Theme Test Run: Andreas

ETA: Thanks for your comments, everyone! They are much appreciated. If you’d like to see what the blog looked like with the Andreas theme, see this screenshot. You can still comment on this theme if you like, but to comment on the theme currently in use, see the link in the “Like the look of this blog” area on the sidebar.

I wanted a 3 column theme because I’m thinking of putting a small adspace at the top of one sidebar (as evidenced by the picture of a sexy man now enjoying real estate on the right) but don’t want to shove all my sidebar widgets down even more. I’m worried that this theme isn’t especially pretty, though.

It comes in several colors, but red seems to be the least objectionable. Black was too muted and green was too bright and happy. I won’t even go into purple and pink.

So tell me, what do you all think? Suggestions and comments are appreciated.

Don’t understand what’s going on? Read about it here.

A New Look for the Blog

For a while now I’ve been pondering a new look for ABW. While I mostly like the current theme, it has a few drawbacks. The problem is that WP.com doesn’t have many themes to choose from and, of the ones I like, each has one big thing wrong with it that serves as dealbreaker. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if I could customize the CSS, but in order to do so here I’d have to pay, which I wish to avoid.

Anyway, I’ve picked out some styles to try but I’d love to get feedback from readers on how they feel. Stuff like is the text too small or the reading area too narrow or does the whole thing just feel too crowded, etc. Starting later today and switching up every two or three days, I’ll change the theme and put up a post where anyone can comment on it. No matter if you’re a longtime visitor or someone who just discovered the blog, I’d love feedback from everyone.

Also, if you’re a WP.com user and truly love your theme, pimp it here and tell me why. I’ll add it to my list of ones to try (if it isn’t there already).

While this is going on there will still be regular posts and one of the widgets on the sidebar(s) will always be a list of recent comments so you can keep up with ongoing conversations.

Criticizing the Critical

On the Kids Hair post, La – msviswan made this comment:

…it also seems black women with natural hair are putting emphasis on black women who prefer their hair straight as having some kind of self-hate. This insinuation (not saying by you) usually offends me.

Which dovetails nicely into a conversation started by Ren over at Feministe that BetaCandy summarizes thusly:

…how do you criticize insane beauty standards without criticizing the women who fit them, or work to? And is it ever appropriate to criticize women who engage in patriarchy-approved beauty rituals?

Which is part of the same problem, methinks.

It’s really easy for black women with natural hair to get on a high horse about it. To put down women who choose relaxers as somehow less ‘real’ or sellouts or shallow people who hate themselves. It’s a +10 attack spell against women who criticize us for having natural hair. Just last week my aunt said that I had hair “from the jungle” and she would just love it if I got it straightened again, because it would look better. When I asked her why in the world I would voluntarily burn the curls out of my hair and thus deny the natural beauty of myself, she rolled her eyes at me. Like that wasn’t a valid consideration at all.

And this is my family. I get it much worse from people who don’t even know me.

The thing is, women on both sides of the aisle give each other shit as part of a defense mechanism. If I choose to go natural and my friend chooses to go straight, we somehow feel our choices are only valid if we convince ourselves and others that the other choice is the wrong one. The truth is, neither choice is wrong as long as it’s a choice you made in your own best interest.

If you love the way your hair looks when it’s straight, then wear your hair straight. Especially if you’ve weighed the options. Maybe you like it straight because that’s the beauty standard you grew up with. Or maybe your face looks best when framed that way. I know mine looks best when framed in curls, which is natural for me. Dreds or braids would be natural, too. But I don’t think they’d look as good. Straight may look okay, but it requires more effort than I’m willing to put in. That’s my choice.

Black people need to stop giving people shit about their choices. If you feel a good friend or family member is choosing relaxer for a misguided reason, say so with love, not with judgment. Same with a natural style. But if you don’t know that person, keep your opinions to yourself unless asked!

Linky Carnival

Since WordPress.com was a little messed up this weekend some of you may have missed a post or two.  Never fear, I am here to point you toward all the angry black goodness.

First, there’s my review of Acacia (fantasy… with brown people!  omg) and an excerpt from my interview with the author.

Next, my rant about Stargate: Atlantis.

Then a post about the last season of CSI and the stupidly racist storyline that would not die.

Also worthy of a look, the 16th Erase Racism Carnival at Alas, A Blog, which is full of links to things I kept saying “I should blog about that!” and never did.

Finally, the People of Colour SF Carnival 2 which is equally wonderful and chock full of good links.  I also neglected to mention the first People of Colour SF Carnival, and that was bad of me.  Especially since it is so awesome.

Speaking of neglect, I realized today that I never, ever linked to this piece I did for Racewire.  Arg!  It was a while ago, too.  I really need to stop being such a flake.

Anyway, go read and comment and such.  Also, I declare this an Open Thread for any random thing you all want to talk about.

What the hell is wrong with i-D Magazine?

You’ve all seen American Apparel ads, haven’t you? The ones with the skimpy girls lolling about because they haven’t eaten in days and expended the last of their energy shaving their pits and pubes? The company owned by the guy with questionable morals and crappy attitudes about women (explanation [PDF])? Yeah, that’s the one. Anyway, the fashion industry adores them, apparently. Some outlets have taken the AA aesthetic to the next level. Take a look (click to read the text):

American Apparel Ad

Jaw not on the floor? Don’t see what’s so wrong with this image? Well, let me break it down for you.

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ABW’s TV Corner – CSI and the ignorant storyline

Don’t ask me why, but I love the original CSI. And even though the season finale made me go ‘meh’, I’m looking forward to this new season. Not just for the return of my favorite investigators, but because they’re adding a newbie to the cast who is not only black but a woman! And she’s not slated to be Warrick’s love interest, as far as I can tell. Double happy good.

Still, if I have to endure another season like the last one, my love for CSI may dim. It wasn’t just the finale that did nothing for me, or the anti-climactic reveal of the serial killer, but one of the secondary throughlines viewers had to suffer through that revived my opinion that the CSI writers are clueless bastards about race.

CSI Cast

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ABW’s TV Corner – Stargate: Atlantis and why I hate it

In comments, Dead Man Walking said:

Another show that I believe has good minority characters is Stargate Atlantis. IMO, they are fair and balanced. Teyla and Ronin are good guys. Aiden is a rogue team member who became a bad guy. I don’t think that they can be more balanced.

Unfortunately I am going to have to disagree with his assessment of Atlantis. I think that it’s one of the worst shows when it comes to PoC portrayal and racial issues.

Stargate Atlantis CastI first formed this opinion in the Season 1 episode Letters from Atlantis. The one where the folks on Atlantis are recording video diaries for their families because the Wraith are coming and they’re scared they are all gonna die. Anyway, in between the main cast doing theirs, there is one female scientist I hadn’t seen before that they bring in for a bit of comedy. She’s Asian, and she spoke in the most stereotypical Asian accent EVER. Like 2 degrees up from ching chong talk. She tells her family all about how her job is wonderful and her boss is especially wonderful. Her comments about her great workplace are interspersed with scenes of Rodney, her boss, yelling at people, calling them stupid, being an ass — you know, typical Rodney stuff. And yet this woman paints him in a crazily fantastic light. Now, either they are playing up on the submissive Asian stereotype or they’re playing up the woman so in love she is too stupid to realize she’s being abused stereotype. Or maybe it was both.

At that moment, I started to wonder how many people of color I had even seen on Atlantis. (After I got over the shock of seeing something so horrendous on my TV, of course.) Upon examination of the reruns, I noticed that NONE of the scientists that came from Earth are people of color. That Asian woman doesn’t appear in any other episode that I’ve seen. Others tell me that there’s one black female scientist who’s never had a line. ALL of the rest of them are white.

The only people of color that come from Earth are in the military, and I think there are only two of them, Ford and Bates. Bates is overly aggressive and shoot-em-up, especially towards Teyla (for no good reason). Ford eventually becomes an intergalactic junkie (no stereotyping there, right??).

Alien CoC include Teyla and Ronan. Both of them are depicted, at first, as being backward, tribal people who are born to kick ass. Rachel Luttrell was even told by the producers to think of Teyla as a ‘simple island girl’. Wha?? Also, why is she the only person of color in her tribe? Everyone else from her planet is white, and we never see her parents. Also, where the hell does she get relaxer in the Pegasus galaxy? Teyla is Teal’c light, speaking in that stilted dark warrior way and being very one with the earth or something. Gah.

(Don’t get me wrong, I love Rachel and I know she’s doing her best with what she’s been given. But Jesus…)

Ronan is a whole other problem. He’s the typical wild warrior man actors of color are often asked to play. He’s shows as overly aggressive and uncivilized. One of the first scenes he has on Atlantis proper is him in the cafeteria eating with his fingers. Later on we find out that he comes from a civilization more advanced than Earth. So why the hell does he not understand utensils?

Atlantis inherited this problem from SG-1, but they take the racism to whole new levels. It’s a combination of no scientists of color with men of color as savage, wild men and/or drug addicts and aliens of color coming from supposedly backwards backgrounds.

Let’s not even get into the Michael as tragic mulatto storyline.

I don’t watch Atlantis anymore.

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Acacia, by David Anthony Durham

We pause TV week to bring you some entertainment in a different medium (psst: books!). A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading a new fantasy book called Acacia in preparation for interviewing the author, David Anthony Durham. Acacia’s debut was much anticipated amongst a certain crowd of fantasy readers because the author is black and the characters promised to be of many different hues and cultures as well. Durham already has a reputation in the mainstream lit world because of his well-received historical novels. His move to fantasy may be viewed by some genre insiders with suspicion–after all, mainstream authors who dabble often do the genre and themselves a disservice. But, in my opinion, Durham hasn’t made any clueless mistakes.

Acacia is an epic fantasy–the first of a trilogy–and contains all the standard trappings of the genre: entrenched royalty, mighty empires, disaffected subjects making war, princes and princesses in hiding, and a fight to regain what has been lost. However, wrapped up in all that there are a few surprises and unusual elements. Enough to make Acacia stand out from the usual high fantasy contenders without going so far afield as to turn off lovers of the form.

The book begins on the cusp of war. The Acacian empire is overseen by the lonely King Leodan but effectively ruled by the shady lords of commerce. The King’s four children are awfully reminiscent of the Pevensie children from the Narnia books. The eldest son, heir to the throne, is a little too serious for his own good. The eldest daughter is overly concerned with her looks but is, deep down, strong and capable. The younger daughter is the tough one, and not at all worried about or interested in the feminine pursuits that define her sister at the beginning of the book. The youngest son lacks the capacity for treachery that Edmund has, thankfully. Durham has other characters for that. Over the course of the book, all four royal children develop beyond their surface sketches into characters one can really care about. Naturally, it takes them being raised away from the posh privilege of their youth to bring this about.

Durham particularly connected with me via the characters. Much more so than the situations they found themselves in or the war that frames their lives. Though he doesn’t disappoint in the worldbuilding arena. One of the great things about the world of Acacia is that it’s multicultural and multiracial, and not in a random, surface way. It’s apparent that the author gave much thought to the different cultures he crafted. Durham doesn’t skimp on the social issues, either. The empire is built on slavery, commerce, and drugs. Neither he nor his characters shy away from this truth. There are no simple explanations or answers, and morality has as many layers as there are shades of skin in this world.

This book will definitely appeal to readers who love epic fantasy while giving them some new elements to consider. Durham subverts some elements of the genre while maintaining the structural integrity. It makes for a very interesting read, but probably won’t appeal to readers who are tired of epics.

My interview will run in the next issue of Fantasy Magazine, due out in October. But I’ll give you all a sneak preview of a section I think you’ll find particularly interesting:

Fantasy: It’s great that you resist pigeonholing… Has that been hard to do?

David Anthony Durham: Part of me wants to say no, it’s not been that bad. But another part of me says that I only feel that way because I’ve come to accept a lot of pigeonholing as the norm. I did write two novels before Gabriel’s Story. The first one got my first agent (an African-American), but she only signed me because her reader (an African-American) was so enthusiastic about that book. But neither of those first two sold to a publisher. They were contemporary, introspective, literary coming of age stories with black male characters as the leads. I don’t think any publisher saw that combo as a homerun.

So I wrote the third novel. That one sold because that reader for my first agent became an editorial assistant. She tried to get Doubleday to buy my novels several times. By the time I gave them Gabriel’s Story they were ready, but would they have been if there wasn’t someone in the room with them everyday asking them to see me? Since then, Doubleday has been very supportive. They seem to think I can do whatever I want and that the box don’t fit anymore. That’s great.

On the other hand bookstores have tried to box me in. Walk Through Darkness went straight to the African American section in Borders. This disturbed me for many reasons. For a while there reviewers were happy to pay attention to my books around February, but sometimes wondered–in writing–why all my titles weren’t published to correspond with Black History month. So, I guess it hasn’t been easy. But I’m always aiming kind of high, so I don’t expect it to be easy.

Fantasy: Lately there has been a lot of discussion about the lack of diversity in the SF genre. Did you know that before you got started?

David Anthony Durham: Sure, and that’s another reason it felt important to take a crack at it. The book is not a “Black Fantasy” (although I wish there were more of those, too). But my experience with life makes it impossible to create an imagined world that lacks diversity. I think only a white writer could do that without even noticing it, without an inkling that’s it racist. In my case, though, I wanted a complete world, multi-colored and messy and conflicted. Just like ours, but different. And I hope that some out there take some inspiration from my doing it as a black writer. We should be able to do whatever we want. And the more we do in the more places the better everyone will be for it.

We talk about this a bit more in the interview and the last part of Scalzi’s interview with Durham touches on some of the same stuff. I’ll let you know when the Fantasy issue is available. In the meantime, go out and buy Acacia if epic fantasy is your thing.

ABW’s TV Corner – Heroes

Someone requested a post on Heroes and I had planned to do one way back at the season finale, just never got around to it. I am very excited about season 2 and hope that it’s even better than season 1. Though S1 was great, it had a few flaws. One major flaw was the end, which disappointed on several levels. Still, it was one of the few shows on television with a diverse ensemble cast that enhanced its best qualities.

Heroes Cast

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ABW’s TV Corner – Eureka

So yesterday I watched Tuesday’s episode of Eureka and, I have to say, it was an example of some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen on that show. Normally I can forgive some meh dialogue and a plot point that doesn’t quite work for an overall happy effect. But everything about last night’s episode made me cringe.

Sadly, this is usually the case with me and Eureka. I really want to like the show and every now and then they’ll wow me with a premise or story or character interaction. But ever since last year’s season finale those moments are rarer than ever.

Spoilers below the fold.

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