The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

Monday, March 11, 2013

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BGN's Throughout History, A Brief Introduction...


There are those who don’t like the term "Blerd" and others that embrace it like an old worn-out sweater that -- because of some wacky trend --- is now cool enough to wear outside; #hipster.  To quote my favorite plagiarist, slightly misogynistic playwright, “But what is in a name?”  Would a blerd be a blerd if called by any other name; the another is yes.

Throughout history, there have been dozens of socially awkward intellectual people of color who worked to shape and mold social issues, create movements, and educate the masses on where, why and how injustices injure minorities.  There have always been those who read till their eyes were tired, wrote till there fingers were numb or spent endless nights creating newsletters and pamphlets with facts and statistics that more popular publications would not or could not publish. 

This post is dedicated to a few of those Black Girl (Woman) Nerds that forged a way for us.  For the sake of brevity I will limit this post to African American blerds. Read below a couple BGN highlights from history. This is just a snapshot of these amazing women. I encourage every reader take some time to Google each of these women to learn more about their awesomeness. 



Phillis Wheatley (1753 - 1784):  Although I was conflicted when I was younger about this BGN because of her strong loyalty to her slave masters and her choice to neglect the discussion of slavery, there is no denying her historical importance. Wheatley was the first African-American poet and first African-American woman to ever publish a book.  Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who -- against the law -- taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.

By the age of twelve, Phillis was reading Greek and Latin classics and the Bible. Strongly influenced by Alexander PopeJohn MiltonHomerHorace and Virgil, she began to write poetry, publishing her first volume at 20 in 1773. 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960): Like many young women, my life was changed by reading "Their Eyes were Watching God." This amazing tale of life, love and recovery was not only unique in its portrayal of the rural south but honest to the lives of rural southerners.  Most people know Zora Neal Huston as a writer and folklorist, but what most people don't know is that Zora was also an anthropologist. Born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891. Hurston attended school at Howard Prep School and Howard University in Washington, D.C. She then won a scholarship to Barnard College in 1925 where she received a degree in anthropology while studying under famed anthropologist Franz Boas. 

Instead of staying in academia Hurston headed back to Eatonville, FL. She later traveled  to the Florida Everglades, the Georgia Sea Islands, New Orleans and Haiti to soak up the speech, songs, music and tales of Black folk. 


Regina M. Anderson Andrews (1901-1993): Great movements usual are sparked by small gatherings of ordinary but brilliant people. Regina Andrews was a professional librarian in New York City with a Masters of Library Science from Columbia UniversityShe also studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio and the University of Chicago.  Obviously a huge Blerd,  she would later be known as one of the supporting artists of the Harlem Renaissance.   


Not unlike many other single women in the arts, Regina --  with her housemates -- made their apartment available as a salon for many of the artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance long before they became famous. 

She would eventually help found the Krigwa Players (later the Negro Experimental Theatre or Harlem Experimental Theatre) with W. E. B. Du Bois.  She helped it find a home in the basement of the 135th Street Public Library in Harlem. Anderson also wrote several plays under her pseudonym Ursula or Ursala Trelling.
Octavia Estelle Butler (1947 - 2006): Although  dyslexic, Octavia was a well established science fiction writer.  An award-winning science fiction author, her work earned her a number of awards  including both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Like a true blerd, Octavia Jr., -- nicknamed Junie -- was  shy and a consistent daydreamer, sometimes suffering from physical anxiety.  At the age of 10, she started to write "to escape loneliness and boredom." At 12 she discovered science fiction. "I was writing my own little stories and when I was 12, I was watching a bad science fiction movie called Devil Girl from Mars," she told the journal Black Scholar, "and decided that I could write a better story than that.  And I turned off the TV and proceeded to try, and I've been writing science fiction ever since."


Mae Jemison (1956 - ): In 1992, Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space. Originally from Decatur, GA, Jemison is a physician by trade. She has always been socially conscience; in her youth she volunteered with the Peace Corps. 

After her 1992 expedition on the Endeavor shuttle, she left NASA and founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. Currently, she is a professor at Cornell University and strongly involved in the science community. One of the coolest things she has done -- blerd moment -- was appearing as an actress in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  In addition she is a dancer, and holds nine honorary doctorates


Tembi Locke (19?? -): Only an estimated 9% of science fiction film and television includes African American women actresses/characters.  We all grew up knowing the infamous Lt. Nyota Uhura, a.k.a Nichelle Nichols from Star Trek OG, but I grew up with a slightly different science fiction line-up, including the 90's hit "Sliders." Tembi Locker, star of Sci-fi television series Sliders and Eureka gave blerds like me a chance to see a modern woman of color on my television screen.

Tembi Locke is a bilingual blerd with a passion of cooking. She graduated with an art history degree from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut. She speaks fluent Italian and is a well-recognized painter.


Melissa Harris Perry (1973 -): I had to end this post with one of our most beloved and infamous modern day blerds. In fact, I have to say that MHP is my favorite BGN ever! She is currently that host of MSNBC's "Melissa Harris-Perry." She is most recently known for intellectually breaking down everything that is factually and culturally wrong with the new YouTube phenomenon, the "Harlem Shake."

As a true multitasking blerd, Harris-Perry is also a professor of political science at Tulane University in my home state, Louisiana. She is also the founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.  An avid educator, she  has taught as part of both the faculties of the University of Chicago and Princeton University


In 1994, she received a bachelor of arts in English from Wake Forest University  and a Ph.D. in political science from Duke University in 1999.  In addition, she received an honoris causa doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School; not to mention  a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary of New York City.

Yup, I know what you are thinking now, that old worn-out sweater -- the one sitting in the closet collecting dust -- it was always cool enough to wear outside.

2 comments:

  1. This post is perfection. Thank you for illustrating the BGNs of our past and present. We truly have been around for centuries.

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  2. Wonderful! I thoroughly enjoyed this trek down history to discover other nerdy girls. Makes me feel proud of my foresisters though Melissa Harris Perry and I were born the same year. We are Roe v. Wade babies who made it! LOL!

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