BlackBird Browser — Because The Internet Isn’t Black Enough

I know I put this in the BlackLights yesterday, but I’m still so appalled by it that I think it deserves its own post.

In case you didn’t see it, there’s a new browser out called BlackBird, aimed at the Black community.  It’s essentially Firefox but rebranded, a new black and white theme, and some add-ons that put buttons in the bar at the top.  There’s a whole explanation of the thing here.

The website says that people should use this browser because it will help create and coalesce the online Black community.  It will also bring you news from a Black perspective, which many Black people want.  The real purpose behind this effort is to make money, but we’ll put that aside for a second.  Because the real question, to my mind, is: do Black people need a special piece of Black software in order to reach these goals?

I could rattle off the 20 different ways in which a person could mimic the tasks that BlackBird does — finding black news sites and putting them into your feed reader, finding the social networks and social bookmarking sites aimed at Black or POC in general, and finding relevant video and video news via YouTube and other, similar sites.  But I am well aware that a lot of people aren’t very Internet-savvy or don’t want to take the time to do all that.  They enjoy having things handed to them already collected and vetted.  This is why portal sites are popular.  This is why social networks are popular.  This is why AOL is still in business (somewhat).  So even though I do not need what BlackBird has to offer, I can see why others might.

Is it a good thing, though?  BlackBird is a sneaky application.  Because while there is all this talk of building online communities and bringing Black People together, the real reason this browser exists is targeted marketing.  There are ads in the browser — oh yes — and ads on the pages the browser helpfully points you to.

I also worry that the people behind it, about whom there is little information, will be more concerned with serving the advertiser’s needs than the users.  What if links start disappearing from the Share function because it points to something an advertiser doesn’t like?  Or links are promoted falsely?  The news comes from GoogleNews right now, but who is determining what news is revelant to Black people?  And will the nature of that news change with the advertisers.

Honestly, there are other, better ways to create and foster a Black community online.  As I said, portal sites are popular and can do a lot of what the BlackBird people are doing but without the browser itself.  When pondering the reason why they felt they even needed a rebranded browser in the first place, I have to admit I got a little suspicious.  This is just my gut feeling and not based on anything but a hunch and a small experience: I think BlackBird probably tracks users’ Internet usage without telling them.  Possibly even something worse.

One reason I started feeling this way is that, when I first installed BlackBird, it asked me if I wanted to make it my default browser.  I told it no, it did it, anyway.  When I reclaimed the defaulkt state for my regular Firefox, that took.  But when I shut BlackBird down, then clicked on a link in my email, BlackBird came back, having made itself my default browser yet again.

This is not good in any way.

So, what do you all think of BlackBird the Black Browser?

What Rachel Moss Did

This past weekend I was in Wisconsin for the WisCon convention. I have a lot of posts to write about that, including some ruminations on panels and some stuff about POC at WisCon. But this post is about something that happened during the convention that is contributing to my angry blackness and making me so angry I want to hurl gendered slurs in this woman’s direction for a week.

A woman named Rachel Moss put a post on Something Awful mocking attendees not because of their politics or their feminism or their willingness to come to Wisconsin, but because they were too fat, too white, too male, or too black for her taste.

However, the problem reaches beyond just what Rachel Moss did. It’s now what other people are doing because of Rachel. And though she can say “I don’t have control over what those people do,” the responsibility for starting this whole mess rests squarely on her shoulders. Being a veteran of online snark circle jerks, I know that had Rachel not pointed WisCon out to these people, had not mocked fat people and 9 year old kids, had not put up pictures to go along with that mocking, and had not set the tone for whatever came after, others would not have attacked us in exactly this way.

Let’s start at the beginning. A few days ago the post went up on the Something Awful forums, a site dedicated to making fun of shit. Rachel Moss, the post’s author, has some serious issues surrounding fatness, her own self-image, and understanding the difference between snark and being a total asscrab. I’m going to quote extensively here for reasons I will explain afterward, but I’m putting it under a cut for your pleasure:
Continue reading

All good things must come to an end

February and Black History Month are over! My limited exposure to the media meant I didn’t have to deal with too much stupid BHM crap this year. Must remember this strategy next time around.

First thing, I want to thank all of the guest bloggers and essayists who contributed to ABW last month. Your contributions were everything I hoped for and more — you’re all amazing and talented folks.

On the guest blogger front, I’m happy to announce that Karynthia will be joining us as a regular political blogger. She’ll usually post on Mondays, though if this election continues to bring the crazy, you might see her even more. Nora will remain a contributor as well.

Due to the awesomeness of the author essays, I am going to make them a regular feature. I might use different themes each month or stick with the history thing, I’m not sure yet. Suggestions are welcome.

I must say, though last month was awesome, was also one of the busiest on this blog in a long time. I loved it, but I am ready for a break. So here are some links to tide you over this weekend:

If you’re interested in more discussion, debate, and musings from creators (not just of fiction, but of art, comics, television, movies, etc.) then I highly suggest you look over the Race Around the Net list compiled by digital_femme on LJ. It’s an excellent place to start if you’re looking to read and learn more.

You may have noticed links to Black News Junkie on some posts. BNJ is sort of like Digg for black blogs. It’s a good place to see what folks on blogs are talking about, you can vote on interesting stories, and you can submit your own blog posts to it. Right now it only drives a bit of traffic, but as more people use it, it will benefit both bloggers and readers more. Go make an account!

For those of you interested in children’s literature written by and about black folks, check out the festivities over at The Brown Bookshelf. Every day in February they highlighted an author or illustrator and there is a lot of good stuff over there.

A few weeks ago I got an email about TheRoot.com, a new website headed by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It’s a bit like a Huffington Post, but with African-American concerns at the fore. It’s also more news magazine-like with the various bloggers only being one component. So far I find it interesting and entertaining in equal measure.

Besides the blogs and news, there’s also a section where you can start your genealogical search and get your DNA tested to see where your origins lie. Now I am aware that this process isn’t perfect, but I am rather interested to see if there’s something in my background I’m not aware of or if I can find out from what region of Africa some of my ancestors hailed from. Still, until I have a few hundred dollars lying around doing nothing, I will just have to wait.

Last and least, here’s the stupidest Black History Month thing I came across on the Internets:

Walgreens Sort of Celebrates Black History Month

Walgreens BHM

Is this a cotton-picking joke? We’ll never know. What crazy stuff did you all find/hear about?

Getting Attention is Nice

Just tooting my own horn a bit here.  And mostly because I’m kind of flabbergasted at some of the things I’m finding lately.

Firstly, back in September Electronic Village named me as one of the Top 10 Black Bloggers on the internet (ranked via Technorati authority).  I came in #5, which really surprised me as I didn’t think I scored that high against some of the other amazing bloggers out there, many of whom are on my blogroll.  Apparently there were 75 bloggers on the list then, and now they’ve identified over 400.  Needless to say I slipped down in the ranks to somewhere between 11 and 25, but I’m still honored to be mentioned.

Earlier this week my blog was mentioned in this boston.com piece on black bloggers.

These intellectual challenges to mainstream and other viewpoints are some of the opinions Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander-American, and black bloggers are exposing on a growing number of sites focused on social, political, and cultural issues. The sometimes facetiously named blogs range from Angry Asian Man to The Angry Black Woman. Readers can find Latino viewpoints at Guanabee, The Unapologetic Mexican, or Latino Pundit. Those interested in information from an Asian angle head to Ultrabrown, Zuky, or Sepia Mutiny. Sites created by blacks include The Field Negro, Too Sense, and Resist Racism. But often these bloggers discard the handcuffs of their ethnic origins to tackle subjects affecting a range of racial or ethnic groups.

These sites – many of which launched in the past year, although a few are older – have become places where people of color gather to refine ideas or form thoughts about race relations, racial inequities, and the role pop culture has in exacerbating stereotypes. The writers often bring attention to subjects not yet covered by mainstream media.

(There’s some discussion going on at Rachel’s Tavern about the handcuffs remark.)

And, of course, there’s my date with the radio, which resulted in some visits from the NPR website.  I’ve been invited back to News & Notes for the Monday after Thanksgiving.  My excitement is hardly contained!

Looking back to a few years ago when I started this blog, my goals were to rant and maybe educate a few folks.  I mostly wanted to have a space to write up my thoughts on race so that, in the event that I got into conversations/arguments/debates on the topic, I could point to various posts and say “That’s everything you need to know.”  The mission has evolved a little, but I never thought I’d have so many readers or that I’d become part of such an amazing community.  It’s pretty cool.  Even if I started out a wee facetiously…

The Grass is Always Greener

Earlier this month, black British actor David Harewood published an essay in the Guardian lamenting the lack of media attention for the “Black BAFTAS” and the lack of black actors on British television.

…in Britain, TV and film producers and directors are still nervous about black actors in leading roles. Ask anyone in the street to name five American black actors and they can do it; but ask them to name five British counterparts and they will be stuck. That is not because the talent does not exist, but because we just don’t get that exposure here.

It is only when they go to the US that actors such as [Thandie] Newton and [Chiwetel] Ejiofor get the parts, and therefore the acclaim, they deserve. [...] black Britons seem to get better parts over there, even on the small screen.

Americans simply seem to be more comfortable with black actors in leading roles, and with the whole concept of “generic” parts in which race is not an issue. Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman have both played the American president, while Haysbert is now the leader of a special operations unit in the new David Mamet drama The Unit.

I find it incredibly interesting to see the view of us from the outside. Considering the issues we have with representation, it was hard for me to imagine anyone looking at the roles for black actors with envy.

And as much as I want to say that Harewood has a skewed view, so do I. I watch some British TV, but most of the shows I watch are either produced by the same guy or written by a guy who works on projects with that producer. So even if I’m seeing a fair amount of PoC, I just may be in the hands of the half dozen people at the BBC who care about such things.

I have been very fortunate in my career in Britain, in that I have managed to play plenty of parts that were not conceived specifically for a black actor. I am not entirely alone in this – think of Freema Agyeman as Doctor Who’s sidekick Martha Jones, for example, or first Adrian Lester and now Ashley Walters in Hustle – but many of my peers have struggled in this respect. To get roles with authority and weight still seems to be extremely difficult. All too often, black actors are only seen fit to be secondary characters: “the best friend”, say, or “the good cop”. I think I have played more black policemen than there are black policemen. And these are not the kind of roles that get you noticed.

By contrast, when I was in America last year for the premiere of Blood Diamond, I was amazed at the variety and scope of some of the castings I was going into. Casting directors told me openly that no new American television series gets the green light without at least two or three leading ethnic minority roles. If nothing else, in that melting pot of a country it makes business sense to have a cast in which the audience can recognise itself.

Hmm…. I wonder if maybe Harewood isn’t being a bit lied to. Just looking at the new SF television shows on this season (which I had to watch for an article… which is going up tomorrow!) I saw a LOT of white people in lead/recurring roles–Journeyman, Moonlight, Chuck, Flash Gordon, Reaper–and the two shows that include CoC in their recurring slots are still helmed by white people–Bionic Woman, Pushing Daisies.

Without events such as Screen Nation, much of the work done by black British people in film and television would go unnoticed. Do awards like these ghettoise black actors, or somehow relegate them? Of course not. If I win a prize on Monday evening, I will accept it with just as much pride as if I had been given a Bafta or an Oscar.

Good question. It looks like Britain is suffering from the same kind of problems regarding race and representation that our media has. But perhaps from different angles and for different reasons. Though I was really pleased with the representations I saw in, say, Doctor Who, others see that show and its spinoff as problematic. There’s still a lot of work to do.

Fortunately, folks like Harewood are paying attention and speaking out. But he’s an actor, not someone who creates shows for the BBC. Those are the people who need to be paying attention.

Oh wait:

Neil Gaiman has said he will soon make fantasy television shows for the BBC.
[...]
“I’ve been in talks with the BBC for about two years about doing an original fantasy series for them, which I keep putting off because my plate is so full.

“I think it’s time to clear some plate for them.
[...]
One option he is looking at is a television version of his novel Anansi Boys which has just been made for radio by BBC World Service.

“I thought this would be so cool if we could do it as four 42-minute episodes for the BBC or even ITV,” he explained. “I don’t think anybody has actually done a drama, the cast of which was almost completely black, in which the point of it was not that the cast was completely black.”

Emphasis mine.

Maybe Gaiman will be a good influence on the BBC. And then he can come back over here and be a good influence on us.

Oh wait:

When Anansi Boys first came out, we got a number of very big [Hollywood] directors going after it and all of them basically ended up saying the same thing, which was they had real problems with a story as black people as leads in a fantasy movie. [...] It’s one of those strange moments when you go “I don’t know if it’s racist or if it’s just stupid…”

Sigh.

Jena Thursday

Though I’m not leaving the house today, I’m wearing black in support of the marches on Jena, LA.

black shirt

I waited to write this post so that I could point to news coverage of the protest. I’m happy to say that it’s been mentioned on All Things Considered (twice) and Morning Edition today. A GoogleNews search threw up a ton of results.

As a black person, I often feel sad that the black community doesn’t (in my opinion) come together enough for social justice issues like this. I was starting to feel we’ve become complacent in the post-post-Civil Rights era. But this protest proves me wrong. Because it’s not just Al Sharptona nd Jesse Jackson “rabblerousing”. It’s a whole bunch of people insisting that attention must be paid. I hope we’ll continue to do so.

Another thing I keep hearing on NPR is that the mainstream media didn’t cover this story very well, but black bloggers kept at it. Now tell me blogging isn’t “doing” something.

Protest in Jena
Click to see more pictures [ABC news]

To everyone who was able to go down to Jena today or took part in local protests: You Go.

ETA: the Thin Black Dude’s post on some Jena reactions is very enlightening.

Dear Black People: Stop Embarrassing Me

Though this website is mostly a people of color positive zone, every now and then I feel the need to vent a bit about my own people. It generally happens when I want black people to stop freaking embarrassing me!

First up, hip hop artist Plies. Yes, his name is Plies. It’s embarrassing enough to have a grown-ass man running around calling himself Plies, but he supposedly waxed poetical with Vibe magazine on why he chose such a moniker:

Vibe: “Plies is an interesting name for a rapper, how did you get that nickname?”

Plies: “Plies is a tool, You can use it to put the squeeze on things, like I’m doing to these niggas in the rap game. I got the squeeze on them real tight, they feeling the pressure, or you can use it to pull things out. I pull out all the bullshit and keep the real you feel me?

It also a word you can use in terms of things goin’ on in yo life, ya dig. You may hear something I say and say that it plies to me.”

Vibe: “I’ve heard of a tool called a Pliers and the term applies.”

Plies: “You know what I’m trying to say my nigga, just buy my album, I’m from the South my nigga, we don’t learn no grammer. My Album out August 7, 2007, cop three copies each, it’s Christmas in July fo’ real, ya dig?

[Source]

Yeah……

Now, I say he ‘supposedly’ said this to Vibe because there is some doubt that this snippet is from a real interview. I’ve only been able to find it on message boards and blogs with no attribution link. It was supposedly on Vibe.com but isn’t there now. I’ve seen some other recent interviews with this ‘Plies’ person, so I don’t have a lot of trouble seeing this as real. But, it may not be.

If it is: PLIES, stop FUCKING embarrassing me! That is some straight ignant shit, yo! Plies is a tool, You can use it to put the squeeze on things — gah!

If it’s fake, I suspect a white conspiracy ;)

This second item, however, is not a product of the white conspiracy.

Did you know that The View now has two black co-hosts? They brought in Whoopi to replace Rosie, not Star Jones. They brought in Sherri Shepherd to replace Star. (No, I don’t know who Sherri Shepherd is, either.) Apparently, Sherri is a Christian. She says that she does not “believe in evolution, period.” As a follow up, Whoopi asked her if she believed the world was flat. Her answer? “I don’t know.”

*tires squeeling, cars crashing*

You don’t know?

“I’ve never thought about it,” she went on to say. “‘Is the world flat?’ has never been an important thing to me.”

See, this is the reason people make fun of Christians. This is the exact reason.

Sherri Shepherd, stop embarrassing me! I mean, come on. Is the world flat? is not a hard question to answer. And if you answer “I don’t know,” that says to me you don’t want to admit, on national television, that you really, deep down, think that it is. And if that is true, then you need to sail off the edge of it. Right now.

The whole conversation is here, if you can stomach it:

Check out the grin on Joy Behar’s face. She’s happy to have two black women going at it instead of one black woman going at her.

Maybe we should write a letter to these folks ala “Dear Black People” or stage an intervention.  Because, really, there is no need for this foolishness.

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