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Nerds are “hyperwhite” and reject African-American youth culture

February 12, 2009

(This was originally posted by me on the Digital Gangster forums)

You all call yourself nerds, claim nerd life – but do you understand what that means? I think the definition is only beginning to be understood and is changing rapidly and I’m just trying to understand it better.

Just read an excellent article in the NY Times about ‘what is a nerd.’ I agree with the article especially with the following excerpt:

By cultivating an identity perceived as white to the point of excess, nerds deny themselves the aura of normality that is usually one of the perks of being white. Bucholtz sees something to admire here. In declining to appropriate African-American youth culture, thereby “refusing to exercise the racial privilege upon which white youth cultures are founded,” she writes, nerds may even be viewed as “traitors to whiteness.” You might say they know that a culture based on theft is a culture not worth having. On the other hand, the code of conspicuous intellectualism in the nerd cliques Bucholtz observed may shut out “black students who chose not to openly display their abilities.” This is especially disturbing at a time when African-American students can be stigmatized by other African-American students if they’re too obviously diligent about school.

YT, Lars, Beefy, and MC Router speak to the issue of “appropriating African-American youth culture” on the DGLP track “Other People’s Property”:

Because what do you do when your culture’s predicated
On a cut and paste identity, straight up appropriated?

This line seems to acknowledge how (contemporary youth) White culture is at it’s essence an appropriation of Black culture.

Nerdcore challenges the typical White culture and popular definitions of cool by juxtaposing socially uncool characteristics (such as intellectual interest, physical and social awkwardness, age-inappropriate interests like gaming or comics, and devotion to sci-fi or fantasy) with rap and its associated elements of African-American culture (bragging about biches/money/clothes/jewelry/being a tough-guy, misogyny, etc.).

The article also mentions how nerds talk:

[Nerds] punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones (“it’s my observation” instead of “I think”), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They’re aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques.

MC Lars (less so on the DGLP than his other work) edifies the typical nerdy way of speaking along with nerdcore MCs like MC Frontalot – but obviously rappers like YT Cracker and Zealous1 have adopted the African-American vernacular. However, do YTC and Z1 speak that way in private life too or just in their raps? From what little I’ve heard, YTC and Z1 are typical geeks when they speak in their private life, but I could be wrong…

Speaking personally, I have always been dissapointed with the popularity of African-American culture among my contemporaries – from clothes to speech to a disdain for intelligence and learning – I never fit in and never WANTED to fit in because I refused to conform to what was popular and cool.

Nerdcore is certainly pushing the boundaries of Nerdiness – and YTC is the pioneer, taking the identity in a radical direction. He has synthesized (embraced? appropriated?) African-American culture with Nerdiness to a greater extent than anyone before and provoked a paradigm shift among some (like me).

I guess my big question is: Can you be cool, tough, hott, laying fine bitches, doing drugs, driving a nice car, making money, carrying a pistol, wearing expensive clothes, talking like you’re black, rolex shine off your left wrist and STILL be called a Nerd…? Cuz it kind of sounds to me like you’d fit right in…

What are your thoughts?

YT Cracker – Pushing Nerdiness closer to Black culture

MC Frontalot – leans towards the traditional “hyperwhite” nerd

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