Normally, I don’t go to many parties. I’m not a party person, on the whole. But recently, I was invited to a party. Not just any party, though; it was an X-Men party.
My sister was invited to the party by her friend from work, and I was allowed to tag along. The party was put on by her husband, who has been a huge X-Men fan since childhood. Every year, he and his family put on an X-Men party and usually, the party happens to coincide with the release of a new movie. This time around, the party coincided with, of course, a late-night screening of X-Men: Apocalypse.
I should note upfront that almost everyone in the story is black. That’s important, because this would mark my first time going to a nerdy event in which black people, not white people, were the vast majority. What I’m about to admit feels like a dirty secret, since I’ve written for Black Girl Nerds for a while now, and I do have a lot of nerdy interests, but I’ve never been to a nerd-centric thing where I haven’t been one of a handful of black people in attendance. One chief memory I have is of going to night showings of The Lord of the Rings series, feeling out of place despite being with my friends; nearly everyone in line to see the films were white, and despite having a multicultural group of friends, I was still one of two black girls in the group.
The feeling of being the oddball, of scarcity, had become so commonplace to me, I was stunned into silence once arriving at my sister’s friends’ house. There before me were a house full of black people, all in costume. I saw several Storms, of course, but I also saw Cyclops, Apocalypse, Magneto, Pyslocke, and other X-Men characters, but all with my black skin. I saw a house decorated to the hilt with X-Men posters and childhood figurines, showing how the original message of the X-Men—not the whitewashed message the movies criminally churn out for audiences—was able to resonate with people of all backgrounds, particularly those who have felt marginalized by society (in this case, due to race). But what fascinated me the most was how culturally different the party’s expression of nerdiness was.
A lot of us know what it’s like celebrating a beloved nerdy thing in white spaces. It’s nearly impossible to describe for me, but the one word that comes up the most is “ostracism.” As a black nerd, the fear of tokenism runs strong, and it runs even stronger when you realize that you’re the only black person in the comic book store, or the only black person lining up to play card games, or, like me, one of the few black people in line to see a Lord of the Rings film. The hyper-awareness, the sheer amount of code-switching done in order to fit in with your white peers, is exhausting.
What surprised me at this particular party, though, was how a lot of that weight lifted away. Songs from Beyonce’s Lemonade were blaring from the stereo, as well as rap music. Rap music with the N-word in it, no less. There were loud discussions about how there needed to be more equal representation in comic books because there were three Storms at the party. Best of all, everyone seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Part of that was probably because many of the partygoers were related. But there was also a very tangible cultural lexicon at work. Being a part of a black nerd group was something I wasn’t afforded in high school, and after attending the party, I realized how profoundly lacking my own nerd experiences were.
Now, the film itself? Horrible. I can’t mince words. I hated it. It was too doggone boring, not to mention how the film remade Storm’s biography into something that lessens her character in a disturbing fashion (disturbing, at least, for me). Let’s not even get into how Apocalypse could have ended the world at any time instead of trying to merge with Professor Xavier, or how Jubilee’s only lines were to introduce Nightcrawler to Cyclops, or how painfully dull Jennifer Lawrence is as both Mystique and as an actress in general. But the feeling of being with black nerds was something I savored somewhere deep down, even while being deeply disappointed in the shlock I was witnessing onscreen. Once again, I was with a group of people who had dressed up in costume to go to the theater, but this time, that group consisted of people who looked like me. That experience is something that will stick with me for a long time.
It’s important for nerds like us to find our tribe, as it were. The nerdy world is kind of like Hollywood; it preaches inclusion, but oftentimes works on old methods of ostracism and, frankly, racial supremacy. Nerds like us are often thought of as being a niche within a niche. Other nerds, usually white nerds, look down upon nerds of color, as if we’re somehow not “nerdy” enough because we might see a character’s viewpoint from a drastically different and culturally-specific angle, or because we might complain about how a character of color has been written or altered. But it’s important for us to find where we fit in. It’s why this site is important, and why loads of other sites making spaces for black nerds is important. It’s also why something as simple as a party can be important. Black nerds exist, and we need to find those welcoming spaces that will allow us to be as we are. Those spaces can act as our own personal Cerebro, where we can find others like us and through them, we can be reassured of our own existence.
Monique Jones is an entertainment blogger/journalist. She’s written for Entertainment Weekly, Black Girl Nerds,Racialicious, and many others. She runs JUST ADD COLOR (originally called COLOR) and has introduced a new online magazine, COLOR BLOCK Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter at @moniqueblognet and the official Twitter for JUST ADD COLOR and COLORBLOCK Magazine,@COLORwebmag.