Look fam, last week was rough. You watched Black people gunned down by police every day in different cities across the country, 5 police officers were killed after what had been a peaceful protest, and you probably found yourself in more than one unsolicited “All Lives Matter” conversation. We’re there with you. While digesting all of this pain, we have found moments to steal some joy back for ourselves, following the lead of our colleague Lauren Bullock’s column about the Blackest Joy in the form of Pokémon Go. We’re bringing you 7 days of Pokémon Go, our testimonies and our spontaneous moments of delight that have helped us get by. Catch our week-long series here.
Honestly, this was supposed to be a whole essay about the feelings of embarrassment in admitting to my crush that I, at 32, had been playing a Pokemon game. It was going to be some kind of reflection on what it is to be a single nerd, trying to explain the geeky shit you love to the uninitiated and feeling comfortable enough with yourself to get over said anxieties. But a lot’s taken place since then. I went on vacation, rode jet skis and got drunk enough to make late night Snapchat posts from the spirit world.
But more importantly, I went viral.
I discovered Pokemon GO while I was on a lakehouse getaway outside of Austin with my closest friends with a slightly below average phone signal and no wifi password to speak of within 60 to 75 miles. The only pokestops out in the middle of nowhere were dimly lit rest stops that mostly looked like the shady corners of the South even Rust Cohle wouldn’t skulk down in a bonus episode of True Detective. With that in mind, despite having had an amazing time in paradise, I was happy to get back to civilization (well, as civilized as Houston ever gets) where I knew there’d be plenty of well lit places to go seeking Pokemon that wouldn’t have me looking like a chalk outline on Luther.
Upon returning home, I did the worse thing anyone who ever liked something new could possibly do: I turned on my laptop and logged onto social media. The first thing I saw from people that looked like me was how Pokemon GO, a GPS game about catching imaginary animals, was somehow a distraction from “the real issues” that was going to keep us from voting in November even though it is now July. There are even memes accusing black men of being so distracted by touching their phones, they won’t touch their women. In fairness, it wasn’t ALL people of color or even a whole lot, to be honest. It was, however, a vocal, well-known group of people of color that black folks that spend any amount of time on the internet should be very familiar with, commonly referred to as a word that rhymes with “hotep.”
Now, I’m sure any of my esteemed colleagues here at Black Nerd Problems would have been able to pump out a detailed, nuanced essay on how black people are multi-celled organism capable of having multiple thoughts at the same time or how after a straight week of black death and police brutality, it’s okay to do ridiculous things to make yourself smile. But I’m not quite that guy. So, I wrote a short, classy manifesto of my own with about as much poise and character as could be expected from me.
The next morning, there were about a hundred likes. By day’s end, there were almost three hundred likes and about seventy shares. Last time I checked, it was somewhere around 500 likes and 600 shares across Facebook. I’ve seen it on Tumblr and Twitter. Someone actually transcribed my words and made it an actual meme. I have now joined the ranks of Feminist Ryan Gosling and David After Dentist. Now, I realize that this is just a drop in the bucket of Michael Jordan tears and exaggerated Drake faces that populate the memeverse of the web, but I can’t help but feel like perhaps I accidentally tapped into something and, closer to the point of this post, so did Pokemon GO.
It’s not just that people are really excited about something. It’s that they’re unashamed of defending their right to be excited about something. It’s as if we dug deep into our childhood and pulled out Pokemon and somehow emboldened ourselves enough to stand up to bullies (make no mistake….if you’re bullying someone out of something that makes them happy as an attempt to pay attention to your pet cause, you are indeed a bully) and protect our blackest joy with all the courage of Jon Snow, one deep, standing up to Bolton Army in Game of Thrones. Because sometimes, as a Black person in America, that feeling of genuine unapologetic joy from a few moments of escapism is all we have.
The moral is that there is no one uniform way to be black. You don’t get to tell people how to cope. There’s more to being black than just the struggle and if you make the struggle your whole identity, rest assured that as sure as you’re sitting there reading this, it’s going to swallow you faster you can say, “Pikachu, I choose you!” Guaranteed.
It’s not taking any money out of your paycheck to leave people to their own devices. Nobody’s telling you to download it. Nobody’s telling you to like it. Hell, nobody’s even saying you don’t have the right to your own opinion of it. But if it’s not affecting you and it’s not hurting other people’s way of life, just mind your own business. And shut the fuck up.