The Sobering Reality of Actual Black Nerd Problems

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.

Actual Black Nerd Problems
The table was glorious, just about every bladed weapon from nerd lore were on the tables, all handled with care, all available for a price. There was Jon Snow’s “Longclaw”, Cloud Strife’s “Buster sword”, Nariko’s “Heavenly Sword” and many, many more. I picked up “Buster” and marveled at its weight. This thing was awesome. I had no idea where I would put it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t contemplate dropping some credits on it. I mean, come on: FINAL FANTASY VII MEMORABILIA!

Actual Black Nerd Problems
[Swords in webpage are larger than they appear]
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.

Actual Black Nerd Problems
Original Tumblr Thread of Screenshots of Tweets. Links to Tweets: X, X, X, X.

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.

darrien hunt
We were probably naïve for a while. Even people such as myself that talk about the violence towards black bodies in all manners or aggression, thought that nerd shit was off-limits or at least not viewed as a threat. “It’s a costume!” we would all yell in our glass cases, now fogged and yet unbroken with our exasperation. Darrien Hunt changed that.

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.

Are you following Black Nerd Problems on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr or Google+?


  • William is the Editor-In-Chief, leader of the Black Knights and father of the Avatar. With Korra's attitude, not the other one.

  • Show Comments

  • T William Collins

    This right here…

    Stunning, yet unfortunately, not surprising.

    Thanks for this.

  • Wait… Que?

    I’m not this type of nerd. Not into cosplay or even video games.. but my best friends are. And this is a scary reality. And even sadder knowing that another ceiling/ cap has been put of African American (males) on which characters they can DRESS UP as. It’s sickening. Reading this made my heart hurt, especially that last paragraph.Being black in American has taken a whole other level of hard, where one can’t be on either side of the spectrum. Literally from being “Ghetto” to Urkle will get you killed.

  • Rita

    My boyfriend is into the nerd life and my heart hurts for him. He literally used to carry his nerd stuff around not just because it was cool because he’s a ‘big scary black guy’ and his Fighter T-Shirts and comic satchel set him apart from the riff ruff you know? But he can’t enjoy it to the extent that others can…its sad.

  • karey

    [“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.]
    No, I think that’s the perfect amount of articulation. Thank you for sharing.

  • Camilla Cracchiolo

    This is a great and thoightful article. I feel really sad for Darien Hunt and his family and mad as hell at cop stupidity.

    I wonder if the fact that this kind of shit keeps people from buying cosplay items could be translated into getting the comics and gaming industries to politically come out against police murderers. After all, not spending your money hits them in the pocketbook. And the pocketbook is the real religion in this country…

    • kayelem

      I think you could expect the racist equivalent of gamergate if someone tried to motivate the geek industry to ploitically come out against police violence. That element already exists pretty openly, they just havent found a specific victim set to harass as the gamergate mysogynists did.

  • Whistlre

    If these same murders happened to a white man they wouldn’t have made national news because racism and hate sells. I have read several articles that pointed out several articles of similar cases around the same time as Trayvon that had very little media coverage. I also would not be surprised if someone showed me an article of other cosplayers who had been killed. Or others people that had been shot in the back by police. Many people die every day and in all that death there is bound to be similarities no matter the race of the individuals. It boils down to which one the media wants to put in the forefront. Then that specific death becomes sensationalized.

    I’m not trying to belittle the deaths but I am trying to point out that sometimes ignorance is bliss. If you had never heard of Darrien being killed, or that it happened so recently. You might have actually purchased that sword you cherished in the booth. Then again, you might have used a different excuse to not buy the sword…=D

    Thank you for your article!

    • Reba

      Stating the fact that you’re “not trying to belittle…” doesn’t actually cancel out the fact that you definitely just did that. And by trying to belittle the experiences of many individuals you try to silence and invalidate that which doesn’t affect you.

      The thing is, yes, white men are killed. And people die everyday. But unless they’re being killed and or dying simply for being white then that argument is nothing more than a poor attempt at making a false equivalence. Noting the race of these men is relevant and it is necessary when they are being targeted and killed for existing while black. The highlighting of these trends are relevant, and well documented. Whether you acknowledge them or not is up to you, but choosing to exist in, as you call it, blissful ignorance doesn’t make these things any less true or any less valid. It just means you’re happier remaining unaware. And if you do not understand that, as much as you seem to not understand the definition of the word “belittle” then perhaps it’s best for you to leave the advice giving to those who are more qualified to lead this conversation. Like say… I don’t know, the author of this article.

    • Lyn Crutchson

      You know what? The police in other countries don’t kill nearly so many people. Albuquerque police killed more people last year than all of the police forces in the United Kingdom combined. In England, police officers only discharged weapons 3 times in 2014, and killed no one. NO ONE. No one black or white, or even purple. And it’s not like the UK is a raging hotbed of violence as a result. The USA has a higher rate of violent crime than the UK. Maybe that means that no one actually needs to die.
      So, if no one actually needs to die, does it matter if US police forces disproportionately kill minorities? Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to people being killed by those who should protect them.

  • Jaime Martin

    You know it didn’t occur to me why Darrien Hunt’s death struck me harder than any of others. Maybe it was a certain cynical “business as usual” thread in me. And then this chunk of your essay articulated perfectly the reason why:
    “We were probably naïve for a while. Even people such as myself that talk about the violence towards black bodies in all manners or aggression, thought that nerd shit was off limits or at least not viewed as a threat. “It’s a costume!” we would all yell in our glass cases, now fogged and yet unbroken with our exasperation. Darrien Hunt changed that. 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.”
    Thank you.

  • Yajirobe

    How would you say this interacts with the general stereotype that oddly-dressed nerds carrying weapons are always a threat? This seems to have been a stereotype for nerds since the Columbine mass shootings. I mean, I used to own a black trench coat — I gave it away. Honestly, I barely wear anything black anymore. I used to love wearing combat boots and other military surplus gear, but I stopped. I didn’t worry if I forgot to shave a few days, now I make an effort to never leave the house without a clean shave, because a male nerd dressed like that and looking like that is going to be seen as a threat by non-nerds. :-/ At least as far as I’m aware, no nerd has killed or raped wearing a stupid hat just yet, so if I ever get stir-crazy, I can wear one of my fedoras and just get laughed at.

    Do you think being a black armed nerd is just putting gasoline on an already existing fire, or do you see them as two different things?

    • knightomwd

      I had to beg one of my clients who is a little low functioning to NOT show his new generation one Megatron to anyone while he was outside. I knew exactly what would happen.

      For those who don’t know the generation one Megatron looks exactly like a chrome plated Walther p38 pistol.

      The NYPD isn’t exactly known for asking people of color questions before bullets and shell casings go flying.

  • Terry

    Thank you! I’m posting this to my 12 year old grandson’s FB page. He needs to hear this from someone other than myself and his mother.

  • Cat

    This situation just sucks.

    And, no, my perception is that white people get a lot more slack with what they can wear in public, male or not. When I was in the SCA (people who got together to play Medieval) we had all kinds of stories about “freaking the mundanes” with funny clothing and swords and such. The possibility of being shot by the police literally never crossed our minds. Of course this was twenty years ago–but I bet part of it was that nearly everyone I knew in the SCA was white. It never occurred to me to wonder if the handful of black people playing had to hold themselves to different standards.

    It should have. It will now.

  • David Bitterbaum

    It is sad to think that due to racism people can’t even enjoy cosplaying. I liked the part of the article about how the Wizard World events help bring geeky-joy to regions that don’t always get the big conventions (such as out here in Saint Louis), as sometimes those get hated on as not “really” being comic-book conventions–which is just hateful and absurd.

  • That Chick

    My brother is a big ass, 200+ black nerd. He’s also a young retired marine that occasionally carries a (legal) huge ass knife (looks like a mini machete to me) in his car. He was Afghanistan for 7 years and It’s only now, in the last few years (long after retiring) that I worry about him. Funny how I worried less for him in a war-zone, then I do for him here in america. Funny how we fight for the freedom of strangers in strange land but can’t except it in our own country. I love america, I just don’t like the people here.

  • Penelope Peters

    I think about this a lot. My (black) son was a Stormtrooper for Halloween this past year. He desperately, desperately wanted a blaster to complete the outfit. And I refused to get it for him, for all of the reasons you mention. He’s six. I’m sure he has no idea why I said No (and luckily for me, he didn’t really argue too hard).

    But there was no way, just NO WAY, I would have been comfortable with him going out there, age six, dressed as a Stormtrooper on Halloween night… and carrying the fakest blaster I could find. Even with every single other kid out there carrying all the fake-but-real-looking weaponry you could imagine.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *