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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WisCon Report the First

There is so much to say about WisCon! So many good things and good people and good conversations. If I just did one long con report, your eyes would glaze over by the time I was through with Friday. So I’m splitting things up into parts by theme. The first part is a general con overview. See how organized I am?

The greatest impression I came away with is that WisCon gets awesomer and awesomer every year. I have a great time each time for different reasons. As always, it’s wonderful to see my friends and to meet people I’ve only known online and to meet complete strangers. The kind of people WisCon attracts are, in general, the kind of people I’m interested in spending my time with. Folks who love SF, both literature and media, and who can both enjoy it as entertainment and think critically about it. And, of course, they’re people of a feminist persuasion interested in discussing the intersection of SF and ‘women’s issues’. I was really happy to see more people of color at the con this year. Not surprised to discover that this had a lot to do with the Cultural Appropriation Panel of DOOM from last year. (More on this later.)

I spent the con running around from one thing I had to be at to the next. The concom kindly put me on four panels plus we had a reading for the Interfictions anthology. I also knew beforehand that I was going to do a guerilla reading with the Farthing crew since they didn’t get a reading of their own. And I agreed to organize a Sunday night party for Interfictions. Six program items and a party, I thought that was quite a lot to do and sounded like a lot of fun. Little did I know.

Just before the con, Claire Light asked me if I’d like to be on the new Cultural Appropriation panel even though I was on so much other stuff. Because I felt quite strongly about the issues raised by last year’s debacle, I agreed. On Friday, Nancy Jane Moore asked if I would like to be on the Unfair to Middle Class White Men panel since she wanted to broaden the scope from just talking about women writers and editors to including POC views. Nora, my one time (and fabulous) guest blogger was also asked to join, so I said yes. Then, on Sunday night, Delia Sherman asked if I would be part of her solo talk on editing the Interfictions anthology since she thought some input from authors in it would be useful. In total, that made seven panels and two readings. And I still had a party to deal with.

Yes, I am very tired.

But it’s a good tired, because everything I participated in was wonderful. The panels went really well, I had great fellow panelists by my side, the audiences fostered great discussion, and I did not have to deal with one crazy fool all weekend long. The level of discourse in conversations around the con (that I participated in) was high as well. Like I said, most of the people who come to a con like this are well-educated and interested in engaging with SF literature and media on many levels. Moving from party to party I talked with people about polyamory in Jem & the Holograms, the racial issues prevalent in fandom, which fiction markets were friendliest to new writers, and why the universe continues to be so damn white.

As with all things involving a thousand or so people, not everything was rosy and perfect. Eileen Gunn mentioned an interview she did with a con attendee last year in which said attendee talked about how she felt when hearing the language of the freshly desegregated South used in the Cultural Appropriation panel. That sneaky, subtle (or not so) racism borne out of people who don’t question or have questioned their unconscious biases. As I said before — and will say again in my post about the panel — this year’s panel was meant to address that and I think we did a good job. However, another con-goer (who I won’t name just in case she doesn’t want to be named) said that in one of this year’s panels about trans issues folks in the audience were saying some uncomfortably racist things. The kind of things that no one at WisCon would have said regarding women.

Now, this is not to start off some craziness about how sexism isn’t as bad as racism or vice versa. As many of you know, I do not engage in comparing oppressions. However, seeing that WisCon is a feminist con, it would be seriously hard for someone to get away with saying some sexist shit. That’s just the bottom line. But saying racist things? Yeah, we know that could happen — it happened last year, and apparently it happened this year.

Of course, I did not see it because I was taking part in the kinds of panels that people with questionable views were less likely to attend. And, even if they did attend, it would have become clear real fast that the panelists weren’t going to allow that crap to last more than a half a second. And the attendee who saw this happen said that it so shocked her that she wasn’t sure how to respond or address it. Something else I completely understand. For non-POC who are aware of issues surrounding race, it is sometimes hard to confront racism because they aren’t sure how exactly to go about it or they’re concerned about being the voice of POC when they aren’t one. Plus, when you’re in a room full of white people and one or two (or three or four…) of them say something racist and the whole room doesn’t smack them down, it feels anywhere from extremely uncomfortable to a little bit dangerous. I’ve had that experience myself. Not long ago I was with a group of friends and two of them said an incredibly racist thing and everyone laughed. I was the only black person there and I felt not only really alone and hurt, but also betrayed. I didn’t feel safe voicing what I felt at the time, but you can be sure I’ve stayed the hell away from all of those assholes since.

For next year, I had an idea of not being on very many panels — say just one or two — but going to panels that aren’t about race and just watching. And if I see something like that happening again, I’ll speak out forcefully against it. Because that crap cannot continue. Especially in a space like WisCon. Obviously, I don’t want to turn into some sort of tolerance police. But just as someone would or should speak up in any other con about sexist behavior and words, I intend to confront people about racist behavior and words.

Lastly, I’d just like to give a shout out to all the people I saw and met and talked to this weekend. I can’t name everyone, I just can’t. But some highlights included meeting some of my fellow Feminist SF bloggers, meeting my boy Naamen and his friend Jackie (or is it Jacquie?) who immediately became my true con buddies, hanging out with the UK contingent of my Clarion West class, getting to see my friend Cat Valente on stage accepting an award she richly deserved, looking around a party one night and discovering that I knew everyone there and ‘everyone’ consisted of writers I admire and love, having people come to me and asking if I would take part in stuff both at and beyond the con, hearing people gasp with delight when I said “I also blog as The Angry Black Woman”, finding out that all of the issues I’ve been blogging and talking about on the Internet are important to others and that they really like what I’m doing and saying.

On Monday night, Ellen Klages came over to me and told me that I was awesome. Ellen “I’m so awesome I am glowing from awesomeness” Klages said that to me.

The thing is, I am only as awesome as the company I keep. And this weekend I was surrounded by some of the most awesome people on the planet. People do wonder, with the problems of diversity in Science Fiction and Fantasy, why I continue to read, watch, and write in the genre. Take a look at the list of WisCon participants. Google WisCon in the blog search. Surf the posts tagged on Technorati and elsewhere. Those people are why. 31 years ago when the con got started, it was a different landscape. And 30 years from now when I’m shuffling through the con with my walker it will be different still. I’m looking forward to seeing the shape of that landscape and to having a hand in creating it. That’s what I’m doing to address the issues that concern me, and I can’t think of a better or more fun way.

So, end of the general con goodness. I have posts on deck about the panels and the issues raised. I’ll also try to collect as many related con reports as I can. To everyone I saw this weekend, thanks for making it awesome. To the concom, every last one of you deserves an award.

WisCon 31

For those of you coming to this site because you’ve seen me on a pane or otherwise met me while running around: Hello! I’m going to reference a lot of posts during my panels, so I’ll list them here. Hope you stick around and contribute to the dialogue.

(For those not at WisCon… hi! Um, wish you were here? Regular posts resume on Monday.)

Why is the Universe full of White people?

12 colonies or planets filled with humans. So far I have seen exactly 2 black people (one was killed 42 minutes after he showed up on the screen), one Asian person (who isn’t even human, she’s a Cylon in disguise), one Latino person (whose son, for some crazy reason, is played by a white dude), and that’s it. The rest of the people are all white. White people everywhere.

No more lily-white futures and monochrome myths (by N K Jemison)

Speculative fiction (SF) has been, historically, one of the most racist genres in American literature. Oh, it hasn’t had as many Stepinfetchits or Uncle Toms as the mainstream, but there are few more powerful ways to wrong a people than to wipe it out of existence, and this is precisely what countless SF novels have done. If the crew of the Space Navy Vessel Whozimawhatsit is all white; if a vast medieval epic spanning several continents contains no chromatic folk; if the scientific accomplishments of ancient nonwhite empires are dismissed as alien leftovers; if China is the only continent toasted by an invading space warship; all of this is a kind of literary genocide. (Yes, genocide.) And it’s something that SF has not only done well for years, but continues to do.

How To Promote Diversity in Fiction Markets

To promote diversity in your slushpile and then, by extension, your market, you must:

1. Make sure a wide range of people know that your magazine accepts unsolicited submissions by reaching out and posting notifications in venues frequented by non-white and non-male individuals.
2. Put your money where your mouth is. Publish more stories by established authors that feature non-default people and non-default settings so that newer authors (and readers) will see your market as open to diverse views and ideas.
3. Update submission guidelines to very clear statements of what the market is looking for or lacking.
4. Get creative with ways to attract more diverse subjects, settings, characters, and writers.
5. In the fiction selection process, think carefully about the stories you choose. Publish stories that reflect a true balance (but don’t lower your standards to do so).

Ron Moore, the ABW, and Race

I said: “I just have one thing to say to you about BSG: More black people in the background. Please.”
His response was: “That’s a fair criticism.”

Related: Angry About Rape

ABW’s TV Corner – Doctor Who

One thing I’ve noticed about Doctor Who (and some other BBC shows) is that the show does not suffer from the “all white universe” syndrome that American SF shows do. No matter if they’re in the present or travel into the future, there are brown people there. Brown people of all kinds — leaders, lackeys, stupid, smart, important to the plot, background filler. There are even some brown people in the past.

Cannibals of the Caribbean

I have two reactions to this part of the film:

My writer brain feels that it was unnecessary because it was an extra 30 – 50 minutes spent not dealing with the plot, but driving around the plot in circles until an appropriate parking space could be found. There was no real reason for Jack and The Black Pearl to be on that island. It was padding, all of it. And I cannot abide unnecessary padding in narrative.

My Angry Black Woman-ness is pissed off that, in the course of adding unnecessary padding, they also managed to add racist portrayals of brown people.

Carnival of Fans of Colour

Cultural Appropriation
In which I quote Pam Noles:

This issue of cultural appropriation and representation is not about validating you as One Of The Good Guys, nor is it about denying an artist the right to harvest from many fields during the Quest.

It’s about the fact that for all your proclaiming of I Can, nine times out of ten? You Don’t.

You give us white males. You give us white women. You give us straights. You give us enough Heinlein Coloreds to populate a multitude of multiverses for several generations. …You give us fantasy systems based on standard Brittania tropes. You don’t like dealing with the poor every much. Why are your vampires so very pale and so very rich? Why do so many of your fantasy tropes pull from the Western European traditions? Why for the love of god aren’t you yet sick of elves? To borrow another Absolutely True (for me) line, why are werewolves always men?

Erase Racism Carnival

It’s like trying to find Waldo
A discussion about why there are no people of color (that we know of) in the James Gunn Workshop.

From New York Overheard:

Queer on cell: That show is so fucking white, it just makes me want to vomit. It’s just all these white women; what the fuck is up with that? It reminds me of science fiction.

–51st & Lexington

May 2007 Erase Racism Carnival

Welcome to the 12th Erase Racism Carnival! Sorry this edition is a little late. We had a few issues to deal with at ABW Central this weekend.

This is a very media-heavy edition, mainly because media issues are very interesting to me. The summer movie season is starting to heat up and this season’s television shows are coming to an end, allowing us to examine them completely. There’s plenty to talk about in the realm of literature, too. So, get comfortable, grab a drink, and settle in. There’s a lot of great stuff to read.

Writing and Reading

In the past month, there’s been a lot of talk on this blog about diversity in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror genre. It started with a post by my guest blogger, N. K. Jemisin, called No more lily-white futures and monochrome myths.

Speculative fiction (SF) has been, historically, one of the most racist genres in American literature. Oh, it hasn’t had as many Stepinfetchits or Uncle Toms as the mainstream, but there are few more powerful ways to wrong a people than to wipe it out of existence, and this is precisely what countless SF novels have done. If the crew of the Space Navy Vessel Whozimawhatsit is all white; if a vast medieval epic spanning several continents contains no chromatic folk; if the scientific accomplishments of ancient nonwhite empires are dismissed as alien leftovers; if China is the only continent toasted by an invading space warship; all of this is a kind of literary genocide. (Yes, genocide.) And it’s something that SF has not only done well for years, but continues to do.

Author Tobias Buckell weighed in:

…I keep seeing the same repetition. Someone says SF/F isn’t diverse, people respond by chanting “Hopkinson, Butler, Delany, Barnes” like it’s a magical phrase that dispels the +10 diversity attack spell.
[...]
Is the cadre of writers in the field diverse?

No.
[...]
This could be a larger societal issue, an issue of fandom, the technical nature of SF/F, or that readers don’t see their faces in SF/F and don’t read it and therefore don’t write it, whatever your theory is (and I’m making no accusations or forwarding theories of my own here, that isn’t the point of this particular entry), it still doesn’t change the fundamental fact that is not a racially diverse field.

One way to address this issue is to encourage diversity in fiction markets, particularly the top tier markets. I offered some suggestions on how editors and publishers could achieve this:

  • Make sure a wide range of people know that your magazine accepts unsolicited submissions by reaching out and posting notifications in venues frequented by non-white and non-male individuals.
  • Put your money where your mouth is. Publish more stories by established authors that feature non-default people and non-default settings so that newer authors (and readers) will see your market as open to diverse views and ideas.
  • Update submission guidelines to very clear statements of what the market is looking for or lacking.
  • Get creative with ways to attract more diverse subjects, settings, characters, and writers.
  • In the fiction selection process, think carefully about the stories you choose. Publish stories that reflect a true balance (but don’t lower your standards to do so).

Some editors are listening, so we’ll see what may come.


Matthew Cheney over at The Mumpsimus gives a detailed analysis of a story in the latest issue of Weird Tales.

The question (problem? issue?) of how Third World countries get represented in First World fiction is one that has interested me for some time, mostly because I’m hyper-aware and perhaps hyper-sensitive to my own status as a First World reader.* My ideas about such representations have run quite a gamut over the years, and continue to shift and change almost daily.

Today, my thoughts returned again and again to Will Ludwigsen’s story “Faraji” in the April/May Weird Tales…

The central failure of the story is in its representation of Africa. The story is set in the future, it seems, or at least an alternate present, because there is a “President Russell” in the U.S. By not naming the African country where the narrator is imprisoned, the story unfortunately plays off of “Dark Continent” stereotypes that set all of Africa up as a mysterious, primitive, and brutal Other. It could be argued that the narrator is someone for whom the continent is, indeed, that, but I think such an argument utterly misses the point. The point is: Why tell this particular story in this particular way at this particular time?
[...]
Africa in such a story is not a place at all, but an idea, and that idea is the same damn one that Conrad and so many lesser writers used. There is a difference between setting a story in “Africa” and setting it in a particular place at a particular time. There is a difference between using the idea of “Africa” as a prop for your plot and actually writing about Africa. I think those differences are vital, particularly when writing about places that have suffered so much stereotyping in First World readers’ minds.

There is a lot to chew over in that post, and many more good points than I can quote without making this carnival far too long.


Novelist PL Logan talks about examining prejudices in the context of the writing life:

The reason why it’s important to get at your prejudices (your ‘isms’ if you like), other than the part about everyone else being able to see them, is that unless you plan to write solely about someone exactly like you, you’d better be able to understand the Other (those who are Not You), at least a little.

If you can’t even understand the person sitting next to you on the bus or on the freeway or at your school or job, how in the world can you understand someone living in the fourteenth century, or in Tau Ceti, or in the Unicorn Kingdom?


Megatrouble’s Super Like a White Man? Searching for the Black Superhero in Comics and Film is a thorough examination of the subject, well worth taking the time to read.

Does the superhero genre of film and comic books speak to people of color? While comics have explored race and superheroes with more nuance, the films lag behind in their portrayals of African Americans. I am entertaining the idea, of course, that a “superhero” does not have to be white and male. My motivation for writing this essay, then, is to stretch the notion of what a super or action hero should look like. Because “hero” is ingrained with a specific image–an American white male, usually a firefighter, infantryman, or doctor–we need more diverse models for heroism.


Thomas Sowell has an interesting article on Bookstore Ghettoes that, oddly enough, has nothing to do with genre fiction. Unless you count ‘being a black author’ as a genre.

If Rachael Ray had been black, there are bookstores where her cookbook would not be displayed in the same section with all the other cookbooks. It would be displayed off in a special section for black authors.
[...]
The notion of honoring black (“African American”) writers with a special section in bookstores is just one of innumerable fashionable symbolic notions that ignore consequences.

In other situations, the negative consequences of mindless symbolism can be far more serious.

Movies & Television

Pam Noles has an excellent post about the casting decisions surrounding the film adaptation of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Quoting the New York Times:

When [HBO] broadcasts its two-hour adaptation of the book… at its center will be a new character: a man who was part Sioux, was educated at an Ivy League college and married a white woman.

“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year.

Pam goes on to say:

Can we guess the cultural composition of “everyone” in this case? See, this pale and monolithic “everyone” needed a protagonist for their adaptation of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee… one of the touchstone works about the expansion of the West from the point of view of the people who lost out big time.

And the question that always floats to mind around here when I see these types of stories? Is the contemporary white audience truly as dumb, ignorant and xenophobic as the green light guardians at the Hollywood gate assume them to be? (To be honest, quite often my answer is yes. But lots of times my answer is no…)

…it comes down to we’ll never actually know if the contemporary white audience is not being given enough credit as long as the overwhelmingly pale Hollywood People who make the decisions continue to pull this crap.

Well said.


M H Ayinde gives us an interesting take on a possible interpretation of Spider-Man 3‘s use of dark vs. not-dark Spidey.

During the course of the movie, Peter Parker does indeed seem to be transformed into a strange stereotype of a black man. He becomes a sexual predator. He plays jazz piano. He struts down the street while classic soul plays, Shaft-like, in the background. He hits women, and he has to battle his own raging anger. Sounds like a black stereotype to me.

If Spider-Man’s suit had turned some other colour when he was “evil”, I might not have cared so much. But it turned black and, unfortunately, the connotations are far to obvious to be ignored. Aside from this, throughout science fiction and fantasy, dark is used as a lazy shortcut to mean something bad. How many dark lords are there? And even the word itself is used when a writer is stumped to come up with something more creative – the usage of the word really is a prime example of that old literary transgression: telling rather than showing. If we are told something is dark, we know it is bad, without ever needing to be shown why.


In Keep Your Grubby Paws off My Likeness, Lo offers a different take on media representations of minorities:

…being “underrepresented” in TV shows and commercials means that corporate America hasn’t learned how to exploit you yet. If you watch a TV show or a commercial and you find absolutely nothing in common with anyone, you have no desire to be like any of the people that you see; you are in a good spot.

You have an opportunity to have a future. A future not tainted by subliminal messages.

I’m not sure I agree with her thesis, but it’s an interesting view.


Kevin on SlantTruth takes a look at a few movies and TV shows and what they reveal about America.

New Jack City – Black culture in its entirety. Notice all the Hip Hop played in the movie? This is all that is wrong with the United States of America.

The Godfather – Definitely not white culture in its entirety. A socio-economic metaphor for the difficulties involved in making it in the U.S.

The Blogosphere

Donna, at The Silence of Our Friends, comes to an uncomfortable realization about discussions concerning race on the Internet (and, really, anywhere):

My mistake was thinking that white liberals who blog and especially white feminists were ignorant about the way society and culture affect people of color, if you explained it, then they would be more supportive of our ideas and causes. It took me awhile to see that unity and solidarity were only for their ideas and causes and that for the most part it is all about them. This is what both Nezua and BA are talking about in their posts and how they are rejecting those who are users for only their own goals. I’m not so dense that I didn’t figure out long ago that this is true for a few, but I didn’t want to see the bigger picture and how true it is for many.

This came in the context of an excellent post about White POC – “those who are harmful to us collectively and are as self-serving as many white people.”

…there are POC who will tell white people what they want to hear in order to get ahead, and there are POC who have been socialized and acculturated to believe in the all-American racist stereotypes. [...] This is the unfortunate person we hear about when white people want to contradict our truths with their “NDN, black, asian, latino etc friend” who thinks that racism isn’t a problem and that we’re just making a mountain out of a molehill. [...] It’s also what we are talking about when white people tell us “Not you. You’re one of the good ones.” They mean we are assimilated and they notice we are white POC, or as Archie Bunker says, “You’re a credit to your race.” A white POC will think this is a compliment, instead of seeing it as an extension of racism.

In a sort-of related essay posted on Jesus’ General and other blogs, nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez, The Unapologetic Mexican, writes about The True Front of Progressivism:

SOMETIMES YOU WONDER if blogging is a component of Real Change, done for distraction, provided as a social experience, or is just a game. And of course, it is all these things at different times. In their better moments, blogs can affect people and their views profoundly, just as a Great Book might, when dropped into your hands on a crucial day.
[...]
But we are all selective. And we all have blind spots. That is why situations like JC’s here are good. He has many guest bloggers, and they all bring their points of view. He does not edit, he does not pressure, he does not in any way censor inflammatory posts, and he lets the Whole work its business when he brings in those voices. This is a good way to avoid blind spots and evidence of a true progressive nature in action.
[...]
Yes, I burn hot, as many of the “brown blogs” do. Just as the feminist blogs do. Just as the anti-ablist blogs do. But change and truth are not lukewarm entities or processes, and nobody has to agree with all I write. I am sure JC doesn’t, and I’m sure Glenn Greenwald doesn’t, but they both read and blogroll me. It doesn’t mean we haven’t had rough moments, adjusting viewpoint pangs, or disagreements. But—to me—it means they earn the name “progressive” if only for their effort and willingness to move outside the mainstream boundaries. [...] I have plenty of exposure. I am happy at my place, and happy to guest post here, and happy that my words get out there.

I am not happy, however, to see how contained these points of view and discussions are in the “mainstream” blog world. My point is that there are many who are connected to this struggle. You want to talk about race? You want to talk about eliminationalist rhetoric? You want to talk about LEFT vs RIGHT….but that leaves no room for others, does it? Is there only Left and Right? Is it really so simple?

An excellent, excellent post.

News and Current Events

Jenn and James at Reappropriate take exception to something Pat Buchannan wrote about the mass killing at Virginia Tech. They decide to take him on point by point, delivering a solid smackdown:

James: While I concur with your point about safety in classrooms, the most insulting part of this argument, to me, is that America already has an ongoing experiment where we allow thousands of unregulated, uncontrolled small arms to infiltrate small, closed-in populations. These small arms contribute to thousands of unsolved and ignored homicides every year. We call this experiment the inner city. If you want to know what happens when everyone gets to carry a gun, go to the hood.
[...]
Jenn: While it is important to remember what it’s like to be a 1.5-genner, and the isolation that such an identity entails, the association of Seung Cho’s actions with all Korean American immigrants is ludicrous! The 1965 Immigration Act opened this nation’s gates to countless talents and skills from around the globe; we can’t conflate one person’s actions with an entire race of people, based solely on skin colour and pathway to citizenship.

In We Are All Criminals, Brownfemipower keeps the real issues surrounding the immigration debate up front:

Right now, although anti-immigrant aggression still centers on economics (the dirty spics are stealing jobs/making us pay for their welfare), the driving force behind the debate, the issue that really triggers the debate, is the “war on terror.”

Some of the first anti-immigrant organizations in the U.S. to capitalize on anti-Arab “war on terror” policies were the hate organizations the Minutemen Project and the American Patrol Report. Both organizations were classified as hate groups by the U.S. government pre 9-11. [...]But all of this was conveniently forgotten by politicians, government officials, and universities in a post 9-11 world.


Rachel (of Tavern fame) feels that Racism is the Problem and Shooting the Messenger Promotes Racism, a reaction to a news story about a teacher disciplined because of something published in the school paper she oversees.

The article in the May issue of the Blazer included anonymous comments from students questioning the intelligence of blacks and expressing disapproval of interracial dating.

Some of the anonymous quotes accompanied an editorial by a student staff member who called those attitudes appalling.

Rachel says,

It is difficult from the article to tell if the administrators were more concerned about how black students would feel after reading the bigoted comments or if they were more concerned about how it would make their school look. But if school administrators think that these types of comments are not made on a regular basis, they need to get real. Racial abuse is not uncommon in schools; bigoted remarks are also common. They may be said only amongst racial peers or close friends, but they are there nonetheless.
[...]
Should these students and their advisor be punished for exposing racism? Should we shoot the messenger or attack the message? I think we should attack the message without white washing it, and punishing the messenger only puts a lid on the problem.

We, As Individuals

One of the reasons I love this carnival is that it never fails to bring home to me that Erasing Racism is not just the work of groups of people, but of individuals. People who live in the world and do individual things with other individuals to combat and eliminate racism. Whenever I find the world too overwhelming and it’s problems insurmountable, I remember that I don’t have to take on the world, I just have to deal with what surrounds me every day. With that thought, I leave you my final carnival offerings:

MissProffe muses on one of the side-effects of being a teacher of color:

We chatted about TOCs being role models – not just for students of color, but also for majority students – at a predominately White independent school. S.G. remarked how there is added pressure on TOCs to project a positive image with respect to appearance (dress) and manner (language).
[...]
Is it fair that my colleague and I must cross every proverbial T and dot every proverbial I in the words we choose and in the clothes we wear? No. However, Life isn’t fair, and This Life presents a double-standard for people of color, regardless of our level of education, an impeccable wardrobe, or ability to speak the Queen’s English.

And finally, Rachel S. writes about Things You Learn About Race From a 7 Year Old on Alas, A Blog:

A few weeks ago my partner’s son B was here for the holidays, and as usual he and I spent a great deal of time together. I’m often curious about when and how kids learn about race, and I always observe how B discusses race. He is a dark skinned black child, and I am a very fair skinned white person, which makes it fairly obvious to any on-looker that I am not his biological mother.
[...]
B: “Were [those people looking at us] because I’m black and you’re white? They want to know if you are my mommy.”

Rachel: ”Why do you think that?”

B: (very matter matter of factly) “Because black kids have black moms.”

Rachel: “Can black kids have white moms?”

B: (laughing at what he thinks is a joke) “Black kids can’t have white moms.”
[...]
I found it interesting how conscious he was of other people looking at him and me. He very clearly connected it to race.
[...]
These are the kinds of issues that frequently come up in mixed race families. They are also faced by monoracial families even if they don’t realize it. …I do wonder if it would be different if I was the black one and he was white. Given that we live in a fairly rich area, where many upper middle class and upper class white parents have women of color as their nannies, it is not too uncommon to see black and brown women taking care of small white kids. However, a white women taking care of a black child is almost unheard of, which is why we probably get some many stares.

Thanks to everyone who submitted (even those I could not include) and everyone for reading. Don’t forget to submit posts for next month’s Carnival, hosted @ white anti-racist parent.

Also, if you’re interested in reading more stuff about race in the SF/F genre, keep an eye out for the People of Colour SF Carnival. The first one is due out next month.

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