Melanin Monday: I’m Black, I Like Anime, and Other Nerdy Things… So What [Part I]

Hey, hey all you wonderful Heroes and Travelers out there it’s Monday, and that means another Melanin Monday post!! For those of you just joining us, Melanin Monday is a  bi-weekly post series that I started for Black History Month, where I talk about Black and Brown skinned characters in anime, manga, video games, etc., but you guys loved it so much I decided to continue it! The series has since expanded to cover discussions and my own personal stories about being a Black nerd, because being Black and being an otaku/nerd is all a part of what makes me, well, me. 

I thought about this week’s topic for awhile, but unlike the previous weeks, I just couldn’t think of any snappy topics or lists, so I decided to go with something I knew I could easily write about… me! I know, I know, seems pretty shallow, but hear me out, I actually came up with the idea for this post after reading all of your comments on my previous Melanin Monday posts. (Yes, I read them, which is why it takes me so long to reply.) While I appreciate all comments and criticism, I was most surprised by how many Black nerds and otaku shared their stories with me about being Black in the otaku community and I’m not gonna lie, reading your comments really made my day, because you guys get it, you all get my struggle! I wish I could give you all a hug and thank you personally, because outside of my tenure at Howard and the internet, it’s not often that I meet fellow Black folks that openly admit to watching anime…

I was going to make this a one off post, but the longer I wrote the more I realized I had more than one story to share, so this will be a series within the Melanin Monday series… Series-ception! In this week’s Melanin Monday post I wanted to write about my early experiences being a black otaku, of course this isn’t the whole story, I’ll save those bits for future posts. I just wanted to share my stories the way so many of you have shared your stories with me, so this post is dedicated to all my fellow Black nerds and otaku!


There’s this unspoken agreement among Black nerds in general, that we are to conceal our love of all things nerdy for fear of being labelled, “weird”, “strange”, or the dreaded “oreo”. It’s akin to how superheroes like Superman and Spider-man all have their secret civilian identities, except we always wear our masks out of necessity, since watching anime isn’t considered “Black”. Now, I’m not going to get into what being “Black” means, because that is different for everyone,  and I don’t have time to address all the nuances of that right now… Just know that I have had my Blackness called into question numerous times and I am not opposed to correcting people and their ignorance.

disguise

Revealing that I liked anime was a set up for a long drawn out defense of my own Blackness and why despite my love of “non-Black” things, I was in fact down for my people and our cause. Even among friends, so much as mentioning anime was almost always met with, “Oh, you like that stuff?” or my personal favorite, “Your into that weird stuff, those cartoons.” So, I learned to separate the two identities, because it was easier to be accepted for the lie than it was to be excluded for the truth… and I regret that now. There were probably a lot of other people like me, secret otaku, who were just waiting for someone else to share in their experience, I know I was. My parents as great as they are, didn’t get it, and even mentioning anime to my mom would warrant an hour long lecture about all the other things I could be doing with my time… chores, college applications, or more feminine pursuits, like fashion. So, I learned to keep quiet about my love of nerdy things when in the presence of my people.

I’m laughing, because as cliche as it sounds, it wasn’t until I went away to college that I met fellow Black nerds and otaku. I should preface this by saying that I went to Howard University for undergrad, and for those of you that don’t know, Howard is an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), so I wasn’t expecting much in the way of acceptance, since all the other Black individuals I interacted with weren’t into anime. So, imagine my surprise when I met people that looked like me that also loved anime as much as I did, it was the first time that I felt comfortable being me without having to hide anything and it was both strange and liberating! Sure, we were still kind of labelled as weird, but it didn’t matter as much, because we were weird together.

otaku

It’s actually thanks to the friends I met at Howard that I stopped separating my Blackness from my love of anime, the two things aren’t mutually exclusive, but for years that’s how I dealt with it. I went through the motions, acting how I thought a Black person was supposed to act in public, while in private I’d binge watch anime and read manga online. On the rare occasion someone mentioned an anime series I’d heard of, I simply pretended I didn’t know what they were talking about. It’s funny talking about this now, seeing how open I am about anime, but back then the fear of being rejected for liking anime was real… and I’d be lying if I said that fear was completely gone. I’m still very selective about how and with whom I share my otaku pursuits. Even among friends that know about my love of anime, I don’t share everything *cough* BL *cough otome game *cough* but, I’m working on that. I still get the same comments, it’s just that now they don’t matter as much anymore, I’m comfortable being me and you know what, I’ve met some amazing people because of it.

Looking back, I regret not being open about liking anime, manga, and other nerdy things. I regret not being comfortable enough with myself to wear my otaku-ness with pride. *sigh* So much wasted time and energy… So, I wrote this post for my fellow Black nerds, whether you were a secret otaku like me or open about your otaku-ness from the beginning and for anyone that felt that they had to hide their otaku-ness because they were afraid of being rejected because of it. You aren’t alone, we all have stories!

So, I want to hear from you guys! Tell me about your otaku experiences. Have you ever had to hide your love of anime from friends or family? Are you still hiding it? And for my Black nerds and otaku, I want to hear your otaku experiences!! Let me know what you think in the comments section. If you like what you see, like this post or follow Nice Job Breaking It, Hero! As always THANK YOU FOR READING!!

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13 thoughts on “Melanin Monday: I’m Black, I Like Anime, and Other Nerdy Things… So What [Part I]

  1. I have been thinking about this and I don’t know if I ever had to hide my love for anime. Although in high school, I did for a while and I still do when I’m at my job but I don’t think I did hide it from my family…..I think they figured it out for themselves and they were fine with it. I know my sister is definitely OK with it as she got into anime, too. Just not as much as I did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on this post, since I really wanted to hear other people weigh in on the topic.

      I should clarify that it wasn’t so much hidden as I just didn’t talk about it because bringing it up with some folks lead to them questioning my level of blackness as if that somehow took away from the fact that I am and will always be Black.

      As for the family thing, my folks didn’t stop me from watching anime, they just didn’t understand what it was that I liked about it and my mom in particular had some strong feeling about her only daughter not delighting in traditionally feminine pastimes. As for my brothers, there is only one that likes anime as much as I do, the others again don’t get it and make it know (as siblings do) how weird they think it is.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Some of this is a little surprising to hear. Of course, Anime as a subculture has always been a difficult sell to people of more generalized entertainment pursuits. Still, (I might risk sounding racially insensitive and I hope no one will feel offended but we are talking about racial trends here) I was under the impression that black people loved Anime. Like LOVED anime.

    I went to high school in a mostly white district (in East Pennsylvania, if that gives any context), but there was a large population of Hispanic and Black kids mostly from the downtown area. These guys wouldn’t have been caught dead watching “cartoons” but man did they love DBZ. Back then the love for Pokemon was a bit muted since it was seen as something for little kids, but I could tell there was a decent fandom there too.

    Now I don’t imagine they delved too much into the other anime that aired on cable tv around the same time. Even popular shows like Gundam Wing, Outaw Star, and Tenchi Muyo! only seemed to find discussion among me and my 2 friends (1 white, 1 chinese). But DBZ was all the rage among this group.

    As I got older and learned a bit more about entertainment culture and history, I thought back to the popularization of Kung Fu in the US. Blacks, it seems at a higher percentage than whites, took to the genre and began incorporating asian elements in their own media. You can still see a heavy influence in music with groups like the Wu Tang Clan. I’m not sure what it was about Kung Fu that seemed so appealing but in general Blacks have always seemed more open to Asian cultural elements than whites, especially younger whites indoctrinated by parents that grew up in the Korean and Vietnam war eras into developing a deep mistrust of Asians in general.

    I know your post was more geared to being open about your interests among the people in your community, but I was hoping you can shed some light on this. I’m not black, so I can’t say at all that I had a representative idea of how anime was perceived, but were your experiences radically different from mine?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, I want to thank you for taking the time to leave such a thorough comment, since the main reason for writing this post was to start up a discussion! 🙂 Now, to address your questions:

      I should have probably stated this in the post, but I grew up in the south and while a lot of my non Black friends liked anime and manga, my Black friends didn’t care for it at all. So I wasn’t really able to share in that experience with other Black individuals at the time. I can’t speak for every Black person and this post is not meant to speak for every one, that is one thing I want to make perfectly clear. I just wanted to create a safe place for people to share their experiences, whether they felt the way I did or not. This is just my experience and to a lesser extent based on some conversations I have had with my Black friends that enjoy anime.

      I grew up in the suburbs, which is a much different experience than someone growing up in the city, then add the fact that I’m from the south and that adds a whole different dimension to my narrative. I went to predominately white schools all through my primary and secondary school education and while I interacted with individuals from all backgrounds, I found that there weren’t many Black students that liked anime. Don’t get me wrong, there are always casual viewers and yes, DBZ happens to be one of those series that appeals to both anime fans and non fans alike, however, in my personal experience I was not exposed to Black people of my age group that enjoyed anime. Interacting with my Black friends and interacting with my non- Black friends were two different experiences, I just couldn’t really talk to my Black friends about anime, they just didn’t get it.

      As for the ties between martial arts and hip hop culture, you bring up some very valid points, but you should also be aware that hip hop has been borrowing elements from various cultures throughout it’s history. As for the appeal of Kung Fu culture for Black Americans, again I can only speak for myself, but I suppose it might have had something to do with the fact that martial arts is a means of defense for both the body and the mind, which for Black people in America who find themselves persecuted simply because of the color of their skin (mind you this is blatant discrimination and subvert) Kung Fu is a means of giving them something they can control. Plus there is a beauty to martial arts and their doctrines that is appealing to folks looking for stability in an otherwise unstable situation… But, that’s just how I see it. There’s also the idea that martial arts, like Kung Fu are seen as a means of expressing one’s self, much the same way as hip hop is a means of expression, an art.

      It seems we had different experiences growing up and that has altered our views on this topic, however, I really do appreciate you taking the time to ask me personally.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the reply, and no problem! I’m always eager for discussion like this because I get relatively few chances to explore these kinds of topics with others.

        Your qualifier was important and I think I should have pointed it out myself. Of course our experiences aren’t representative of an entire race. That’s an insane notion no matter what we’re talking about. But I’m glad to have gotten a little background on your perspective (which, admittedly, I now realize I would have gotten if I was paying more attention to Melanin Monday from the beginning). Our demographic and cultural surroundings are quite different in many more ways than those directly relating to anime, so I can understand the difference.

        As I said before, I can’t accurately comment on the prevalence of anime among Black media consumers, but being of South Asian ethnicity I can completely relate to having literally no one that’s like me who understand my love for anime.

        South Asians, for all their diversity, are some of the most homogeneous people I know when it comes to interests. I live in Central New Jersey where you can’t turn around without seeing a brown person. Most of them are plenty happy to talk about Hindi movies and music, or cricket, but I’ve met maybe 2 (in college) who had any kind of interest in anime.

        Disclaimer: I can’t relate with the South Asian community much more than you can. I’ve had all my education in the US and vehemently resisted my parents’ efforts to immerse me in their cultural functions. Still, I’ve often felt like older members of this group chide you for having an interest in “cartoons” and younger ones simply don’t know what you’re talking about (and they really should.. they get Doraemon over there!)

        But to be fair I think my being socially inept has more to do with it than anything since there isn’t a single person I see on a daily basis that I can talk to about anime (Kimmie doesn’t count). To quote Natsume from My Little Monster “The real me lives online!”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. In response to something you said in your comment below:

      I’m South Asian as well – South Indian to be precise. I live in India, have always lived in India and yeah, I’m in the same boat as you. There’s literally no one in my life who gets anime. Most don’t even know it exists and those who do can’t differentiate it from cartoons. That’s a large part of why I’m so attached to the aniblogging community. You lot are awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t think about having to hide my love for anime until, when I was in high school, my uncle caught me watching Animax and made fun of me for it. After that, I was ashamed to be seen watching anime and tried to hide it. My parents couldn’t care less about it (though they don’t even know what anime is, really) but I hid it from everyone else. Then the high school hit me in the face with the full force of its evilness and anime became the least of my worries. It was still something I hid but at that point, I was hiding 90% of my real self in an attempt to fit in and anime – which is not that well known in South India – was only a tiny part of it.

    It was in college that I also let go, said a nice ‘fuck you’ to social expectations and acted like I wanted. Still, I can’t relate to your experience. I’m an Indian living in India. However, I do know the pain of having no one of your own circle to share your beloved interests with. I still don’t know anyone who’s into anime just like I don’t know anyone else in the lgbtq+ community. I’m alone in many ways.

    But hey, I’m happy enough. The internet compensates for a lot and my introverted personality helps with the rest.

    Sorry about the length.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The “being made fun of” definitely happened to me. It didn’t make me like things less; it just meant I hid them from people and didn’t talk about it though I desperately wanted to. Being older and having the internet is like a god send, because I can be an introvert on the internet without as much fear of reprisal. It’s so much better I almost feel like more of an internet extrovert just because I can finally express how I feel without worrying about stumbling over my words, sounding foolish, or being judged in certain spaces (like this one). Now that I’m old and grumpier, I act how I want, too, and call people out for their BS.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The internet is definitely a godsend. It’s only recently that I gained unlimited access to it and my life’s been better for it. ‘Internet extrovert’ is a pretty good term.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I consider my internet friends as important and necessary as my IRL friends! I communicate much better through writing, and my one IRL BFF is the same way. Even though she lives further away from me now, we talk almost every day through text, and I’m perfectly content with that. Of course I like seeing her in person, but technology has made it possible to keep in touch and meet so many people from all over the world.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay first off, I’m really annoyed at Yahoo, because it’s been putting blog sub notifications in spam, and this was one of the ones that found itself there, and this is something I DEFINITELY can relate to, so I’m happy I checked it today. Second off, sooooo much of your experience is mine, lady! I used to pretend not to like things as much as I do, so I could seem a little less weird. I used to even make fun of stuff I liked like FFVII before other people would so that I could kind of “control” the situation as it were?

    I’ve been called “not really black” and (ugh) “oreo,” too, and the worst part is I used to go along with it, because it was so ingrained in me that being “regularly” Black is a bad thing (and I wasn’t like THOSE people ughhh, I want to go back in time and punch myself in the face), but the thing is there is no “normally” Black, and there is no wrong way to perform Blackness just like there’s no wrong way to perform being female or male! It took me a LONG time to realize this. I can be Black and love FFVII/Sephiroth and want to do cosplay. I can be Black and talk like an English/literature scholar (cause I kind of was and don’t get me started on “you sound white.” That’s a whole series of blog posts). I can be Black and write fanfiction, fangirl over bishounen, and sound like valley girl. No one can take my Blackness away from me, and I’m never going to be ashamed of who and what I am ever again. Now, I call people out when they say, “Omg Adrienne, you’re the whitest Black girl EVER,” for numerous reasons, and it’s kind of hilarious to see their assurance that I’ll share in their ignorance crumple when I start asking questions.

    I think the Black people who question it are so used to being told what they can/can’t do. It’s another kind of segregation, partially self-imposed, partially still institutional. There’s a rigid structure in place upheld by the media of what “being Black” should look like, and people who don’t conform to it really aren’t it, but all of this is bullshit in place to try to fit people into boxes based on what they’re “supposed” to act like. Anyone who deviates is seen as strange when in reality people are eclectic, and this is what should be presented and lauded. Having the “typical Black person” just upholds systematic racism and bias. Ah, this is gonna turn into an essay lol. Yasss to all of what you said ♥

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  5. OMG I’m super late to this post. Great post Naja! Like you I regret hiding my otaku nerd side because it was non-mainstream, not cool. To be honest, it’s still hard to be open about it, especially on social media when some people I consider to be like a sister to me are definitely judgmental of me and tease me about it relentlessly. Apparently this friend also asked another mutual friend of ours “why do you want to be the black sheep?” isn’t that annoying? why do we all have to fit into a category, and follow the herd. I love this friend, but I sincerely wish she wouldn’t be so close minded.

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