Being a blerd in Jamaica also means being part of a broader global community of people who are passionate about STEM subjects and geeky interests. Many blerds in Jamaica are active on social media and other online platforms, and there are a number of online communities and forums where blerds can connect with each other and share their interests. For example, the website is a popular online destination for blerds, and there are many other online forums and communities that cater to this audience.

In Jamaica, we are at a cultural crossroads, so I wont act like blerds' life is ideal or romanticized in our island as the black nerd will still often face stereotypes and misconceptions about what it means to be black and nerdy. Some may think that being a blerd means you are not "black enough" that you are not fully invested in your culture. But even as the nation schisms and waxes and wanes from choppers, dunce and scammers to black excellence, it is still worth noting that being a blerd means celebrating both your blackness and your nerdy interests, and not having to choose one over the other.

Overall, being a blerd in our modern society can be a rewarding and enriching experience. The country has a strong tradition of academic excellence, if we as a people are able to embrace both our black heritage and unleash in our youth the love of all things nerdy, from science fiction and fantasy to video games and technology, we will definitely secure our place in the future of mankind. Being a blerd in our nation can also give you an esteem boost and sense of belonging. You become inducted into a vibrant and dynamic community of like-minded individuals who share your passion for learning and discovery. You may find support and friendship among other blerds, and you can most crucially use your unique perspective to contribute to the broader conversation about race, identity, and culture.

Being a Blerd framed my coming of age and taught me to be proud of who I am and to never let anyone else define me. It also taught me the value of embracing my uniqueness and using it to make the world a better place. I am grateful for the experiences and challenges that being a Blerd has brought into my life and I hope to continue to use my passion and knowledge to make a positive difference in the world.

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Anonymous said...


raheim said...

this is truely an inspiration, as a 'blerd' and a highschool student, i can relate. thank you for sharing this, a reminder to me not to make anyone define me