How Felicia Day And Chris Hardwick (Unwittingly) Reinforced Geekdom’s Whiteness


(Vid slightly NSFW – language)

By Arturo R. García

You think we’re being racist, my Mom said so many times as I was growing up, when we went round and round about these weird books and movies. I heard an accusation. But what she and my Dad were trying to make me hear was their question: Why do you love a thing that won’t even let you exist within their made up worlds?
- Pam Noles, “Shame” (via Racebending)

The debacle this week surrounding some fans of The Hunger Games made it painfully clear, once again, that geekdom has a major problem with many discussions–or even acknowledgements–of race as part of our day-to-day existences. One would like to think that the new ventures of geek celebrities Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick can, eventually, help with that process.

But the early indications aren’t promising.

Let’s start with Hardwick’s Nerdist YouTube Channel, which he says represents the “full spectrum of Nerdist culture,” even as the clip above showed the most limited of perspectives. The only people of color shown were Asian-American cosplayer Linda Le (who wasn’t even identified) and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. There was also no mention of the channel’s only other contributor of color, Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

The second trailer for the channel is even more disappointing:

To recap: there’s 30 white people shown, and maybe only four people of color in that trailer; the cast of “Nerdterns,” composed of interns at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles, did not identify itself. But even counting some of its’ members as POC, that’s four out of 34 total people on camera–an 11 percent staffing rate. In any other industry, the “full spectrum” of Hardwick’s vision would come across as very limited, indeed.

The inclusion of a member of Finnish stunt team The Dudesons as the host of “Weird Sh-t From Japan” points to something just as problematic. With that title, it’s not easy to imagine the show doing anything more than reducing the country that gave us Akira, Akira Kurosawa, Captain Harlock, Cowboy Bebop, Robotech, Macross Plus, Ninja Scroll, Battle Royale, 13 Assassins, and the original Godzilla, King of The Monsters, to name just a few examples of works with their own devoted fandoms, to random clips from some “wacky” game show.

And The Dudesons already have their own show on the channel. In the wake of the whitewashing nonsense that derailed film adaptations of both Avatar: The Last Airbender and Akira, was the Nerdist creative team really unable to figure out that perhaps a more respectful look at Japanese contributions to pop culture–or at the very least, an Asian-American host–might have been an easier sell to a bigger audience?

Day’s YouTube channel, Geek and Sundry, will also feature at least a few POC, if perhaps only briefly: MythbustersGrant Imahara appears in the trailer above for Wil Wheaton’s program “Tabletop,” and the inclusion of Day’s webseries The Guild will mean exposure for at least two characters of color. But none of the shows announced so far for her channel are hosted by a person of color.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that either Day or Hardwick are bad people or individually prejudiced. But while it’s good that Hardwick’s channel includes a show featuring Tyson, as well as How To Be Black author Baratunde Thurston appear on Hardwick’s podcast for a discussion that included race, it has to be said: conversations about race, gender, and culture have to take place outside of Special Episodes.

It’s not enough anymore for people of color and members of the LGBT community to be presented as the Special Guests, or the (x) Friends of the Host, or the Supporting Players. There’s more than enough proof online that our experiences as fans are not automatically divorced from our experiences as members of minority groups, and that there’s many of us looking for more safe spaces in which to discuss them. If some geeks of color don’t want to discuss sensitive topics, that’s fine; that doesn’t mean none of us ever should.

Because while it’s all too easy for people to distance themselves from those racist Hunger Games fans, those viewpoints don’t appear out of thin air, either.

When woman-oriented sites like The Mary Sue don’t report on Issa Rae getting assailed by racist tweeters after winning an industry award, that contributes to the problem. When a sci-fi heavy site like IO9 is content to let Jezebel report on the Games controversy, that contributes to the problem. When Marvel Comics would rather publish stories about the umpteenth version of Dark Avengers than about a group of black Avengers, that contributes to the problem. And when only 11 percent of someone’s YouTube channel talent is made up of people who are not white, that contributes to the problem. Unintentional marginalization is still marginalization.

We are way past the time when Day or Hardwick–or any party wanting to bill itself as a representative of geekdom–can hide behind the explanation that “we couldn’t find anyone” or couldn’t spot content online that might deliver a more inclusive version of geekdom to viewers. Does Hannibal Tabu need to wear Sith t-shirts? What does it say about gaming and that fandom when gamers who aren’t hetero white cis males are made to feel like they should hide their identities? Should the folks at The Border House start podcasting in Klingon to get consideration for a shot in one of these channels?

The near-dogmatic focus on “staying positive”–code for avoiding the topic entirely–does no one any good when it’s just Cheryl Lynn Eaton pointing out that Marvel Comics currently has no black writers while sites like Newsarama and Comic Book Resources keep quiet. That silence, intentional or not, sends the same kind of message to our subcultures as it does to the world at large:

There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative. Marginalized voices in America have fewer and fewer avenues to speak plainly about what they suffer; the effect of this enforced civility is that those voices are falsified or blocked entirely from the discourse.

And as this week has reminded us all, geekdom is not immune from any of those problems. Our various communities have been part of fandoms from the get-go– no matter what industry narratives want to say–and it’s people like Day and Hardwick who became stars outside of the traditional studio structure, who are in a prime position to help circumvent those boundaries and create more truly inclusive visions of geekdom. But that’s never going to be until the people who purport to give us the “full spectrum” of our fandoms start facing up to the realities–and privileges–they’ve been content to sweep under the rug for way too long.

Supplemental Reading:

  • Pingback: Geeking Out | Geekquality

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tabitha-Smith/717795615 Tabitha Smith

    I do really admire The Guild for having a plus size actress and never having her weight be a discussion on the show or a plot point. 

  • Pingback: Doctor Her » Always take a linkspam to a party, Rose. Linkspam is good.

  • Pingback: Geeking Out – April 6 | Geekquality

  • http://twitter.com/archasa Åsa M Larsson

    This was a really godd and important piece and I hope Day tries to improve this aspect. As a woman I am often annoyed that geek culture is often portrayed as a completely male oriented sub culture (Big Bang Theory is especially annoying in yhis: “Ooooh, a GIRL in the comic book store! That’s never been seen before!”). So I fully sympathise that people of color are so often absent as well (though I think The Guild did something really good in this respect).

    • Anonymous

      Thank you Asa! tbh i dont read/follow many nerdish stuff like this on the net because nerd/geek culture has as many problems with its portrayal of women as it does with POC. and as a mixed race woman, i just find the whole thing depressing. its funny that i speak to quite a few white men, who are like “why arnt more women into comics/gaming” etc-completely oblivious as to why women would be put off-and when i try i explain why women and POC may be put off by the culture we-as in me and women/POC get accused of being “oversensitive *beep*”.

  • Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Dune | Loose Cannon

  • Pingback: How Felicia Day And Chris Hardwick (Unwittingly) Reinforced Geekdom’s Whiteness « Nerdgasm Noire Network

  • http://twitter.com/TheWhaler Meg

    I really like the nerdist but I definitely see what you mean. Chris is an awesome guy and I hope he’ll consider this and make an effort to get more nerds of color on the channel.  In the past couple of weeks they’ve had baratunde on (really good podcast if you haven’t heard it) and Key and Peele, but like others have said they had to talk about being black and their black experience a lot, when a white comic wouldn’t have to to talk about being white. (Although it did make sense for Baratunde to talk about that because he was plugging his book)

    what did felicia day have to do with this though?

    • Anonymous

       As noted above, though we’ll see POC in supporting roles via “Tabletop” and The Guild, a visit to the channel’s page shows us that the core roster is also lacking diversity. And, again, that’s not an attack on her, personally, but it must be pointed out, even if she’s not selling the show as bombastically as Hardwick. 

  • Pingback: ‘Mad Men,’ ‘The Hunger Games,’ and the Need for Consequential Characters of Color | Televisual

  • andré carrington

    WORD. My black nerdom these days gets realized through N*E*R*D and good casting choices like making black people in the Hunger Games actually black. Even if the space is going to be predominantly white, demographically, that’s no excuse for its being problematically white and presumptively white. 

    btw: the reference to “Milestone Comics”? should be Meltdown Comics… RIP Dwayne McDuffie, black nerd godfather.

  • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

    Thank you for this, I think that Hardwick and Day are reasonable people that will listen. But also – there was zero disability visibility in any of this…

  • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

    Thank you for this, I think that Hardwick and Day are reasonable people that will listen. But also – there was zero disability visibility in any of this…

  • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

    Thank you for this, I think that Hardwick and Day are reasonable people that will listen. But also – there was zero disability visibility in any of this…

    • Anonymous

       That’s also an excellent point, which I apologize for missing. Thanks for calling me out on that.

      • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

        Ack, I did not mean to do a full on call out, I would have been more… I do not know, something though. It was plain to me because I am a disabled nerd. Thank you for both writing this and being okay with my comment, I appreciate both.

        • Anonymous

           Oh, no, you were perfectly within bounds! Your experiences are absolutely part of this conversation, and welcome.

          • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

            I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your response. Although, writing  stuff like this and being here -you can probably guess. I had intended to call out the project/channel, not your piece, but your observation is correct. 

            I love Racialicious and that love has just gotten bigger. I have not commented during the months and months of following it, because no one needs the opinions of another liberal white lady on the Internet! But add this conversation to the reasons upon reasons I dig Racialicious.

    • Anonymous

       I fail to see how Hardwick is a “reasonable” person when he is the reason why the Nerdist channel has no  significant diversity. Hell, he gives Ralph Cirella a show who’s most known for going on the Howard Stern show with a laser pointer and pushing women to anorexia in order to be supposedly attractive according to his sick mind yet it never occured to Hardwick that there are people of color that significantly comprise of the so called nerd/geek culture that should be given a platform on that channel.

      He even insultingly sanctions a show on his Nerdist youtube channel centering about how “weird” the Japanese are. Such shamelessness. 

      • http://patientc.blogspot.com/ Patient C

        I mean I think he can be reasoned with on this front. My apologies if saying so offended. White male nerds/geeks tend to think that the culture is a straight up meritocracy, because for them it is. I have had the best luck explaining patriarchy and white supremacy as if it were the Matrix, something I read in an article from Shakesville. Being stuck in the middle of this mess, I am invested in taking ground wherever I can get it.

        Agreed on that front. The “Japan is weird” meme is a festering wound on the culture and needs to end.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X6VBM6TFKYFKPT5U4ZHMYFPUQM Simon

    You see this all the time.  It’s still kind of strange to me that its alright for people to freak about Michael Bay’s involvement with teenage mutant ninja turtles, but issues of race are off limit.  Nerd culture is still seen as a whitespace that they are desprite to hold on to.  Bringing up issues of race are seen as some sort of political agenda and no one wants politics in their entertainment. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X6VBM6TFKYFKPT5U4ZHMYFPUQM Simon

    You see this all the time.  It’s still kind of strange to me that its alright for people to freak about Michael Bay’s involvement with teenage mutant ninja turtles, but issues of race are off limit.  Nerd culture is still seen as a whitespace that they are desprite to hold on to.  Bringing up issues of race are seen as some sort of political agenda and no one wants politics in their entertainment. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X6VBM6TFKYFKPT5U4ZHMYFPUQM Simon

    You see this all the time.  It’s still kind of strange to me that its alright for people to freak about Michael Bay’s involvement with teenage mutant ninja turtles, but issues of race are off limit.  Nerd culture is still seen as a whitespace that they are desprite to hold on to.  Bringing up issues of race are seen as some sort of political agenda and no one wants politics in their entertainment. 

  • Pingback: Something Old, Somethin New And Something Fun: A Mix Of Articles And Music Videos « Ruby Soup with Pearl Juice

  • http://twitter.com/gabbynicasio gabby nicasio

    Such an important piece. Great, great article. 

  • http://twitter.com/gabbynicasio gabby nicasio

    Such an important piece. Great, great article. 

  • http://twitter.com/gabbynicasio gabby nicasio

    Such an important piece. Great, great article. 

  • http://twitter.com/gabbynicasio gabby nicasio

    Such an important piece. Great, great article. 

  • http://twitter.com/gabbynicasio gabby nicasio

    Such an important piece. Great, great article. 

  • Notebook

    Since it was mentioned, to say that I am sick and tired of the “Japan is weird” meme [if you can call it that I guess] would be a gross understatement. It would be wonderful to get some, y’know, actual intelligent, insightful, maybe even critical discussion done without some troglodyte spewing forth some “clever” one-liner or just being insulting altogether. No Phil Fish, yelling at a Japanese independent game developer that you think the mainstream Japanese video game industry sucks does not count as critical discussion. I don’t give a damn if some bigshot developer agrees with you or the game that you made was actually decent, that crap does not fly. You can have your opinion all you want, but apparently I guess for some it’s too hard to be respectful.

    Seriously, it’s appalling how many people use some random game show to show how Japan is weeeeeiiirrrd. Y’know what? We Americans have weeeeeeiirrrd stuff as well. As well as Canadians, Mexicans, Britians, and every other damn culture on the planet! It gets especially frustrating when I see other PoC do it because they should know damn well better not to do it, because they had to have been called “weird” at some point, regardless of whether or not it was out of malice. This gets beyond a point of complete ludicrousness when you have people pointing out flaws in one culture that their own cultures still have, but when you try to say that they either try to backpedal you into some sort of bizarre double standard or just outright ignore or insult you. Anything that’s not western-oriented automatically gets slammed–apparently it’s okay for western games to have cliches but eastern games can’t but it’s okay as long as they use western cliches? It’s just… AARGGH

    Sorry. I had to get that out. I’ve been dealing with so much of that crap lately in gaming fandom. It’s stuff like this and in the article that makes it really frustrating to be a nerd PoC who also happens to be an outcast in his own PoC community itself. I know this is definitely wrong for me to think, but sometimes I do wish I was white so I just wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. Though I do get over it eventually and realize that it’s not something that I think should be rational, it’s kinda tough.

  • Notebook

    Since it was mentioned, to say that I am sick and tired of the “Japan is weird” meme [if you can call it that I guess] would be a gross understatement. It would be wonderful to get some, y’know, actual intelligent, insightful, maybe even critical discussion done without some troglodyte spewing forth some “clever” one-liner or just being insulting altogether. No Phil Fish, yelling at a Japanese independent game developer that you think the mainstream Japanese video game industry sucks does not count as critical discussion. I don’t give a damn if some bigshot developer agrees with you or the game that you made was actually decent, that crap does not fly. You can have your opinion all you want, but apparently I guess for some it’s too hard to be respectful.

    Seriously, it’s appalling how many people use some random game show to show how Japan is weeeeeiiirrrd. Y’know what? We Americans have weeeeeeiirrrd stuff as well. As well as Canadians, Mexicans, Britians, and every other damn culture on the planet! It gets especially frustrating when I see other PoC do it because they should know damn well better not to do it, because they had to have been called “weird” at some point, regardless of whether or not it was out of malice. This gets beyond a point of complete ludicrousness when you have people pointing out flaws in one culture that their own cultures still have, but when you try to say that they either try to backpedal you into some sort of bizarre double standard or just outright ignore or insult you. Anything that’s not western-oriented automatically gets slammed–apparently it’s okay for western games to have cliches but eastern games can’t but it’s okay as long as they use western cliches? It’s just… AARGGH

    Sorry. I had to get that out. I’ve been dealing with so much of that crap lately in gaming fandom. It’s stuff like this and in the article that makes it really frustrating to be a nerd PoC who also happens to be an outcast in his own PoC community itself. I know this is definitely wrong for me to think, but sometimes I do wish I was white so I just wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. Though I do get over it eventually and realize that it’s not something that I think should be rational, it’s kinda tough.

  • Notebook

    Since it was mentioned, to say that I am sick and tired of the “Japan is weird” meme [if you can call it that I guess] would be a gross understatement. It would be wonderful to get some, y’know, actual intelligent, insightful, maybe even critical discussion done without some troglodyte spewing forth some “clever” one-liner or just being insulting altogether. No Phil Fish, yelling at a Japanese independent game developer that you think the mainstream Japanese video game industry sucks does not count as critical discussion. I don’t give a damn if some bigshot developer agrees with you or the game that you made was actually decent, that crap does not fly. You can have your opinion all you want, but apparently I guess for some it’s too hard to be respectful.

    Seriously, it’s appalling how many people use some random game show to show how Japan is weeeeeiiirrrd. Y’know what? We Americans have weeeeeeiirrrd stuff as well. As well as Canadians, Mexicans, Britians, and every other damn culture on the planet! It gets especially frustrating when I see other PoC do it because they should know damn well better not to do it, because they had to have been called “weird” at some point, regardless of whether or not it was out of malice. This gets beyond a point of complete ludicrousness when you have people pointing out flaws in one culture that their own cultures still have, but when you try to say that they either try to backpedal you into some sort of bizarre double standard or just outright ignore or insult you. Anything that’s not western-oriented automatically gets slammed–apparently it’s okay for western games to have cliches but eastern games can’t but it’s okay as long as they use western cliches? It’s just… AARGGH

    Sorry. I had to get that out. I’ve been dealing with so much of that crap lately in gaming fandom. It’s stuff like this and in the article that makes it really frustrating to be a nerd PoC who also happens to be an outcast in his own PoC community itself. I know this is definitely wrong for me to think, but sometimes I do wish I was white so I just wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. Though I do get over it eventually and realize that it’s not something that I think should be rational, it’s kinda tough.

  • Notebook

    Since it was mentioned, to say that I am sick and tired of the “Japan is weird” meme [if you can call it that I guess] would be a gross understatement. It would be wonderful to get some, y’know, actual intelligent, insightful, maybe even critical discussion done without some troglodyte spewing forth some “clever” one-liner or just being insulting altogether. No Phil Fish, yelling at a Japanese independent game developer that you think the mainstream Japanese video game industry sucks does not count as critical discussion. I don’t give a damn if some bigshot developer agrees with you or the game that you made was actually decent, that crap does not fly. You can have your opinion all you want, but apparently I guess for some it’s too hard to be respectful.

    Seriously, it’s appalling how many people use some random game show to show how Japan is weeeeeiiirrrd. Y’know what? We Americans have weeeeeeiirrrd stuff as well. As well as Canadians, Mexicans, Britians, and every other damn culture on the planet! It gets especially frustrating when I see other PoC do it because they should know damn well better not to do it, because they had to have been called “weird” at some point, regardless of whether or not it was out of malice. This gets beyond a point of complete ludicrousness when you have people pointing out flaws in one culture that their own cultures still have, but when you try to say that they either try to backpedal you into some sort of bizarre double standard or just outright ignore or insult you. Anything that’s not western-oriented automatically gets slammed–apparently it’s okay for western games to have cliches but eastern games can’t but it’s okay as long as they use western cliches? It’s just… AARGGH

    Sorry. I had to get that out. I’ve been dealing with so much of that crap lately in gaming fandom. It’s stuff like this and in the article that makes it really frustrating to be a nerd PoC who also happens to be an outcast in his own PoC community itself. I know this is definitely wrong for me to think, but sometimes I do wish I was white so I just wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. Though I do get over it eventually and realize that it’s not something that I think should be rational, it’s kinda tough.

    • Violetta

      Yes! Completely THIS.
      A while ago cracked.com had a series of articles on the topic of Japan is weird, concerning street fashion, manga and anime series – and most of the stuff they were making fun of was actually good quality anime and manga, even Vampire Hunter D was included, hello?!! 

      I thought it was a little hypocritical from the country which has produced child beauty pageants, competitive eating and “dwarf tossing”, and when I said so in the comments I was of course derided for being PC, librul, pinko, blah blah blah. 

    • Violetta

      Yes! Completely THIS.
      A while ago cracked.com had a series of articles on the topic of Japan is weird, concerning street fashion, manga and anime series – and most of the stuff they were making fun of was actually good quality anime and manga, even Vampire Hunter D was included, hello?!! 

      I thought it was a little hypocritical from the country which has produced child beauty pageants, competitive eating and “dwarf tossing”, and when I said so in the comments I was of course derided for being PC, librul, pinko, blah blah blah. 

      • Lxy

        Good point. It’s hilarious how any criticism of mainstream American (i.e. White) culture is predictably smeared with the propaganda label of “Political Correctness,” while mockery of other nations’ culture is accepted and normal in the USA.

        Anglo-American chauvinism at its hypocritical best.

        What’s even funnier is that the people using the P.C. label are the true examples of political correctness in action, as they are hostile to any dissent that doesn’t tow the mainstream American political line.

      • http://twitter.com/jennyhenk Jenny

        And speaking of American weirdness, don’t forget the barrage of crime shows where people (mostly women) are tortured and killed onscreen so that Our Heroes can solve the mystery of whodunit. Other things that fit nicely in the “weird” category: Survivor, The Bachelor, The Biggest Loser and The Today Show.

  • Hwbrown13

    Interesting. I like Chris Hardwick and listen to ‘The Nerdist.’ But he definitely seems to have a hard time interviewing POC without making race a big focus. De Grasse Tyson possibly being the only exception. If I want to hear geek talk that handles diversity pretty well, I listen to Aisha Tyler’s podcast.

  • Hwbrown13

    Interesting. I like Chris Hardwick and listen to ‘The Nerdist.’ But he definitely seems to have a hard time interviewing POC without making race a big focus. De Grasse Tyson possibly being the only exception. If I want to hear geek talk that handles diversity pretty well, I listen to Aisha Tyler’s podcast.

  • Hwbrown13

    Interesting. I like Chris Hardwick and listen to ‘The Nerdist.’ But he definitely seems to have a hard time interviewing POC without making race a big focus. De Grasse Tyson possibly being the only exception. If I want to hear geek talk that handles diversity pretty well, I listen to Aisha Tyler’s podcast.

  • Hwbrown13

    Interesting. I like Chris Hardwick and listen to ‘The Nerdist.’ But he definitely seems to have a hard time interviewing POC without making race a big focus. De Grasse Tyson possibly being the only exception. If I want to hear geek talk that handles diversity pretty well, I listen to Aisha Tyler’s podcast.

    • http://twitter.com/jennyhenk Jenny

      Hardwick has been talking more specifically about race politics with his guests, but to be honest, I prefer it to the days when he was even more strictly “apolitical” than he is now. The “keep it positive” schtick makes for pretty shallow programming, and I think he’s started to realize that.