Header Ads

The Greatest Black Nerds in Television History

Family Matters - Steve Urkel (Jaleel White)

From all walks of life, television is representing the Black community like never before. From urban to upper class TV shows all types and classes of African-Americans. There's still a long way to go, but we're especially excited about the rise of geeks in culture and Black Nerds. Black Nerds (or "Blerds") are intellectual African-Americans. While culture at large has mocked intellectuals there's been a surge in popularity of the intelligent and geeky.

Today, the season four finale of The Soul Man on TV Land tonight (May 27) has a special guest star: Jaleel White. He's the most recognizable Blerd in TV history, but he's also an accomplished television and film actor, producer and screenwriter. If you've never watched the show, R&B singer Boyce "The Voice" Ballentine (Cedric the Entertainer) becomes a minister and moves his family to St. Louis to take over his father's church.

The history of Black Nerds, or "Blerds" is a long one and crosses multiple generations from comedy to science fiction and everything in between.

#7 - Roger ‘Raj’ Thomas (Ernest Thomas) on What’s Happening!! (1976)

Roger ‘Raj’ Thomas is one of the earliest example of a Blerd. He's a typical teenager living in Watts with his divorced mother Mabel and his younger sister Dee. What makes him so different is that he's smart, polite and well-mannered. Ernest Thomas also wears large black horn-rimmed glasses and dreams of becoming a professional writer. What's Happening! has the distinction of being the first African-American teen sitcom to break into the Nielsen Top 30. Eventually Roger graduates from high school, moves out, and attends college. Decades later Ernest Thomas is so recognizable that people still call him Raj. “I could let my beard grow and have a hat on, and I’ll still get recognized,” Thomas told Mental Floss. “I don’t know if it’s something about my walk or what. I was walking down the street one day in shirt with a hood and a girl behind me asked ‘Raj?’ I turned around and asked, ‘How did you know?’ And she said, ‘Your butt.’ Apparently, I have a distinctive butt!”

#6 - Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) on Community

Actor Donald Glover joked in one of his Comedy Central stand up specials, "I'm a black nerd and that was illegal until 2003." Troy is hilarious, confident and hopelessly nerdy. His character's lifetime idol is LeVar Burton from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unfortunately when he actually meets him he goes catatonic. The actor is also wonderfully geeky as well campaigning hard to play Spider-Man Miles Moreles.

#5 - Carlton Banks (Alfonso Ribeiro) on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Played by Alfonso Ribeiro, Carlton is highly intelligent, rich and awkward. He irritates his favorite actor William Shatner by making lame Star Trek jokes. Carlton also loves Tom Jones and infamously does his "Carlton Dance" to "It's Not Unusual" with reckless enthusiasm. He's the perfect compliment to Will Smith street-wise character and really grew over the course of the series.

#4 - Barney Collier (Greg Morris) on Mission: Impossible (1966)

Francis Gregory Alan "Greg" Morris played the brilliant technical expert Barney Collier on Mission Impossible. His expertise was extensive and included television signals, listening devices, model rocketry and pyrotechnics. He even built a sophisticated computer that could beat the world's greatest chess players. Morris was one of the few actors to play on all seven seasons of the show. At the time, television was just beginning to accept minorities in leading roles. Shows like Mission Impossible, Star Trek and I Spy helped to blaze the trails for the next generation. "My seven years on that show were seven of the most fun years of my career," Morris once said. But Greg Morris wasn't a fan of the Tom Cruise reboot movie and walked out after only 40 minutes calling it an "abomination."

#3 - Dwayne Wayne (Kadeem Hardison) on A Different World (1987)

In a college fill of smart, Black people it takes a special kind of man to be the "Blerd". Dwayne Wayne is that man. He's a mathematics major at Hillman and got a perfect score on his SATs. His radical sense of style and flip-up sunglasses made him an unexpected fashion icon. While unsuccessful as a player he found new life as a ladies man with one special woman.

#2 - Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) in Family Matters

Originally a one-time character on the show, Jaleel White was so popular in his Urkel character that he gradually became its main protagonist. Urkel was the perfect example of the nerd stereotype: large, thick eyeglasses, pants held up by suspenders, multi-colored sweaters, and a high-pitched voice. The audience fell in love with him for his kindness to others, his never-ending love and loyalty. In 1999, TV Guide ranked Urkel #27 on their list of the "50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time". In 2004, he was one of Bravo's 100 Greatest TV Characters. Jaleel White also won several NAACP Image Awards for the role.

#1 - Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) on Star Trek the Next Generation (1987)

Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge started out as the navigator of the USS Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation but quickly moved up the ranks to become keep Chief Engineer. Intelligent and resourceful Geordi became indispensable to the crew and the fact that he was disabled just made an even more groundbreaking.  When casting the role the producers wanted someone with "perfect diction" and said they might "even have a Jamaican accent" and instructed the casting agencies not to submit "any 'street' types".

That's the list! Now, here's more about special The Soul Man one-hour season four finale with two back-to-back episodes:
“Roar!” at 10:30PM ET/PT with Special Guest Star, Jaleel White. When Stamps gets sucked up in a self-help philosophy called The Roar, Boyce decides to crash a seminar to see if it’s legit. Lolli tries to get her salon on St. Louis Weekly’s hot list to boost her business, and Barton refuses to go to the dentist for a toothache.

“Busting Boyce” at 11PM ET/PT
The church is planning a big party for Boyce’s anniversary as pastor, but the parishioners turn on him when he seems ungrateful. To avoid a low turnout at the anniversary, Lolli does damage control at the expense of Boyce’s dignity.

Watch it tonight (May 27) at 10:30PM ET/PT!

Head to the official site to learn more http://www.tvland.com/shows/the-soul-man

Who's your favorite smart Black person on television? Is there anyone we should add to the list?

If you enjoyed this, then please use the buttons below to tell your friends about this post!
Follow us! Email| RSS|  Twitter | Facebook


  1. Carlton was indeed a nerd. Made for a real funny show.
    I'd say La Forge is more geek than nerd. And a really cool geek at that.

  2. La Forge is constantly telling Picard what the ship can and cannot do and all this from a blindman wearing a visor! Great character.

  3. Those are some good choices. Urkel was one of those Fonz situations where he wasn't supposed to be the star but then everyone liked the character so much he sort of took over.

  4. I always love the lists!
    I would add Raj from What's Happening. He had the thick black glasses, and he wanted to be a writer...*looks in Nigel's general direction*

  5. Carlton was fun, and it was impossible not to love Dwayne Wayne. Great list.

  6. I fail to see the resemblance...just kidding, I loved that guy

  7. My mom loved Different World, so I half to share this with her just to see number 3. I wonder if she even knows who LaForge is?


Thanks for commenting!.