Friday, 3 August 2007

The Whiteness of Nerds

Ed: If you can understand the language, this is actually quite interesting.

[...] As a result of their status as cultural innovators and trendsetters, black students at Bay City High, as elsewhere around the country (Solomon 1988), were often viewed by their white counterparts as cool almost by definition. Yet for European American teenagers to adopt elements of African American youth culture before the deracializing process was well under way was to risk being marked by their peers as racially problematic; this was the situation for many white hip-hop fans at the school. Conversely, for white teenagers to refuse to participate in youth culture in any form was likewise problematic, not only culturally but racially. It may be said that appropriate whiteness requires the appropriation of blackness, but only via those black styles that are becoming deracialized and hence no longer inevitably confer racial markedness on those who take them up.

White nerds disrupted this ideological arrangement by refusing to strive for coolness. The linguistic and other social practices that they engaged in indexed an uncool stance that was both culturally and racially marked: to be uncool in the context of the white racial visibility at Bay City High was to be racialized as hyperwhite, “too white.” Consequently, the production of nerdiness via the rejection of coolness and the overt display of intelligence was often simultaneously (though not necessarily intentionally) the production of an extreme version of whiteness. Unlike the styles of cool European American students, in nerdiness African American culture and language did not play even a covert role. This is not to say that individuals who were not white never engaged in nerdy practices, but that when they did they could be culturally understood as aligned with whiteness. This phenomenon is illustrated by the fact that, in U.S. culture generally, Asian Americans are ideologically positioned as the “model minority”—that is, the racialized group that most closely approaches “honorary” whiteness—in part because they are ideologically positioned as the nerdy minority, skilled in scientific and technical fields but utterly uncool (see Chun, this issue, for research that challenges this ideology). In general, then, white nerds were identifying not against blackness but against trendy whiteness, yet any dissociation from white youth trends entailed a dissociation from the black cultural forms from which those trends largely derive. Read more (pdf file) Read as HTML here. (Credit to Andrew Brown for the story.)

No comments will be posted without a full name and location, see the

No comments: