October 31st was a Friday and despite the fact there was already plenty of reason to celebrate because it was Halloween and the end of my work week, it was also the opening day of Ohio’s Comic-Con as a part of the Wizard Con circuit. I clocked out of work, threw on some jeans and my Attack on Titan Survey Corps shirt and headed straight for the convention, since there were precious hours left for the day. Once I made it down there, grabbed my press pass (weoutchea) and made it to the floor, it was as I expected: steeped in glorious geekery. As Leslie had written about so eloquently before, not everyone can make it to New York or San Diego for the mother and father of all Cons in North America, and the smaller ones definitely have value.
As this was my first year attending, I was just trying to make the rounds and soak in as much as I could without committing to anything or really planning on writing about it (you see how that worked out). At some point, between my buying an original sketch of Master Chief and taking a picture of a homie in an awesome Deathstroke cosplay (Arkham: Origins edition), a guy came up to me pointing emphatically. “Awesome shirt man!” I thanked him, but it is in fact an awesome shirt, so I get that a lot.
“Check this out.” He put a long box on the table in front of us and pulled out a replica Survey Corps blade. While not sharpened steel, it was solid metal and polished, a nice collectible whether you intended to hang it on the wall or wander into the woods beyond Columbus and hunt titans. I nerded out with my new found friend and enthusiast for a moment before making my way to the very display he had made the purchase from.
And then, I got really, really sober and put it down. I smiled at the vendor, told him how great all the stuff looked, then walked away. Maybe it was because I had just seen this tumblr post of tweets collected from Carrie McClain. Maybe it was because the autopsy of 22-year-old Darrien Hunt, the cosplayer in Utah was just released and confirmed that he was shot at least six times by police, at least four of them in his back. Suddenly, the idea of carrying around a giant sword wasn’t as appealing.
I want to be clear and realistic about something: I am aware of two things simultaneously. I am uber-aware of the violence against black men and boys based solely upon the fact that someone was scared of them by default. I talk about that a lot, constantly really, because Trayvon and Jordan and Michael and Darrien and…and…and… happen a lot. Constantly, really. But I am also aware of my personal disposition. As a physical stature, I am included in that bullshit Ben Stein would call “armed with my big scary self.” But I also don’t look like I’m in my early 20s either. Maybe my life has been saved multiple times without my knowing because some cop or 2nd amendment lifer thought that older translated to “not as much of a threat.” Who knows what magical combination of black and wide shoulders and greying beard unlocks the secret of being black and safe to exist.
Because I don’t know that answer and because I’m less willing to die or put myself in harm’s way to prove a point (as I once was) and more concerned of its impact on my wife and daughter, I’m at least aware of unnecessary risks. No matter how mind-boggling fucked that is. And that’s the point really. How the fuck is it that my Friday night Comic-Con experience is hijacked by me doing the math on if I could get to my car with a giant, cartoonish sword strapped across my back?
Why is this something that concerns me at all? It sure as hell didn’t concern the cool white dude who showed me his Levi-blade earlier. If I ran into him again and if he asked me if I picked one up myself, I wouldn’t know how to tell him about my reluctance to open myself up to possible harm. I wouldn’t know how to engage him on a level that says, “I’m glad we met and share an affinity for this same piece of art, but because I’m Black and aware of the world around me, I don’t feel comfortable indulging myself at the same level you do.” It’s a tough conversation to have. It’s a tougher situation to articulate. It’s toughest though, just trying to live with that doubt in your head.
And we didn’t need him to be shot in the back while running for his life AWAY FROM COPS that had their guns drawn on him, but it’s a lesson we learned nonetheless. The name, Black Nerd Problems originated from funny vignettes that Omar Holmon and I used to trade back and forth that really had to do with relating our nerdom to other people. Like, “If she legit thinks Gotham is the new ‘The Wire’…” #BlackNerdProblems (from Omar Holmon).
It was fun and comical and facetious. But a real Black Nerd Problem is not knowing if your cosplay will get you killed. Or if phaser equals wallet equals 41 empty shell casings later. Or feeling compelled to write this column in the first place.
Read fellow staff contributor and cosplayer Lauren Bullock’s tribute to Darrien Hunt on the first anniversary of his passing here.