These past few days since the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial was announced, I’ve watched and “liked” the incredibly insightful essays and thoughts from friends and public intellectuals and writers around the web. I marvel at how intelligent and thoughtful my friends are, how quickly they can turn outrage and sadness into action and eloquence. Meanwhile, my own social media outposts have been relatively silent. I worried at first that my friend circles would be confused by my silence, especially considering I’m a writer and I work in social justice. And so to indicate that I was aware, pissed off, and just taking time to process it all. I made the silence official, notifying my friends that I was taking a Day of Silence for Trayvon Martin.
As much as I believe it is necessary to take a moment to mourn at such a time, I also decided on this route because I needed time to understand what exactly I felt and why, and, more importantly, what my role should be in the fight against such injustices. I also decided to keep Geek Outsider silent over the past few days, and this had less to do with my processing the unfortunate news and everything to do with the fact that I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be in poor taste to write punchy blurbs about comic books and video games when such an important moment was sweeping across state lines and news sites. It felt like it’d be almost impertinent to geek out over Neverwinter when nationwide people were crying and crying out, fed up with the deaths of Black men.
So I turned off my console, temporarily pulled the shutters down on Geek Outsider, and retreated into the books of my favorite radical thinkers of generations past… where I quickly learned that silencing Geek Outsider was a mistake.
In revisiting these great thinkers what I found there was passion and talent. They espoused different ideas and different solutions, even countering each other, but what they all had in common was passion and talent. Audre Lorde was a talented poet passionate about women’s rights and giving voice to queer women and women of color in the feminist movement. James Baldwin was a talented novelist who passionately crafted stories about the experiences of Black men. Jean-Michel Basquiat broke down racist social structures and systems of power with his passion for paint. Tupac Shakur’s talent at the mic brought the “everyday struggle” of the marginalized to the ears of mainstream America.
These revolutionary intellectuals weren’t by definition activists or lawyers or politicians. They were people who had talents in arenas not necessarily respectable and often not considered impactful or meaningful work. But by immersing themselves in their crafts, these talents became deft tools in their fights against injustice. So how do our lowly geeky pursuits fit in with such a distinguished crowd? How could owning every single issue of Dazzler (ya, I really do) help in fighting injustice?
Well… despite the opinions of some, it’s art, and all art is immensely impactful. It allows us to have experiences wildly different from our own, and it changes minds. And we geeks are addicted to some of the most immersive forms of art out there. Not to mention, if there’s one thing that makes a geek a geek, it’s obsessiveness. So, imagine what outrage over issues like these could do in the hands of geeks.
So much of the Trayvon Martin tragedy was about perception. George Zimmerman perceived Trayvon Martin as a threat, which is why this whole thing went down in the first place. Then the cops perceived Trayvon Martin as a thug and obviously decided that meant he had to have caused trouble and deserved his fate, so Zimmerman wasn’t arrested. The media and the defense put Martin on trial searching for ways to make others perceive Martin as a drug-addled gangster instead of a 17-year-old son and brother and the unarmed victim of murder.
The perception of young Black men in America as thugs and threats is ingrained in our society, infecting individual minds and fueling this war on Black boys that has killed and violated so many of them over the decades. This perception is what needs to be rooted out, and that doesn’t necessarily happen with protests or legal amendments. That happens with experience.
Geeks aren’t off the hook when news like this hits and we’re not left out either. What geeks can do is geek out. Create if you’re a creator, or support if you’re a collector, or demand if you’re a consumer. We have to demand and support the creation of works that offer a look at the experiences of others. If it’s true that geeklandia is made up of a bunch of white dudes, then let’s get some valiant superheroes of color into the comics, let’s get some courageous lone soldiers of color into the games, let’s get dynamic leaders of color into science fiction.
Go out and buy Ultimate Comics Spider-man and root for Miles Morales, or hit up Kickstarter and support indie games with characters of color, or get your book club to read some Samuel Delany. If you need help finding these things, that’s what places like Geek Outisder are for.
Until we start seeing in art and fiction representations of Black men and women in all their wonderful complexities and diversity, the rotting roots of this “thug” perception will continue to infect our society. Let the lawyers advocate and the politicians lobby for change, but we can make demands too. We can demand to see more diversity in the genres we adore, and we can create representations that change minds, and we can put our money where our racial bias is and dare to support heroes of color.
Comics and games might be considered low-brow or even silly by others, but just look at all the geeks out there and just how into it we all are (by definition really). That’s a lot of minds to change, and a lot of passionate (or obsessive, whatever) readers, writers, illustrators, consumers, gamers… and they’ve got friends and family too.
Just look at what Dwayne McDuffie achieved with Milestone Comics, or Octavia Butler with her novels. There are revolutionary thinkers and creators in geekdom too. I’m ashamed that I felt that there was no place for my geeky voice at this moment of national sadness, because to believe so wouldn’t that mean the opposite was also true? That there’s no place for stories and experiences like this in the “geeky” art forms? Obviously, not true.