Geekiness And Black Cultural Optimization: Are They Valued Enough?

Written by Dana Sanchez


There’s a disproportionate amount of cultural equity that goes into being successful in entertainment and athletics, and it’s at the expense of other things, says Jamarlin Martin, host of the GHOGH podcast.

Martin discussed the value of geekiness and Black cultural optimization with two Google engineers and a marketing guru during GHOGH podcast interviews. “We have to reprogram the culture for excellence,” Martin said. “We’ve got to optimize it.”

Standardized tests show that African Americans are at the bottom of the distribution for math scores. The SAT, considered critical in identifying student readiness for college, provides a measure of academic inequality at the end of secondary schooling, according to a Brookings report.

The mean score on the math section of the SAT for all test-takers is 511 out of 800. Blacks test-takers averaged 428 while whites averaged 534 and Asians, 598. The scores of Black and Latino students are clustered towards the bottom of the distribution.

Black cultural optimization
Google software Engineer, Anthony D. Mays / Photo: Anita Sanikop


As a child, Google software engineer Anthony D. Mays loved computers but struggled with math. To make matters worse, he was bullied by other Black children for being a geek, he said.

“I understood that there were these two options,” Mays said during a GHOGH podcast. “I could either keep doing what I was doing and go down this path that few travel and see what happens, or I could give in to the bullying, sort of accept the hopelessness that I was … surrounded by, and … other people gave in to. I could accept that and live in that and be like they were. But I didn’t want to do that.”

Jamarlin talked about a kind of anti-cultural-optimization bias, “where things that are good for us, (like geekiness) get you bullied, but if you’re involved with criminality or pseudo-criminality or partying a lot and that type of stuff, that’s all fine and dandy,”

Mays said he thinks Black leaders have not talked enough about cultural optimization. “I think for the Black community and even in some white communities that suffer with the same kind of things … there’s almost this culture of blaming other people, blaming society, blaming racism, blaming institutions as opposed to looking at like, I wasn’t bullied by white kids growing up. I was bullied by black kids growing up.”

Black cultural optimization
Liz Burr: Senior Vice President, Product & Operations at REIGN / Photo: Anita Sanikop


Digital media guru Liz Burr had a very different experience in geekiness.  She talked about it during an interview on the GHOGH Podcast:

“I hear these experiences where geeks say that they were traumatized by other Black kids or saying that they’re trying to be white,” Burr said. “I’ve never had that experience. I’ve always been a bookworm. I’ve always been a nerd. I’ve had cousins who maybe harassed me for being a nerd, but not saying like, ‘Oh, you’re trying to be white’. I think they just picked on me because I was the youngest and I was well behaved.”

A senior vice president of product and operations at Reign, Burr said she has a hard time explaining what she does to her family.

“Everyone knows about being a doctor, being a lawyer, being an athlete or being some sort of celebrity, but people don’t know a product manager. They don’t know how much a product manager could make. They don’t know engineers. It’s still weird to me to explain what I do to my family. They’ll ask me what do I do. I work in product and I still try to struggle to explain to them. They’re very proud of me. Definitely brag about me to the rest of my family. But I think trying to get a tangible explanation out of them is difficult, I think because it’s just kind of a foreign area of work.”

A lot of it has to do with the images Black people see of themselves in media. Burr said. “My assumption is maybe if we have more Black faces doing lots of different things, then that might help move the needle for us a little bit.”

Black cultural optimization
Bria Sullivan, Google Software Engineer / Photo: Anita Sanikop


Bria Sullivan, a Google software engineer, said she’s all for glorifying the geek lifestyle that careers in STEM can bring (science, technology, engineering and math).

“I think that we need to start glorifying this lifestyle because it is a very stable lifestyle,” Sullivan said during a GHOGH podcast. “Not everybody’s an entrepreneur. In just the same way, not everybody is a professional basketball player or a rapper or a successful rapper at that. But I think everyone has the capacity to learn how to code. We all have computers. Your phone is a computer. There’s apps for learning how to code. I just feel like it’s a no-brainer to at least have the knowledge. Everything’s going to be tech-enabled at some point. So having that knowledge on top of like a really strong art skill is beneficial. There’s a bunch of engineers who play basketball and then, if eventually there’s going to need to be some robotics and stuff to help basketball players, who’s gonna make that? Whoever’s successful at that is probably good at both.”