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  • Writer's pictureEvangeline Lawson

Who Do With Words: a blerd love tone manifesto by Tracie Morris

"Almost all our work, as Black poets, as marginalized people, is political because our embodiment makes these words mean particular things, they inhabit us and reflect us and therefore embody our particular situation: That is, we are affirming ourselves to ourselves while simultaneously being "forced"—that word again—to prove our fundamental human nature, our existence, to others, unfortunately. What a waste of time to have to prove one's humanity in order to live. A necessary burden." (Tracie Morris)

"We will take anything and make it work. It is a global, communal aptitude/attitude of folks. Irrespective of how we are described, we "do" us. We (re)make our own selves out of the clay bad folks have ground us into, trying to make chalk, a dust up. We use it as 'goober dust'. Leading from the old school. Bad folks be 'funny' sometimes. If they can get retro, so can we: People "feel like" treating us as equal sometimes, means we ain't equal, to them (being all sometimey), much less when they 'don't' feel like it. Words do things. They inscribe, making marks."

Chapter One: "Man, he corny." From Who Do With Words (a blerd love tone manifesto) by Tracie Morris

"Black swagger cool philosophy: I never met a Blerd looking like Urkel (but I have met some with similar names on rare occasions). Even nerdy Black style becomes its own definition of cool. Urkel had to have a goofy name, ridiculous clothes, and an affected voice with absolutely no bass in it (not even trying to have any bass) in order to be a Black nerd who was uncool. He had to deny Black affect three times to get that super-"herb" affect. The actor, Jaleel White, couldn't even sustain that herb style in real life after the credits for the show wrapped. As soon as he could control his own wardrobe (while retaining his huge, sleepy eyes into adulthood), he was naturally too cool to capitalize on his old character.

... White's transition from nerd boy to grown-ass man was a bit too cool to be acceptable for "general audiences." Maybe his "diesel" frame was even a liability to his child to adult acting shift (even Urkel could become a "threatening" Black man in the eyes of some predisposed to that fear). In many ways, the strong Black man is still "scary," even one formerly beloved, and the odds are against most successful child actors to transition to successful adult actors anyway.


"In claiming the term "Blerd," "braniac," or even "smarty-pants" in the context of racial and gender aggression, one is performing an act of self care and self empowerment. "Keep ya head up," or in my case keeping my "hand up," is part of a resistive strategy...I have confronted standard and innovative bigotry in academia (bigoted folks can get creative with their brainpower at an almost Snidely Whiplash level) and if one is a Blerd, it can be disheartening to feel that one's brainpower is not enough or is exploited...It can hurt to one's heart if one has not been prepared. Therefore, having other references outside of academia for self-worth and self-generated knowledge is a crucial tool in this arsenal." (Who Do with Words: a blerd love tone manifesto by Tracie Morris)

Tracie Morris set out to use her words in Who Do with Words as advocacy for Black People. Referencing J.L. Austin's philosophy on speech act theory, she seeks to affirm herself and others, while providing a tool for Black survival, freedom and joy. She uses semi-autobiographical references to express her passion for Blerdom (Black nerdom) and Black Power in a style not confined to standard poetry structure.

While reading this book, I could definitely tell it was written by an academic. I appreciated that. The word choices, the critical thinking expressed in witty, verbose paragraphs were definitely not the makings of your typical poetry book. Matter of fact, I often found myself questioning why the author called it a poetry book at all and not just a book of essays (although she does explain that in the intro). This was honestly a distraction for me, the format. However, the information was presented in an engaging, relatable manner. With references that were both humourous and easy to understand.

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