I’m new to being a nerd on the internet. Well, I’m new to openly being a nerd on Twitter. For a long time, I kept my geeky obsessions strictly on Tumblr and I kept them buried there deep. Then the concept of live tweeting to help keep shows afloat came along. And because I loved the show Sleepy Hollow so much, I let my nerd side come out on Twitter. It’s in my weekly session of live tweeting SH where I came in contact with BGN and it’s creator Jamie Broadnax. At first, I admired Jamie, I found the community she had built to be an amazing one. All these different black girls who were nerds just like me, I finally had people to talk to. Then, when Sleepy Hollow’s creators began to sideline Abbie Mills who was supposed to be their co-lead, black women were rightfully upset. There was a hashtag started and it trended usually every time the show aired. I fully supported it, Abbie was the first black female lead on tv that I’d seen in a long time and Sleepy Hollow was interesting. I wanted it to have as many seasons as possible, everyone seemed to. Then Jamie began to tweet (from the BGN account) that fans were overreacting and that because she didn’t think Abbie was being sidelined the rest of us needed to chill out. It confused me and hurt a little bit but I sat back and thought to myself am I overreacting? I convinced myself I was. However, shortly after the hashtag started gaining the attention of the actors and the creators, the BGN account was suddenly tweeting in support of it and the tweets saying fans were overreacting were gone. I didn’t screenshot it, I wasn’t as hip to keeping records then, so I have no real proof but that was my first time noticing that something might be off with Black Girl Nerds and it’s creator.
After that I kept supporting BGN, I still tried to make friends with Jamie. I loved the BGN website and really wanted to write for them. I sent in an inquiry, wanting to know what I needed to do to get on the team. I got no response back. I tried to tell myself she was so busy she didn’t see it, that it got overlooked and so I went on with my life. Disappointed but okay.
Fast forward a few years, Universal FanCon was announced. I’ve been attending cons for about four years now, San Diego’s, New York’s, Denver’s and even a few smaller ones that only were a day. All those cons are nice and I have great times while at them but I always felt out of place. They’re fun and I’ve met cool people but they are also very white. It’s gotten a little better compared to the first time I attended one but it can still feel awkward and be isolating when you’re the only black person in the panel room. So imagine my excitement when FanCon was announced. The first comic con for nerds of color, for marginalized people, for those who are disabled, for black people. It sounded too good to be true. A Kickstarter went up to support the con, I scrimped and saved, I backed it and I started planning. I told my friends, I talked three of them into getting tickets. I was geeked beyond belief, finally a place where I could be myself. A truly safe space for once.
Obviously, I got my hopes up too high. Apparently, we all did.
At 11:22 am mountain standard time on April 20th, I got an email from Jamie Broadnax. It stated that FanCon had been postponed. I panicked, sent a message to my con group text and immediately jumped on Twitter to find what was the beginning of the biggest fallout I’ve seen in awhile. It’s still happening and it’s two days later.
Not to say that there isn’t a reason for a fallout because there most certainly is. The details at first were few and far between. Word traveled by mouth that FanCon had been “postponed” and I waited anxiously for FanCon or Jamie or the other cofounder Robert to say something. At 12:15pm the official FanCon twitter spoke out, and they told us to wait for more details. “Later today we will have details” is what they said and so like everyone else I waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Almost ten hours later Universal FanCon released a statement. It was the most passive-aggressive, condescending, and flippant statement they could have made. From the obnoxiously cheery language “we are NOT cancelled, just postponed!” to the “we lost money too” argument and one of the most infuriating sentences “since most can’t cancel their flights, still come watch Infinity War with us”, this isn’t exact wording but the mere suggestion that some of us would fly to Baltimore for a god damn movie has me to the point of anger even now. Not to mention at the end of the statement, they confirmed refunds wouldn’t happen, they would just honor our tickets at the next FanCon.
That’s when I got truly angry. When I got irate. I’ve spent upwards of $400 for this con, my friends plane ticket alone was $350 and my other friend still hasn’t gotten an email letting her know what was happening. I wanted to rage. All I could see was red and the Kill Bill sirens were screaming in my ears but a voice in my head told me to try and calm down and wait. So I did, I waited to see what the founders of the con had to say. I went to bed Friday night so angry I could hardly see straight.
On Saturday, I woke up to more chaos. The original statement had been edited several times, letting us know that the founders of the con were reading our tweets but choosing not to say anything. One co-founder, Robert, released a series of tweets trying to do what he thought was damage control. He told us to hate him and that it was all on him but we shouldn’t be too mean in our hate because they (the co-founders) are fans just like us, not coperate stiffs. It was a whole thread of wrongness and eventually was deleted. Then at 2:48 pm Jamie released a statement. And while it was much more detailed, it was only detailed in telling how this wasn’t her fault. An entire statement about how she was only “a member” of FanCon and wasn’t being paid but was promised some of the profits of the con. Jamie claimed that it wasn’t her con, she was just helping out, using her brand to promote it and was only the face of the con. She claims she had no idea where the money was going. Even though up until the day before “co-founder of Universal FanCon” could be seen in her Twitter bio and a few days before that was asking Starbucks to promote the con because they needed to sell more tickets and Starbucks needed to get back in everyone’s good graces. It was a suspicious, messy and unacceptable statement. Then the founders went back to being silent. And they have been silent since, save for another wildly tone-deaf thread from Robert.
I am not an artist, I’m not a vendor and I wasn’t performing at FanCon. So part of me feels like I should simmer down my anger and just amplify those who have lost more money than I. But I can’t. Because I’m hurt and disappointed. I’m hurt that so many good people have been screwed over and I’m disappointed in myself for letting a Twitter famous person make me scared to speak my mind. On March 26th, it was tweeted out that all original backers needed to claim their tickets by midnight. We were told an email had been sent to us, I had nothing. So I email the FanCon customer service and asked what was going on. They told me I wasn’t sent an email because when they went to pull the funds for the Kickstarter from my bank, it was declined. This is a lie. I quickly provided screenshots that confirmed that the money had indeed been taken out of my account. So I was sent a link and allowed to claim my tickets. I should have spoken up then, I should have asked on Twitter if this had happened to someone else. But I didn’t, because I wanted badly to go to this con and not only make friends but do a lot of networking for my writing.
Then, the co-founders started tweeting about how the con wasn’t being supported by the city of Baltimore. It was subtle tweeting at first, Jamie saying how she’d been on the phone all day with local Baltimore businesses on April 11th, Robert complained that the con wasn’t getting enough attention compared to the yodeling boy from Walmart on April 14th. Then he tweeted again on April 18th saying that if fans bought 2k or 3k more tickets then he could give his therapist a break. All the while I’m seeing these tweets as they happen, I’m getting more and more anxious. My gut was practically screaming at me to say something, to ask if everything was alright with the con. But anytime I typed out a tweet, I would find myself thinking “What if Jamie takes offense to this?” Or “What if I get dragged for questioning the best thing to happen to the blerd community in a while?”. So even though I had this sinking feeling that the con wasn’t happening, I kept my mouth shut. I stayed quiet, and now here we are in the midst of complete chaos.
Jamie Broadnax has an influence on Twitter that is honestly astounding. She says jump and nearly everyone says how high? I was one of those people. I would have done probably anything Jamie asked me; because I wanted to be a part of BGN, I see her reach and how many people she’s connected to. I wanted desperately to have my writing featured on Black Girl Nerds. The crazy thing is, she has mostly ignored me the whole time I’ve followed her on Twitter. But I was so caught up in the brand and the stardom she’s gained that I supported and looked up to her anyways. I’ve seen Jamie drag people on Twitter, I’ve seen her sic her followers on people and a few of those times (if not many) it was completely unnecessary. Some of the people she was dragging had valid points but because they didn’t align with hers, she dismissed them and made fun of them. And I watched her do it while I quietly thanked the heavens it wasn’t me. I’ve even blocked people she said to block without giving it a second thought.
I still have the second text I sent to the group I was going to FanCon with, “Let’s wait and see what Jamie says” is what I said and now every time I go back to look at that text, I feel horrible. I knew in my heart of hearts what was happening, yet I still stood up for Jamie. Even in a space where she couldn’t see, I was caping for her. And truly I didn’t stop caping for her until we were told we weren’t getting refunds. It took my money being stolen for me to finally break out of my praise of Jamie Broadnax. And I can’t even begin to describe how truly disappointed in myself I am.
In a community, there will always be those who are higher up. Those that have a following, the ones who everyone looks to. Which is fine, it’s a way of life. The problem comes when we start to cover our eyes and block our ears whenever that person does something that needs to be called out. We ignore what they’ve done and we protect them from naysayers, we make excuses for them and coddle them. And it needs to stop. We are a community yes but as Simon & Garfunkel said, silence like a cancer grows. In this case, it grew to be a situation that hurt more than helped. I should still be gleefully gluing beads to my Okoye cosplay, not angrily writing an essay to keep from crying. Jamie and Robert failed us, but I really hope we are able to address as a community how toxic it is to put someone so high on a pedestal that others are scared to question them. And I hate to say the word scared because ultimately I am NOT scared of Jamie but I am well aware that she could have ruined my career before it even got started.
I’m hopeful that this failed comic con doesn’t completely deter others from planning and putting together their own. The damn fans of FanCon were able to put together a pop up in less than 24 hours. There have been plenty of white comic cons that have failed. One for POC, Black people and marginalized people failing doesn’t mean that we can’t make others a success. I’ve had a lot to reflect on these last two days and as angry as I am about the lost money, the Infinity War screening and the silence from those supposedly in charge people, I am more upset at myself than anything. Being a nerd is supposed to be about the experience of loving something geeky, not letting a “better” nerd step all over you so they can reach their celebrity-like status for the culture. So as much as this is an essay to give my side of what’s happening, it’s also a call out post to myself. I saw shitty behavior, I knew it was shitty and I ignored it. It wasn’t right at all. I can only actively watch myself and do better.