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[Courtesy of Ayana Underwood]
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Online Communities: For When Your IRL Community Isn’t Affirming

I grew up around white people. As a child, most of my friends were white. All of my teachers—with the exception of four—from preschool through my final year in college were white. I’m a pro-Black Black woman, but I never knew how to be around Black people. That is until I found the right online communities.

As a teenager, I was too Black for White people and too white for Black people. It was difficult for me to find my place in the world. I would wonder: Where do I fit in? Who do I belong to? Who would claim me? I felt like an outcast and it was depressing. I had some friends in high school, but as a Black person immersed in a sea of white faces, there was an unacknowledged chasm. There were white people and then there were the others. I have been blatantly disrespected and called out of my name, but worse than that was the feeling of being an other. Being seen as different is what began to eat away at my self-worth and self-esteem. Since I felt like an outcast in the “real” world, I began seeking friendship with people in the virtual world.

 

Journeying Into Online Communities

I’m an Internet junkie, but I’ll be the first to admit that the virtual world can be a scary and intimidating place; it can sometimes even be dangerous. Seeking online communities increased my chances of meeting people tenfold. I had access to people in all time zones, of different ages, and of all ethnicities. I wondered if I would find true friends who could at least attempt to relate to me or if it would be more difficult in this new realm.

After some digging, I found numerous online communities dedicated to various types of people. If you’re obsessed with cats, you can join a group that’s just dedicated to sharing pictures or videos of your cats doing everyday things. (I actually belong to a group like this, no shame in my game.) If you like makeup, there’s a group for you. If you’re a transgender person, there’s a group for you too. If you’re exploring your sexuality or if you simply just want to find someone to talk to, there’s a place for you. Oh, and there are probably far too many sites you can join if you’re simply trying to get laid (I’m eyeing you Tinder). There’s something for everyone!

What I’m saying is that exploring online communities allowed me to meet people whose interests aligned with each facet of my personality. This was a blessing for me because I finally felt like I could be myself, free of judgment, scrutiny, and isolation; it was freeing. The first online community that I joined was called IMVU. I could create an avatar in my likeness and go into various chat rooms that catered to different interests. I stumbled through lots of rooms and found ones that had names like ‘Black People Chill Room,’ and ‘Black Sister Circle.’ These rooms allowed for Black people to connect with each other. They acted as vessels to help me connect with my own folks. I even used LGBTQ rooms to learn more about my sexuality. They helped me meet others who were either in the process of identifying with a specific orientation or those who wanted to remain fluid.

I used IMVU for many years—I even met my current boyfriend of three years there—and it helped me realize that there are people like me…the nerdy girl who fit into the category of other. The good news is that online communities are a place of refuge for those that feel a little left out.

Online Communities: Black Girl Nerds

My journey to understanding Blackness and learning to love myself, including each of my weird interests and quirks, has been a bumpy ride and BGN is a stop on this journey. I first discovered BGN when I was on Twitter. I was searching for any other black girl doing anything because I simply wanted to support someone else like myself. I came across Jamie Broadnax, which led me to BGN. I was floored by the overwhelming amount of sisterhood and sense of camaraderie that came from just reading the BGN timeline alone. I felt like I was home. After browsing through the website, I found several personal anecdotes, reviews, and stories that spoke to me.

Also, who wouldn’t want a play-by-play of all the drama going down in Insecure or ads for badass t-shirts with badass women of color featured on them? I now own one of the tees featured in the BGN store. BGN is a place where women of all colors can openly discuss race, comics, natural hair, beauty, anime, and more. I never thought I would come across a website that catered to nerdy women of color, the ones who are consistently left out of conversations and isolated. Jamie is right, we are an anomaly, but we deserve to have a place to connect with one another like any other group. BGN does that for me!

 How To Find Online Communities

One of the best places to search for an online community is Facebook. Many groups are closed and you have to request permission from the moderators to join. Sometimes you have to provide an explanation about why you want to join. I’m a member of the Insecure and Being Mary Jane discussion forums. I’m also a member of the ‘Black Girls are Kawaii Society’ group. This group is unique because all of these Black women are into anime, cosplay, and comics; I highly recommend it!

In these groups, I’ve met men and women all over the world that share my interests, and we even get into heated debates about what’s going down in our favorite shows. Remember that whole oral sex mishap between Issa and Daniel? Yeaaahh, men and women had split reactions about that! But, that’s the beauty of joining online communities, it allows people to share opinions, debate, find friendships or love, and create a new home for their innermost thoughts and feelings. I hope more people find solace in online communities. I plan to continue building my own network of friends and help others find their footing in the world when they’re feeling a little lost.

 

By Ayana Underwood: Ayana, a BGN intern, is a makeup-obsessed geeky Black girl. She’s passionate about racial issues, comics, and prides herself on being a strong Black woman. She aspires to get her Masters degree in Journalism and when she’s not writing, she’s watching any show, a slice of pepperoni pizza in hand, featuring a black female lead. When she’s not eating, she’s drooling over kitten photos on the web! Twitter: @AyanaArnette

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