If you’re attending a tech symposium or a comic con and see a group of the cool people huddled around a lively young lady talking to celebs, CEOs and interns, there’s a good chance you have just encountered Tatiana King-Jones. When you see them lean forward, hanging on her every word, it’s not because of her height; they are showing reverence to the Grand Duchess of tech. I mean how geek is it to be named Grand Duchess of tech? That’s modest enough to say “I’m not an emperor or a queen, but best believe I am of royal bloodline above you princesses and all so respect the name and the position.” Straight geek.
And it’s that charisma and sense of self worth that has helped Tatiana lay the foundation of her growing empire. Tatiana’s penchant for straight talk and intertwining social commentary with her own comedic spin as well as her ability to not only speak geek fluently but make it accessible to everyone who wasn’t geek savvy has earned her the respect of her peers and the admiration of her fans. It has also made her a constant fixture as a guest speaker for thought leadership in areas like technology, diversity and social media.
Now as a member of the successful geek podcast Fanbros, Tatiana holds her own amongst DJ BenHaMeen and Chico Leo by entertaining and educating the masses. As part of our series of changing the complexion of geek culture, The Grand Duchess stepped down from the throne and took time to chat with us about geekdom, podcasts, media and issues facing geekdom.
So when did you realize or start identifying as a geek?
As soon as I could hold a video game controller in my hand and, as my grandma would say, my fingers were “strong enough to coordinate” I knew I was geek-city. I would say I grew up kind of tomboyish. It’s an antiquated word now but that’s how it was described during that time. I was always into rockets and RC cars, and Hot Wheels as well as Barbie and dolls. I was in Kindergarten when I started playing video games so I don’t think I could necessarily comprehend the supposed “geek life” I was living. So in terms of being truly cognizant and being able to directly identify, I would say I was in middle school, 5th grade.
What things do you geek out about?
As a kid I was always into incredible feats of engineering and architecture. As time went on and gadgets got more sophisticated, I became incredibly into consumer devices—phones, tablets, laptops, mobile gear—you name it. My geekdom is incredibly wide ranging but if I have to pick an area where it lights up my brain the most I’d say anything in tech.
Why those things? What about them caught your attention?
The idea that you could solve a problem, or bring a world together through a device that you could hold in your hand really did (and still does!) intrigue me. I have always been a problem solver by nature so to be able to grow up in time periods where computers and technology went from the Windows 95 era to the apps and bots era—it’s incredibly fascinating to me. I know my love for these things started due to my grandparents. My grandfather was a computer and civil engineer at different points of his life. He was part of major activities like the building of the Verrazano Bridge in NYC. My grandmother got me into video games—they used to have this huge projection TV where she would play, I kid you not—Super Mario Bros (all the way to SMB3) and she would fly through the levels. She’s beat all the games numerous times over. To see a highly visible Black woman that into something, that used to be considered ‘only for geeks’ and then to have a Black man teaching me aspects of Engineering, teaching me to literally build computers—they’re really the reason for everything.
How did you get started with Fanbros?
FanBros was initially started by Combat Jack, DJ Benhameen and a group from The Combat Jack show as a space where people of color could talk about geek culture but in a much less, stereotypically nerdy way. They did a couple of shows with all guys and it was clear to them they needed women. Benhameen put out basically an APB on Twitter calling for women into geek culture to join the show. I happened to have experience doing the We Nerd Hard podcast with Elon James White (This Week in Blackness) and had just ended my time there. So I jumped at the chance with Benhameen to do another podcast. I ended up on the maybe 3rd or 4th episode specifically about gender in the culture. We all meshed incredibly well together and really liked each other’s personalities. So we continued doing it and now we’re a family.
What’s your role in the group?
Sometimes I’m the moderator, sometimes I’m the voice of reason, sometimes I’m the referee-it varies depending on what we’re talking about or how heated it gets. Most days I’m just 1/3 of the anchor hosting staff for the show. I’m a part of the team.
You’re the only woman on the team…I mean the show is called Fanbros. How have you made your mark on the show and how has the fan response been since you joined up?
There were initially two women—myself and Jamie Righetti (love her!). She was with us for about a year before she started a new job in media so she remained part of the fam while we continued the podcast with the core group of myself, Chico Leo and Benhameen.
Here’s the thing about the name of the show/brand—in the past people would get hung up on the “bros” part of it—and I get it. People think of things like “dude bro” or the term “bro” to mean some corny frat dudes or something. We saw FanBros in the context of Super Mario Bros 2 and similar games where although the title contained “Bros” the group of bros (the players/characters) were actually all genders (and in the case of Toad he’s—a mushroom…a boy mushroom? I dunno doesn’t really matter). The point is we stressed early on the FanBros as a title is gender-neutral for us and it stuck. I think we have always kept it crystal clear where we stand on that front. One part of the name that’s kind of an easter egg is the first part…the Fan part. It actually stands for something: For All Nerds. And we truly mean that.
As far as making my mark, I know being the only woman definitely lends to having, sometimes wildly different perspectives depending on the topic and sometimes even having a thought at all about certain issues. Being Black AND a Woman is a double dose of fun, pain, struggle, love—everything. I know that other women, women of color and women in general that listen to the show say that they appreciate that I bring my perspective in a room full of testosterone. For the most part everyone enjoys me. There’s definitely a very small group of people that don’t feel me but most of that is less about me being a woman and more about them just not liking my personality. And, as long as you’re not disrespectful about it, that’s fine with me.
There are a number of black geek podcasts all ranging in popularity, do you listen to any? What are you favorites?
You also had a site called Lovebytes right?
I did and still do. It’s not as active as it was a year or so ago because I changed focus to the podcast and now tech review-style videos. It was my space to do tech blogging. I will probably reactivate it soon with a fresh feel and focus because that is uniquely me, its my brand, and its something I worked on very diligently on for a few years. It’s definitely time to bring LAFB back.
With things like Gamergate, 29daysofblackcosplay, etc it seems a bit harrowing to be not only female but female of color in the geek world, which is supposed to be a come-as-you-are community. Why do you think it’s that way?
Funny thing is with the exception of a few, none of these communities have truly been 100% come as you are. So many geeks themselves have become the people that used to ostracize them. They used to be made fun of or made to feel lesser than for liking or having an interest in “geek stuff” but then they have found a space that makes them happy—then, oddly enough they turn around and do the very alienation that was done to them. It’s wild. Being a woman in this world has always been harrowing—none of that stuff goes away just because you’re with a group that, for instance, likes to cosplay or read comic books. The same set of people that have their ignorant or close-minded way of thinking don’t change just because they stepped into a world where you would THINK they would be more open. It’s kind of counter intuitive and quite mind boggling.
What do you think are the biggest issues women/POC have to face in the geek community?
Patriarchy and White Supremacy. There’s also lower visibility (generally speaking) in the mainstream for women of color in spaces and roles and responsibility in areas that have non POC and men tending to get more of the “shine” so to speak. It doesn’t mean we’re not there—quite the opposite. There’s a healthy community that grows exponentially each day. There’s also a large system in place that’s backed by money (and even supersedes money) in order to keep the status quo as is. I know some people may be turned off by this or say I may sound conspiracy theorist but this is the truth.
I think vehicles like G4TV “Attack of the Show” were essential in bringing “Geek” to the mainstream and giving us personalities like Olivia Munn. And then you have these entities like Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Industries or Machinima who are celebrating the culture but also cashing in. So people are using it and becoming famous and wealthy but you don’t see much color on that level. Do you think that’s just … poor timing, or is it symptomatic of a larger issue? Or do you see some properties that are heading to that level?
That is actually something I hope Fanbros and other POC geek culture groups are able to build. You don’t see much color on that level because the people and groups you mention have their own set of friends and faves that they put on–which I assume is predominately white. I definitely think the lack of POC in that space is symptomatic of a larger issue of us having to fight harder to get a mainstream voice. Now is the absolutely right time to get a POC/Black Nerdist industry together–the technology and opportunity has actually intersected at a point that has been unprecedented in the past. While not everyone *wants* to form up Voltron –which is totally fine– I do also believe in strength in numbers. if we, even temporarily are able to create this united front where it’s clear we hold influence (and most importantly influence over where and how money is spent)–that’s when the higher levels will start paying attention. Fanbros is really good at consistently teaming up with other brands and groups in order to create a larger mic and create more opportunity for everyone involved.
What did you think of the Marvel Hip Hop Covers? I know some felt it was a great tribute, others felt it was benefitting off of the culture but not giving any more jobs to people of color. What is your take on it?
I thought it was both. The Run The Jewels cover, the Black Album cover for Black Panther—those are prime example of covers that really resonated with me because I’m familiar with and identify with hip hop culture. Fanbros itself is also hip hop—its in our DNA. However, like with many things in different facets of entertainment it tends to come from a culture that is often persecuted for their behaviors, interests, art, etc—only for the “aha I can make money off this” moment to come about and people start biting off of it and eating off of us. Some people call that “just being smart in business”—it’s also called appropriation, but that’s another story. At the end of the day I would rather there be an uproar so some real movement is made and change is created to bring in the culture originators.
What about the new controversy with the casting of a white man in the role of Iron Fist? Even though the character was always a white guy.
I absolutely get the blow back on this because many will tell you the history of white guys essentially appropriating Asian culture is a trope where Iron Fist was born. People started thinking “hey…how about we actually thing about returning the Asian-themed (Asian-ripped?) character to actual Asian people/actor? It’s not like it doesn’t work. We’re in 2016 are we not?” So I completely get it.
Who are some of the people that inspired you?
Anyone living your life positively and dreaming big but turning around and executing those dreams. People that are able to basically convert the ether into anything they desire inspire me to believe in myself and do more. Specifically, my grandparents and my brothers and sister. My three brothers and one sister each have their strengths and when we get together its like a Megazord or Voltron. Pure magic. I also have dear friends and mentors that I look up to—the people that truly believe in me.
Who is your dream meet? The person you want to meet in geekdom.
Who DON’T I want to meet? I’ll give a very abbreviated list of my real list in no particular order (EXCEPT THE FIRST). I’m also giving a list because I apparently don’t follow direction and am not choosing “a” person :
1. Nichelle Nichols
2. George Takei
3. She’s not alive but, if I could, Octavia Butler
4. Danai Gurira
5. Lupita N’yongo
6. Gina Torres
7. Cree Summer
8. Viola Davis (her as Amanda Waller—INCREDIBLE)
What’s next for you? What is your goal in geekdom?
I want FanBros Show to grow exponentially and move as much as possible into the mainstream. I want the values and the voice of our show to continue while gaining more visibility so we can find out and reach out to those that don’t know we exist. I want to be someone that people feel they can truly learn from and have fun doing it.
PHOTO CREDIT: Tatiana King