07 July 2007

Black Women: Unsafe in Any Medium?

Sometimes, things happen that make you take a quick look around and find that the landscape is even worse than you once believed.

In this case, the recent flaps over Storm's "It's Not a Weave" scene in Fantastic Four #547 and the racially-lightened Misty Knight on the (infamous) cover of Heroes for Hire #13, made me stop for a quick moment and take a quick snapshot of Black Women in general within the world of Sci-Fi to find...

...That very few characters that can be identified as Black/African-American women are even present.

Normally, such an issue would be ignored or swept under the rug, as you don't find as many Black Women who openly identify themselves as being fans of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy. They are out there, just not as visible.

However, the problem I speak of goes further than that. And outside of a scant few people who even bring up the issue, no one talks about it.

And it comes down to the general image of Black Women that is shown - and constantly bombarded, and that is one of the hyper-sexualized, out-of-control slut - especially in the poorly named "music videos" of rap artists and "top 40 urban" music artists. Male or female - it does not seem to matter that much these days.

(Side rant: Don't bother wasting time with the defense of "It's just TV," or "These girls choose to dress like this," or "These girls are actually very smart - if you check their interviews on how they've graduated college," etc., etc., etc. I will tell you this right now - Those girls are not being chosen because they are smart. They are chosen because they match the look some producer and director are looking for, in this case being the "hawt" woman who can shake her hips and look like she's sultry and sexy and someone the artist - male or female - would either go out with or be seen with. And the video is not highlighting how smart the hawt girls are - only how sexy (and slutty) the girls can be - AND IT DOES NOT MATTER IF THE GIRLS ARE OFFERING TO DO THIS FREELY!)

To tell you the truth, I, for one, cannot stand it. Especially given that counterbalancing images of Black Women actually doing any kind of tasks that do not require her to be loud, argumentative, or actively putting men down (Especially men of color) are non-existent.

This is a failure of the medium. Speaking of Science Fiction especially, Black Women are almost nowhere to be found - and if they are, they are background noise people, and will usually end up being a traitorous bad person or dead. Check out the list here. (Note, this list is not up to date, as since you could add the new Bionic Woman 2007 and Heroes to this list). For me, the saddest fact about this list is that the woman who is credited for being the first Black Woman to be prominent in Sci-Fi is still the woman with the most episode appearances and name recognition. And the show is more than 40 years old!

And Black Superheroines? Where are they? Black heroines in general? Are you kidding? You'll have better luck finding the Anti-Life Equation for Darkseid. And, as for the ones that do show up, they tend to have little shelf life, are given poor villains - and cannot seem to survive without help from others. As point of fact, the 1990s era of toons yielded only 1 WoC as a heroine - Storm of the X-Men - and was given few chances to allow her powers to save the day. It only got worse for her in X-Men: Evolution.

But none in Iron Man. None in Spiderman. None in Fantastic Four.

Comic bookdom for Marvel? Here's one: Captain Marvel. She was given her powers in a typical "accident" and was actually a somewhat capable superheroine. However, there was a single problem:

Her Name.

You see, "Captain Marvel" was actually an alien (who happened to look like a male Caucasian with pupil-less eyes). When that Captain Marvel went away, this one was born. However, when that Captain Marvel's son decided, WoC Captain Marvel gave up the name.

However, Marvel could at least say they tried. DC's track record of even having WoC as heroines, much less Superheroines, is even worse. Batman's 1990 toon halfway featured a woman of Spanish heritage named Renee Montoya, who was a capable Gotham City cop who earned the respect of everyone she worked with by her ethic.

But she wasn't a star.

And Black Women were not seen in Gotham as nothing more than background.

Superman's 1990s return to TV was no better. Between Lois and Clark and Superman: Animated, black women were almost non-existent. Smallville? The same.

As a matter of course, we would not see a WoC as a super-heroine in DC until Justice League Unlimited, and only, as the producers point out in commentary, as a foil for the relation between Green Lantern John Stewart and Shayera Hol (Hawkwoman). While I believe that Vixen was well designed and written for a DC Animated character - and Gina Torres sells the role - it is still not enough.

So, where are they? Am I to believe that there is not a Black Woman who doesn't have access to magic (Voodoo DOES NOT COUNT!)? Or that, somewhere in the universe, a dark-skinned woman with features similar to African-Americans (like Kryptonians are amazingly similar to you-know-who) that can run fast? Or fly? Or, the Deities Forbid, can wield a Ring of Power? Especially when you consider that you've had four men from Earth with this power - and three of them (all White, BTW) have lost their minds (and that power) at some point, with one of them destroying the entire universe afterwards?

Is there not at least a single WoC who can build machines to stop the evil forces from attacking the population? Is there a single WoC who can fight using the martial arts (and I know more than a few who could floor anyone who said "no")?

(Now someone is going to write-in and say "Natasha Irons" fits the bill. My question is, "For how long? She is a scientist like her Uncle John, and she apparently found a way to keep her super-powers, despite the fact that Luthor took them away from her personally. So which Natasha will show up in the Infinity, Inc. comic book? Super-powered WoC or Scientist?)

And perhaps, just once, (and I am pointing this specifically at everyone) can I get heroes of color who gain super-powers and DON'T FIGHT VILLAINS IN SOME POOR URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD? PLEASE?!

Cannon Disarmed*

Rant: Road Rage and Defensive Driving

Driving a car has been a pastime within many countries for decades. In the United States, driving has been synonymous with 'freedom' and 'rebellion.' However, as the decades passed and a love for driving has grown for many generations of people, the number of cars that populate the roads at any given time have increased exponentially.

At the same time, many different kinds of cars, as well as many different kinds of drivers, find themselves on the blacktop. Unfortunately, it is difficult to gauge the skill levels of your fellow driver (not to mention the abilities of the vehicle they are driving) when on the road, and if you aren't careful, a serious incident can occur because of it. Since states do not require a person to attend a driving school to acquire a license to operate a 3,000lb. projectile, many people simply know the rules of the road, and defensive driving skills are found lacking as a result.

Some Tips for Driving While Sane:

1. Your Ego is Always Larger Than Your Engine. It doesn't matter if your car is a 4-cylinder Metro getting 50mpg or a 3.5 liter Nissan 350Z equipped with twin turbos at 600hp. If your intention is drive fast, then drive fast.

2. Keep Right, Pass LEFT. This is especially required on highways of 2 lanes in either direction. In the majority of states it is supposed to be illegal to even drive in the left-hand lane of traffic if you are not going faster than the flow of traffic in the right hand lane. It does not matter if you are driving the posted speed limit in the left-hand lane. If someone is coming up behind you and they are driving faster than you are, signal your intention to move to the right-hand lane, doing so when it is safe - even if it means speeding up slightly to make the car next to you move away, and allow the faster car to pass.

3. You are not the Police. So many traffic accidents and road rage incidents occur because people feel the need to teach someone else a lesson in regards to being cut off or being tailgated in a passing lane. The most commonly used defense in this case seems to be, "I was driving the speed limit at the time!"

Now, I've seen people tailgate police officers and state troopers, which often results in the police car simply moving over, allowing the moron to pass, and getting behind said person - and the police lights come on. However, and speaking from someone who is simply looking for the path of least resistance when it comes to driving, don't act like a vigilante and attempt to "teach anyone a lesson." Chances are you'll end up creating more problems than your foolish attempt at being some hero will solve.

4. The Highway is NOT the Wangan or the Autobahn. As much as I would like to see some of the more idiotic laws on speed changed, there is still a modicum of decorum when it comes to driving and driving fast. Some states have a Highway Speed Limit of 75, and depending on the locale, it usually means there are people doing 80 in the slow lane. However, in keeping with the "Keep Right, Pass Left" theme, blasting down a highway in a car or motorbike doing 140mph while sliding in and out of traffic is a big no-no in my book. Even Germany's Autobahn has the "Pass Left" rule in effect - to the point of German Police pulling over people in the left-hand lane when the right lane is empty. I can't speak for the highways of Japan on this.

5. Assume the Driver in Front Does NOT See You. A number of traffic accidents and road rage incidents happen when people change lanes suddenly. Sometimes, it is a case of cutting someone else off, but often times, the driver in the front car does not check their rear view mirrors correctly. And, astonishingly, people have a habit of waiting until you are within a certain distance before changing lanes to get in front of you. Always have a plan of defensive maneuvers ready (if "cut off," downshift/brake-tap, change lanes; reduce speed beforehand; etc.) besides slam brakes at the last second and hope I don't hit them.

Challenging 18-Wheelers - A Surefire Way to Die. An 18-wheeled tractor-trailer is 53-feet long, weighing in at more than 70,000lbs. with a full load of cargo. Your little SUV - yes, your "big, safe Expedition/4-Runner/Tahoe" is little compared to a 35-ton behemoth - is less than 10% of that truck's weight. A big truck like that requires about 300 feet (that is the length of a football field, BTW) to slow to a complete stop, even with JAKE brakes. This figure goes WAY up if the truck is rolling down a hill. They do not handle like Italian Sports Cars, either.

So why do people continually cut in front of them...and hit their brakes?

There are too many incidents of truckers having their semi-trailers jack-knifing because of foolish and inattentive drivers - and that is if the driver can perform that maneuver in time. More often, however, the car in front gets pancaked.

7. Get Out of the Blind Spot! For some strange reason, people will in passing lanes will drive right up to where the gap exists between my rearview mirror and the side-mirrors...and stay there.

For miles.

For some time, this was not too much of a problem. However, I have had some very close calls with people hanging in my blind spot and remaining there. Now, I never drive at a constant speed (always varying between posted limit 5mph up and 10 down). If I have someone on my left side as a blind-spot driver, one quick downshift and allowing the engine's power to do its job will rid me of this dangerous driver. And if he or she speeds up with me, I don't get mad or even. Because:

8. There Are Idiots Everywhere Driving Everything. Often, when driving, you will happen upon a nutcase who believes that they are driving "The Ultimate Driving Machine." Contrary to popular opinion, "Japanese Import Performance cars" are not the only vehicles guilty of this, nor do American Muscle Cars partake in the "Speak softly and carry big stick" nonsense that is peddled around these parts. In fact, for every Honda Civic I've encountered with a loud exhaust and poor ignition timing (to make it sound like they have an anti-lag turbo), there have been as many idiots driving Ford Mustangs with loud exhaust systems and stiff upper crust men and women flouting the law in their Lexus Sc430 and Infinity G35 (ahem, Nissan Skyline R35 GT-R) luxury cars.

Sooner or later, they will probably end up in a bad accident. Just follow 1,2,3,5, and 7 so you don't end up on the side of the road with them.

Let's be careful out there.