Interview with Black Girl Nerds creator, Jamie Broadnax

id614119493Jamie Broadnax has been blogging since 2007, and in February of 2012 created Black Girl Nerds, a site for blerds (black nerds) to find fellowship around  many geek fandoms. BGN has a great mission statement:

“This is a website for every nerdy girl that can finally come out of the closet and tell the world that they are PROUD to be who they are—no matter what anyone says, does, or think.  This is a place where you can truly be yourself and not be judged by others.  This site welcomes girls of all races, but it was called Black Girl Nerds because it is a term that is so unique and extraordinary, that even Google can’t find a crawl for the phrase and its imprint in the world of cyberspace.  The mission is to put an end to that and know that many Black Girl Nerds exist on this planet.”

I had the incredible opportunity to speak with her about what it means to be a blerd, how BGN reaches an inclusive audience, blogging wisdom, and her vision for the future of BGN.

Ashley Schmuecker: I read that the blog was born on about a year ago when you Googled “Black Girl Nerds” and nothing came up in the results of the search. Can you tell me more about what happened between that moment and the launch of Black Girl Nerds?

Jamie Broadnax: Sure! I was interested in finding a website about women of my ilk. Black women or women of color who embrace and adore nerd culture. When I Googled the term and nothing came up, I decided that evening to create a blog title with that very search phrase.

I have been blogging off and on since 2007, so setting up the blog at the beginning was relatively easy for me. Immediately after I published the blog, I received an email from a published author by the name of Amaya Radjani, who was interested in my voice and the blog’s title and wanted to contribute. The blog has grown substantially since then and we have close to 12-13 contributors.

AS: Oh wow! It sounds like it took off immediately and that it grew very fast in the last year. Was it challenging to manage that kind of growth in a relatively short amount of time?

JB: Believe it or not, it wasn’t. There is obviously a need for sites that represent Black women and women of color in nerd culture. There is so much content in the interwebs about nerd culture, but there are only a small sample of websites that depict black nerds or “blerds”

Black women who define themselves as nerdy were immediately drawn to the site, and there has been so much support since its launch last February.

AS: That’s awesome! There is certainly a need for more spaces like the one you have created for Black women and women of color in nerd/geek culture. When did you first identify as a blerd and how has that changed over time?

215JB: I first identified myself as a blerd when I was a kid. I was a tomboy and grew up mostly around boys. I also have a younger brother, so together we used to collect comic books and would spend a great deal of our time at the comic book store or at our public library reading books. I even collected comic book cards as a kid.

That changed over time dramatically for me. High school and peer pressure had a great deal to do with me separating myself from nerd culture. There was even a time when I tried to be someone else just to fit in. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I simply stopped caring what others thought. The beauty of nerdiness is you don’t have to conform. You can be your own person and express yourself freely and THAT is actually cool.

AS: Right on! BGN seems to be a great space for community and inspiration. How have you seen others, especially those that support your blog, embrace this identity? Specifically, how has BGN been a space for others to express themselves freely?

JB: BGN has a pretty awesome Twitter following. We also have a weekly podcast. This kind of social engagement is so important because it allows us to connect with other black nerds or nerds in general. The beauty of BGN is we are very diverse and inclusive. We have supporters of all races and we actually have a lot of male followers and readers. BGN is a place for everyone… not just Black women. We use this space to allow Black women to share their stories and to have a safe nerd-friendly environment where they don’t feel like they have to conform to the status-quo or be like everyone else. They can simply be themselves and find comfort in that.

AS: Have their been any challenges in maintaining a safe, nerd-friendly environment, and have you faced any resistance to your mission?

JB: I would say 98% of the feedback that I have received from emails, tweets, and phone calls from callers on our podcasts have been positive. There have been maybe two or three occasions where someone has questioned the term “Black Girl Nerds.” In every instance, the critic didn’t take one iota of a second to look at the website, they simply disliked the term. I made certain to create a Mission Statement on the site to make it explicitly clear, that this site is in no way exclusive. So, I’m happy that people who actually take the time to look at the site and hear what we have to say, before they form an opinion has returned to us with positive feedback and insight.

AS: Your mission is very clear on inclusivity. It seems like that is one of the factors that contributes to your large following and support. What other factors or strategies do you and the team at BGN use to connect with new supporters?

JB: I’m a social media geek. So using social media via the interwebs have been our most effective way to penetrate our message and illustrate to people who we are. As the creator, I spend several hours on Twitter connecting with followers and getting to know new ones. Twitter for me is more than just marketing, it truly is a conduit to connect with so many people who totally get you.

BGN participates in live-Twitter parties, we have our podcast which we also use Twitter as tool for social engagement, and our website has a message board and article content to provide information, news, and just share quirky and interesting nerd findings to our readers. My strategy is really just being as honest and as transparent as possible with my audience. When I am authentic with our readers, whether it’s via a personal article or a tweet about my disdain for Ben Affleck playing Batman (yes I know I’m over it now) people see that and they connect.

As nerds we are all cut from the same cloth anyway. So once someone knows you get them as much as they get you. It’s easy to establish and build a rapport with supporters.

AS: Definitely! (And I feel you on the Ben Affleck situation). Apart from what you mentioned about knowing there are people who get you and being able to find community like BGN, how does this space make navigating nerd fandom easier and more enjoyable?

JB: We make it easy by posting content about several nerd fandom topics. You will see content about cosplay, anime, comic book fandom, techie geek stuff like computer programming, and my personal favorite 80s culture. We make it easy by providing a varied amount of content that speaks to every kind of nerd. We’re not just appealing to one kind of nerd, but really all kinds. Which is why the BGN has so many different voices. The website would totally be lackluster and dull if I were the only voice behind the site. I’m thankful and grateful to have some many distinct voices share not only their personal stories, but their fandoms in all aspects of nerd culture. And to see all of that integrated into one site for women of color is a beautiful thing.

AS: A beautiful thing, indeed! Do you have any words of wisdom for women/blerd bloggers just starting up?

JB: Absolutely! My advice is don’t be afraid to ask for help. We as women sometimes feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I had no clue how to blog when I got started, and a lot of it was self-taught. However now the web makes it easy to learn to start blogging. But if you are just starting, send an email to an established blogger and ask them how they got started or if they have any tips for new beginners.

Put it out there on Twitter or Facebook that you want to start blogging, but you’re not quire sure where to begin. As the old adage says, closed mouths don’t get fed. So if you need help ask. I’m always open to answer questions from newbies, so don’t hesitate to ask or assume someone is too busy to chat with you about it 🙂

AS: Sound advice! Last question: What are your vision and future goals for BGN?

JB: Good question! My future goals for BGN is to allow this to be an online magazine and source for Black and other women of color. I would love BGN to be a social enterprise where we can have BGN meet-ups in metropolitan cities and to also host Comic-cons in the area.

I would love to partner with existing comic cons as well as create new cons for Blerds since we are so sparse in many of the major cons. If there were ever a TV network for only Nerds I want BGN to have their own channel!

Seriously, I think there is great potential for growth with BGN and I welcome any new opportunities as they come along. I’m just happy to be in the space where I am now to be able to write content about topics I’m interested in and to fellowship with other people who are just as nerdy as I am!

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Ashley Schmuecker

Ashley Schmuecker

Ashley has a graduate degree in conflict resolution from Portland State, where she taught a course using comic books to explore peace education. In her spare time enjoys the Elder Scrolls series, the Doctor, writing short stories, and playing with her puppies Harli Quinn and Loki.