Being a “nerd” is cool now. Just look at the rise of the Marvel universe, the fetishization of Stranger Things, and how much Chris Hardwick just absolutely loves all of it. That said, the mainstream acceptance of fantasy epics and Dungeons & Dragons hasn’t exactly spread to every corner of the geeksphere. In an extremely well-titled new essay on The Millions, “Dragons Are For White Kids With Money: On The Friction Of Geekdom And Race,” Daniel Jose Ruiz writes about his own dispiriting experience in the nerd world as a person of color.
“There is a certain racial coding to geek and/or nerd culture,” he writes, noting that the epochal texts of modern nerd culture—Hyperion, Ender’s Gamei Lord of the Rings— “focus on predominately white characters, featuring tokenism at best and downright racial animosity at worst.” He does celebrate the fact that the culture is slowly changing, citing Luke Cage, Childish Gambino, and the evolution in Dungeons & Dragons’ artwork over the years. Still, in 2017 the specter of reactionary shit like Gamergate, which was in many ways the terrified reaction of man-babies to the presence of so-called SJWs within geek culture, lives on.
What’s even more interesting is in how Ruiz’s geekdom makes him feel alienated from his own Chicano culture. “I am a geek, and I am a brown man,” he writes, “and this has earned me a lot of shit from both sides.” It’s a complicated perspective that most cis genre fans haven’t encountered.
As Ruiz puts it:
In high school in Los Angeles, I had a hard time creating a network of geeks simply because the price of entry into the geek world was too high, or my friends simply did not want to associate themselves with something so clearly “white.” The insults that my small band of geeks endured while we played Magic: The Gathering or discussed Dragon Ball Z were pretty inventive. Even now, some of my students snicker or laugh derisively when I make fantasy or science-fiction references, simply for the fact that, and I quote: “Dragons be for white kids with money.” It’s hard to argue against this reasoning when the most popular fantasy novel and TV series since Lord of the Rings features a platinum-blonde white woman saving thousands of adoring and helpless brown people.
For Ruiz, the rise in geekdom’s popularity is a good thing. Where many OG nerds lament the proliferation of the superheroes on whom they were raised, citing that the bullies who once pounded on them for liking Iron Man are now dressing up as him for Halloween, Ruiz instead sees this as a step toward shaking off genre’s pervasive exclusion. It’s a reminder of the simple truism that more fans equal more voices.