As I'm sure you know, I go to everything. My friends joke that whenever I miss a call or text message that I must be "at a conference" (which is partly true lol). It's been even more true this year since I've been everywhere trying to get my last little bit of promotion out of my first book and prepare for Return of A.G.'s release this month. I've been setting up shop and talking about my writing everywhere; constantly scouring my Facebook groups and friends' lists for new cons and conferences to go to. Imagine my surprise when I found out that BlerDCon was a thing.
BlerDCon is a con (or convention) for...well Black Nerds. The con just had its inaugural year in DC (hence why the DC is capitalized) this past weekend as an opportunity for Blerds and Bleeks (Black geeks. There's a difference) to get together and enjoy all the things they love. Now, BlerDCon wasn't the first time I had been had exposed to a con centered on Black people. Onyxcon, SOBSFCon (now known as Blacktasticon), and the recent Nubia One Fest were all Atlanta-based events that I personally have gone to and vended at. In fact, outside of the Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo, ALL the cons, festivals, and expos I have been to were specifically centered on Black people. (I'm Black AF. You should know this by now) There is something very special about being surrounded by people who love the mediums you do and are dedicated to making sure that people who look and act like you are represented in those mediums. There is something empowering about seeing authors, artists, gamers, etc. who have made a mark in their field. There is something beautiful about finding a community you never knew existed, and that many of us wish we had growing up. BlerDCon took it a step further by building their con on the platform of inclusiveness. That is not to say that the other cons weren't inclusive, but BlerDCon said from the jump that this is a place for any marginalized group: women, queer people, disabled people, whatever. That is important.
It's important because as those of us engrossed in geek culture know, that hasn't always been the case. We are in a good time now where we can see movies like Black Panther, Get Out, and Sleight and watch TV shows like Black Lightning, but most of us grew up in a time where that was not the norm at all. Many of us now still may not see all of our identities represented, so the fact that BlerDCon seemed to be determined to include every marginalized identity they could think of made it stand out to me. I decided to buy my table and shift some money around so I could make sure I was there. I bought my table with my refund money, my plane tickets a few months later, and last Thursday my roommate and I were on a plane headed to D.C.
Despite some issues with the hotel (none on that later), I was excited. It was my second time being in D.C. (my first time was way back in '08) and I was gonna have fun. We set up the table, I peeked at a few people's early displays, and on Friday it was on. One of the first things I noticed when I came downstairs to vend on Friday was how BlerDCon took over the whole hotel. Most cons and conferences you wouldn't even know were happening in a certain hotel unless you walked into the room for it. Not this one. As soon as you stepped into the lobby it was filled with people in cosplay or with their most nerdy/geeky shirts on. Once you went downstairs to the main floor? Oh man. It was over. You weren't moving an inch without running into somebody cosplaying as a character you knew and loved (or hated). Speaking as someone who has never had the patience, funds, or artistic talent to cosplay, I was super impressed at how many professional Black cosplayers I saw that weekend.
What I did know was the vending room. And the absolutely HUGE one at BlerDCon was filled with people selling their books, comics, prints, clothes and jewelry, paintings, and demoing video games that they had worked so hard on. I wish I had more money: I probably would've seriously gone shopping in there. The people in that vending space and the artists downstairs took pride in their creative endeavors. So many of them were inspired by the lack of inclusive images in the media that they took it upon themselves to do something about it. Don't ever let anyone try to shoot you that BS, "Why don't you just create your own?" line ever again. Folks ARE doing it and A LOT of folks are doing it well. Speaking of downstairs, let me tell you about that gaming area. MAN. There was some of every kind of game you wanted there. There were fighting games (I have never been so embarrassed to have lost my Smash Bros skills), there were racing games, there were arcade games, there was even a Rock Band set up that I SWEAR people slept at. They got everyone they could involved in the gaming area and I was hear for it. It was just one way that BlerDCon tried to be inclusive of all types of nerds and geeks.
Another way they did that was to include some panel discussions. Being the Ratchedemic I am I had to pop in to a panel or two to hear what they were talking about, and I'm glad I did. I went to four panels: one about fetish and kink in POC communities, one about the future of Black Speculative Fiction (I was ALL up and through that one), one about diversity in writing, and one about writing complex heroes and villains. Like with most panel discussions, there were some hits and a few misses, but overall it was good to hear people impassioned about their work share that passion with other people. It was like pop-culture conference lite. One thing that no other con or conference I've been to has was the big parties at the end of the day. Like I said that day there was nowhere else that would give you that mix of ratchetivity and geekiness, and I was here for it ALL. I mean, where else but BlerDCon can you go from twerking the house down with 2 Chainz blaring in the background to belting out "City Escape" in the span of a few minutes? Nowhere, that's where! And that's why BlerDCon is so important.
As most people expressed in the closing ceremonies on Sunday, this con was something people have longed for for all their lives. Somewhere where a Black man could cosplay as Wonder Woman or in the rest of the D.C. Trinity's tights and not be stoned for "feminizing the Black man". Somewhere where a little girl could walk around with a scythe and not be seen as a threat. Somewhere where Prince and Dr. Strange can combine to become a really cool character, and where full figured and gray haired women can walk around as one of the greatest superheroines to ever do it and no one bats an eye. BlerDCon was one of those things you wouldn't have believed was real until you were there, witnessing it happening. Where else could you stay up all night watching anime and hentai, or walk around in nothing but some shorts and silver paint? BlerDCon, and all the Black-centered cons like it, do a lot of work in a seemingly short time. They give Black creatives and opportunity to show off their crafts, give blerds and bleeks and opportunity to congregate in a world that tries to tell us we don't exist, but most importantly: it gives us a taste of freedom. For two days you could forget that whiteness tries to make itself the default, that men wearing dresses and tiaras gets you stares, and that the world is out to destroy Black children. BlerDCon showed us all what that looks like, and even after the two days were up, gave us something to work for in next year's BlerDCon (July 27-29th; set your calendars NOW!) and in the rest of our lives. I saw a glimpse of liberation this weekend, and I've gotta tell you it is beautiful.
Would you want to attend a con like BlerDCon? What are some geeky/nerdy things you enjoy that you wanna see more Blackness in? Leave your comments, questions, and concerns below and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!