Black Nerds and Dating
Since the release of Donald Glover’s controversial video, This is America, and old an somewhat tired narrative has been revived, nerdy black guys dated white girls because they were passed over when they were young. Now, this is both fact and fiction, however, both side of this narrative must be explored.
Growing up, I was considered #NerdAdjacent
I played Classical Violin, I had a Chess Coach, my life goals included writing a Rock Opera and one day joining a Carnival. I was the color of burnt copper with eyes the glimmered in the sun. I was fond of Cowboy Shirts, Nike Cortez, playing in the rain, race cars, dirt bikes, Ziggy Stardust and Judy Blume. I was surrounded by a family who told me that I was beautiful, smart and interesting. I had Aunt’s who told me things like “pretty girls don’t need bangs”, and somehow that was enough for me.
In elementary school, I landed at a school that was mostly white, with a strong representation of black students. I had the most beautiful black woman I’d ever seen as a third-grade teacher, and although not without racism, there was space for me to be myself. I wasn’t a girly girl, nor was I particularly popular. I fought a lot, but mostly, I continued to enjoy tree climbing, bike riding, and Evil Knievel. There were girls, those who played kickball better than me, and a tetherball better than me and those who got their hair pressed regularly. I was different than them but still felt like I fit in the world.
Then came middle school and hormones and training bras and boys who smelled like outside but yet were still worthy of drawing hearts around their names. With Middle School came my first true experience outside of the middle-class bubble, and with that came the first awkward tries at crushes and puppy love. My first kiss tasted like sea salt air and the rotting wood of the roller coaster in Santa Cruz. He smelled like sweaty hair and tasted like Salt Water Taffy. He was a dirty blonde with deep blue eyes and I had no idea he was going to kiss me. He was a friend with whom I used to daydream about running away to the Circus with. He was in the Drama Club. He was cute, and nerdy with hair that got into his eyes, so he’d perfected pushing aside and looking innocent and troubling concurrently.
The first guy to dance with me, at a dance came up to about my chest. He was short. Like really short, but he had a lot of personality, and a few good dance moves. He wasn’t Black. He was involved in Student Council, was annoyingly outgoing, with glasses that were always falling off his nose. When he came and asked me to dance I was grateful. Truth be told I couldn’t really dance that well and I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell any of the “cool guys” were going to dance with me anyway. Lee and I did the Freak, the Bump, the Funky Chicken and whatever ridiculous dance we could think of, and even did the awkward 8th-grade slow dance, with his mousy brown hair and a face nestled deeply into my budding chest. We were nerds, and pretty much making the best of it.
By the end of Middle School, I had enough breasts to make grown men turn their heads. I was all legs and boobs and a despite a bit of acne, with the proper hand me downs I was learning how to get cute, at least on occasion. By the end of 8th Grade, one of the High School guys showed interest in me, gave me $20 to spend at the school carnival and then it was made clear to me that being a girl had its advantages because guys liked nerdy girls. Thus began the course of much of my dating life, stuck between two worlds, the blonde boy who kissed me went on to be an Emmy Award-winning Actor and the boy from the Carnival has been incarcerated off and on since about 1985. I had more in common with the nerds but the older and faster guys had more resources (pot to smoke and cars to pick me up in). Boobs and a relaxer introduced me to a whole new world, a world in which guys would never look twice at me in Middle School would pick me up from school in High School.
My “nerdy” friends and I parted way by at least 10th grade, which is not to say that they weren’t having relationships and making out and getting their hearts broken. We were all doing the same things, just at different parties. The music we listened to started to differ and race began to draw a line that wasn’t previously in place. Although I was a huge fan of A Flock of Seagulls, and Depeche Mode, my black and significantly cooler friends liked New Edition and Whitney Houston. Fashion also began to come into play, it was designer jeans and whose butt looked better in Calvin Kleins. I was still wearing black raincoats only purchasable at thrift stores, and fashion idols were Cyndi Lauper and Boy George. I was a cultural miss mash, yearning, like everyone else to fit in and a find a space that I belonged.
The guys who might have been labeled Nerds by the jocks, still went to Prom and although they might have skipped homecoming, they were actually still cool, just in different circles. The thing about High School is that some folks actually peaked around 16 or 17 and they may have done it in their Letterman jackets and fast cars their father’s bought them, or their fancy designer clothes, feathered hair. High School was it for them, they might have been upper echelon for those three or four years while the rest of us blossomed at a slower pace. It wasn’t that we didn’t notice how cute everyone was, but High School popularity was a means of Social Currency, and we all wanted from who we thought had it. For those whose idea of Social Currency different, well they flew under the radar for many.
The so-called nerds, were having just as much fun if not more than anyone else. Hacky Sack playing, pot smoking, Reggae on the River going kids who were probably enjoying High School a whole helluva lot more than those were under the scrutiny of the “Cool Kids”. I was never really apart of either group, so I floated between worlds, never really staying too long. I partied, I nerded out, I naively fell prey to dumb shit, I had, even more, fights, but never once did I think that High School would be my definitive years, no matter who did or didn’t invite me to Prom.
Our first High School Reunion there was a guy whom we all recalled from High School as wearing the same jacket all the time. It wasn’t that he was or wasn’t cute, he just wore the same jacket, day in and day out. Well, ten years after High School he was the Bell of the Ball and literally had women lined up to talk to him. With his washboard abs and his madras plaid pants, it was obvious that he’s been waiting for this moment for perhaps his whole damn life. On the other side of the room, one of the most popular guys from High School had a brain injury in a car accident and sat doe eye’d smiling, repeating over and over again… “ I’m sorry I don’t remember you. I had an accident”. That was life in a nutshell, those who’d peaked and those still climbing and searching for peaks. Those who cared what was thought of them ten years later and me, smoking a joint in the parking lot with my old crew and shaking our head’s saying “Life’s a trip”.
So back to the Donald Glovers of the world, who created a tribe of support for themselves when hormonal teens weren’t always the most accepting, can you blame him? Is it fair to say that had he the access to the popularity he would have taken it? Would it be even more fair to say that whatever nerd version of himself existed at 12 or 13 had dreams of being as dope as he is today? I imagine he kissed girls who smelled like sweat and candy lipgloss at parties and was happy for the company. Those girls may not have looked like him, but they may have felt like home because sometimes all we get is the feeling.
Middle School students felt like Wolf Packs to me and as the saying goes, “He who cannot how cannot find his pack” so we send out whatever smoke signal we can muster up to attract someone to help us through those awkward tender years.
The joke is that Hollywood is 13th Grade, and much of what we’d hope to escape comes right along with us into the entertainment industry. This time around the cool kids have even more money, the jocks are professionals, the cheerleaders are video vixens, Proms have been replaced by Awards Shows. The best part about Hollywood is its Revenge of the Nerds and guys like Donald Glover who might have been previously looked over got to blossom and shine in their own time as Beyonce once said: “The best revenge is your paper”.