Move Over Urkel, There Are New 'Blerds' Around
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Turn on a cable news show, late night TV comedy or a contemporary sitcom and you might just stumble upon a character type that's on the rise, the black nerd. TV critic, Eric Deggans says geeks of color bewilder two different cultures.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: My name is Eric and I'm a blerd. Now, honestly, I used to be embarrassed to admit I was a black nerd, because not so long ago, the world only knew one kind.
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DEGGANS: Nobody wants to grow up to be a guy who wears his pants too high, and back in the day, the super nerd known as Steve Urkel was mostly a walking punchline.
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DEGGANS: For years, we black nerds felt caught between white folks' expectations that we'd be cooler and black folks' disappointment that we're clearly not. But then, something wonderful happened that turned the image of the black nerd sideways.
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DEGGANS: Kanye West, a rap star give to Argyle sweaters and pouring his heart out on wax, became the hottest thing in hip-hop. Now, raps a tough game, but Kanye can build rhymes around living on pancake batter after his jaw got broken in a car crash or drop references to an M. Night Shyamalan comic book movie. How nerdy is that?
Look around now and blerds are everywhere, intellectual, rock and roll loving, politics talking, comic book reading black nerds.
DONALD GLOVER: You know, Spiderman movie doesn't have to be white. Maybe he could be black or Hispanic or something like that...
DEGGANS: Donald Glover, star of NBC's "Community" set the Internet on fire when fans suggested he could be the next movie Spiderman.
GLOVER: And that's when the world went crazy. And half that world was like, Donald for Spiderman. We're only going to watch the next "Spiderman" if Donald Glover's playing Peter Parker and the other half was like, he's black, kill him.
DEGGANS: We even have a pundit who calls her show "Nerd Land," MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, a full time professor at Tulane University.
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DEGGANS: There's so many blerds, I even have a favorite. FX late night host W. Kamau Bell. Bell hides a sharp wit with a playful spirit, highlighting the ridiculousness of how clueless Americans lump some people together.
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DEGGANS: Now, before some of you start with angry letters and emails, I get it. Hip black intellectuals have been around from before the days of Malcolm X and James Baldwin. My own patron saint of blerds is Levar Burton's engineer, Geordi La Forge on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." He was chasing warp core breaches before Urkel slapped on his first pair of rainbow-colored suspenders.
And if you don't get that reference, just consult your nearest nerd. Still, when I was growing up, my love of "Star Wars" and astronomy books lead to way to many accusations of acting white. Now, it's a relief to finally reach a time when I don't have to choose between my love for both my peoples, geeks and black folks.
MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans, he's a TV and media critic for The Tampa Bay Times and the author of "Race-Baiter: How The Media Wields Dangerous Words To Divide A Nation." This is NPR News.
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