Into the big white space: nerds of color and the need to tell their own stories

The distinction might take one by surprise, but the fact remains that there are nerds and there are nerds of color. After all, racism is not less evil even if it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

For this reason, poet Bao Phi presented Where No Brown Has Gone Before: Nerds of Color Read Nerdy Works, a reading jam to celebrate the pains and joys of this Kahless-forsaken demographic.

“Those of us who are brown nerds really need to produce the work, you know?” said Phi. “We don’t really need to wait for other people to tell our stories for us.”

Phi read his poem called “Role Call,” a pun about role-playing games that explores his experience growing up as a nerdy refugee from the Vietnam War in Phillips.

“If you ever been frisked by cops and they find a little velvet bag that they think is full of crack rocks. But they open it only to find multi-faceted dice that look like jewels, make some noise,” recited Phi, as the crowd broke into a cheer under the bright spotlights of the Black Dog Coffee and Wine Bar in Saint Paul.

The event also featured Shannon Gibney, a published author, as well as an MCTC English professor, who read “City of White,” a short story that reflects on how tedious pervasive whiteness can be to a person of color.

“He waded through the collapsed walls of the paper factory, now strewn across the highway, and peered up at the blinding white of the crooked windmill. That was the other thing they couldn’t stand: The whiteness of everything. Everything was white. That and the line that was the sole organizing principle of the city,” said Linus, the main character of Gibney’s story.

Another performer was Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarría, who read his “Open letter to El Fuerte,” a fictional character from the Street Fighter video games that is supposed to be a “luchador” or Mexican pro-wrestler. “Fuerte” means strong in Spanish, yet Sanchez-Chavarría found out that he was nothing more than feeble joke that spoke in fake gibberish.

“Mr. Fuerte,” said Sanchez-Chavarría angrily ”did it hurt you, did it hurt your soul when you agreed to be depicted in a form that brings dishonor to your name, that spits in the face of the history of the luchador?”

“We got tepees and everybody else is in spaceships, yo!” said R. Vincent Moniz Jr, a Native American nerd and a poetry slam winner from the Phillips’ hood. He explores in his poem, “Skins in Space,” the continuation of the stereotypes into the final frontier.

“Calling all black heroes, who were all called Black Thunder, or Black Lightening, or Black Mantis” said Phi, “I stopped dreaming of being a white knight, but I still don’t see our reflection. We have to fight to even dream our brown skins, if only our math skills could end poverty.”

Phi worked in collaboration with Tish Jones’, a renowned spoken word activist and MCTC student, who, through the St Paul Almanac, helped organize the reading jam.