– On Black Reflectivity

I. And Sleep Defeated Blindness

Then Doondari created blindness and blindness defeated man.

But when blindness became too proud,

Doondari created sleep, and sleep defeated blindness;

But when sleep became too proud,

Doondari created worry, and worry defeated sleep;

But when worry became too proud,

Doondari created death, and death defeated worry.

But when death became too proud,

Doondari descended for the third time,

And he came as Gueno, the eternal one

And Gueno defeated death.

– Fulani Myth

i don’t always see myself in black movies.

what feels like hip hop to you – notorious?

straight out of compton? belly? the get down?

luke cage? for me, it’s the art of rap.

dear black people,

when do you feel represented? how can you know you are seen? daily, i question the value of my time- certainly

less than oprah’s. i didn’t grow up in a black house – or a white one, really. placing my identity in the rorschach

on the wall.

cue narcissus, transcendence of living echo over gristle and plasma – begging the question: did Biggie really die?

i’m sayin – are you an artist or a black artist. man or a feminist. liberal, democrat, independent – nah. peeping afro

-centric cinema recently – black films didn’t always feel like me – before the ruckus, lemme clarify. i got all the love

for spike, even when i can’t always make the journey – but there have been real serious gaps in my education.

here’s the thing – i never watched Roots. somehow 12 hours of whips and chains felt pretty optional, most negroes

seem to have indoctrinated their children in the flickering light of our limited representation – my mother showed me

the Wiz. blaxploitation, i sought out on my own, but a lot of nigga picture shows struck me as hastily, slapped together.

cosby & in living color, two shows with elements of black production scattered across screens of my childhood, reading

rainbow echoes faintly in the background – i wasn’t raised on tv, catching moments where i could, two and a half decades

projecting my own energy towards hollywood, from a distance i can’t argue as particularly safe.

a black story that represented me, seeking glimpses of myself as one of Ocean’s eleven- cuz cheadle can do no wrong.

never been black enough to see myself as Bernie Mac. i put on petey green’s documentary to witness a vision of the district

as it could have been – marion disappointed us and chuck brown never went global – petey stood up johnny carson and kept

it in the 202.

levar burton humming – butterfly in the sky, i can identify with your purgatory of transformation.

film editors sculpt story from abstraction, sight and sound combine to trick the mind. judy garland’s minstrel scenes struck me

as a perfect mascot for the spirit of hollywood. take what you want and leave the rest. and al jolson’s dim inverted gaze. amos

and andy as a funhouse mirror, distorting perspective and obfuscating the progress of african elevation.

optics of the channel fox, as we pretend Dionne was any more woke than stacey dash.

it’s a 90s thing, you wouldn’t understand.  that’s so Jim Crow– shout out to a disney dumbo? we grew up in the nick of time –

to see keenan divorce kel on his rise to saturday night. but all the black stories on snl got twisted. and we keep on dreaming:

if hannibal could do it, so can i.

Buress was the vortex who reclaimed cosby’s identity, refracting all the lightest coverage of the news into a narrative so dark,

we could no longer look away. ben carson in the limelight, throwing shade. i listened to shep gordon describe how he shut

down the chitlin circuit, apparently alone – with a deathwish and a client list.

i never ever wanted to watch the Gods must be crazy. & i straight up do not understand what tyler perry is doing. i don’t

fucking get it. but somebody loves that shit. i mean shit, people loved lost and the walking dead. my theory- that honest

representations of black fictional identity tend to demonstrate more sophisticated acting technique. then again, spike lee put

himself in his own films an awful lot in the 90s, which makes sense – to cut the budget, or make out with rosie perez.

i’ve been attempting to trace out the chiaroscuro of black identity in popular american culture.

there is a dinka tale of mortality – how a high god cut our coil connecting life and death, when a greedy farmer wounded his eye

with her hoe. try unpacking that. i’ve tasted the flavor of MTV and i don’t think it was love. call me crazy – i can only get with

dear white people, while i’m getting head. that’s the only time it makes sense. riddle me this – if Luke Cage is bullet proof, then

why all those plot holes?  did soul food nourish you? How Real are the Husbands of Hollywood? where’s my love jones for Love

& Basketball? why doesn’t my heart beat for kevin’s ebony empire? where am i located on the spectrum, channeling film and

television upwards of twelve hours per day.

i grew up in living color but my favorite wayans performance was in requiem for a dream. kevin spacey in 2000 was an american

beauty, but his performance couldn’t touch marlon’s. go back, rewatch & tell me different.  the projections of tinseltown, like some

Luyia myth- a chameleon, cursing us with death.

“nobody told me death was so damn fine,” quoth the poet Dante (Smith), roming this land to witness his Brooklyn inferno.

my umi says shine your light on the world… for the world to see … for black people to be free“. ad infinitum. BET’s shallow

reflection, reminiscent of a compact mirror – occasionally captured fractals of our diasporic lineage.

then again, if there was an academy award for titles – i would have had to cast a vote for Black Snake Moan.

sho nuff. bumping metal fingers on the way to catch the Man with the Iron Fist (as opposed to episode six of the – white

Iron Fist, directed by Robert Diggs for Netflix) it seemed like RZA had hacked the galaxy. i was less sure what to think on

my way out of the theater. certain sources i only approach with skepticism, but music television struck a chord with Hustle &

Flow – every so often, hip hop in cinema echoes my origin story as a master of ceremonies – i never really battle rapped; but

my crew felt the hunger of marshall on the 8 mile, straining to escape the shadow of obscurity.

to be continued…

On Black Reflectivity

– Over Shadowing Narcissus

II. Feather of Anubis

A Declaration Of Innocence Before 42 Gods:

“I have not defiled a god.

I have not worsened the lot of an orphan.

I have not done what the gods detest.

I have not calumniated a servant to his master.

I have not caused either pain or hunger.

I have not brought forth tears.

I have not killed.

I have not commanded to kill.

I have not caused anyone sorrow.”

book of coming forth by day

Osiris stole Anubis’ crown of death and left Anubis weighing truth against a feather

as we, the living, walk our Famished Road– shout out to okri. here, i am -watching

queen sugar, contemplating the fabric of my existence. summer light is on and life is

precious. Gabby Sidibe took sapphire’s story and ran with it. i could not figure out a

reason to watch Precious. some of these stories call me back to the spoken word era

and our exploitation of tragedy – who are these stories for? am i missing something?

i heard the media response to Push’s film adaptation & i’m all for Netflix & Depression

but i’ve never had a friend suggest we watch the film. i did see Antwone Fisher. certain

films aren’t optional- Denzel dipping back into an ancient well; raising his bucket from

a deep pool, illuminated by the sky. i heard a story about Amistad, Djimon Hounsou

sitting somewhere on a curb in paris – ashes to classy, from squalor to success.

and i got mad love for steve mcqueen, but my friend said his movie killed her mom. 30

Rock had a plotline where tracy jordan won an oscar for his starring role in a film called

Hard to Watch. we streamed 12 years over broken wi-fi in the kitchen, but i kept leaving

the room. black history is american history – these stories are for all of us.

but do i need to watch a white man’s version of my history? narcissus’ self reflection,

stirring up dirt – muddying perspective like the pregnant pause between Nate Parker’s

rape accusations and the birth of a nation. nothing compelled me to attend the premiere

of 50 years a Butler. with a black man in the white house, i couldn’t see the Forest for

the trees. “2016 on the curb of 1600 light up a burning bush”. they legalized weed in

the district but we could have had bernie sanders. i was born in the march like selma, in

shadows of our capitol- under threat of capital punishment. films about the civil rights

era tend to get a spit shine, but i prefer my bio pics with dirt under their fingernails.

Boycott. JFK. i couldn’t sit through all the black power mixtapes, but those nordic

documentarians distilled the alchemy of our struggle. i sampled angie davis and

switched back to edward thomas hardy. hasan minhaj just hosted the correspondence

dinner and he wrecked shop in donny’s absence. but watching keegan michael translate

president obama’s anger in two thousand fifteen transcended reality for me.

there were as many africans drowned in the atlantic from triangular trade as jews lost

in the holocaust. But we had obama in the oval office, barack between two ferns &

barry O dropping nigga bombs on WTF. Larry Wilmore lost his job for that shit in ’16.

i always dug the concept, but was torn about what sometimes felt like high-yellow

respectability. last year, he held up a barber shop mirror of our brotherhood to the

edges on his closing line, but he scared off the white folks at comedy central.

we were waiting on Key and Peele to make a film, from season one. i saw keanu as black

neutral on a clear day, like the sky over a lake at the family picnic. a flavor like clean

water – cool, refreshing with no after taste. it went down easy, but i can barely remember.

dan harmon theorized ICE T as a crystalline elemental spirit. what’s cooler than being cool?

i could never decide how i felt about idlewild. but nobody would finish this essay if i said

i’d never seen Friday. i ain’t got a job, i ain’t got nothing to do & it’s thursday – i should see

that shit again tomorrow. i really need to get some DVDs- you can find them, scratched, at

goodwill- for a couple dollars each; or a better way to bootleg. cumulatively, i must have

spent entire seasons inside of movie theaters, getting drunk, fucking- even toking herb,

waiting for the next token black actor to appear, and – often- die.

boyz n the hood. menace II society. i can’t remember which is which – blame the wayans:

Don’t Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood, actually

holds up shockingly well. hip hop, remixing itself into a vision beyond the boundaries

of our block. i was blessed to see Chappelle’s show at Lincoln Theater for my eighteenth

birthday and i knew something was happening that i could never lose. i saw my self on

that stage, as he laid on his back and gazed up towards the balcony.

that spotlight shown like dumbledore’s mirror, illuminating the path i wanted most to follow.

i went to see Sleight, based on a facebook ad, tracking my interests and likes to guide what

ever dollar’s in my pocket back home to the corporations where it, apparently, belongs.

they had me cold. do you ever feel that your phone may be reading your mind?

Sleight was a windshield, clearing space for a black story not bound by whiteness, or desperate

to escape from it. we can be our own heroes and demons- with a mirror facing backwards, but

both eyes on the road. i didn’t want to write a thinkpiece on Get Out – that shit was a cinematic

essay; Jordan said everything he needed to say. them crackers thanked him for taking their money,

but we knew who the film was for- a musical jewelry box, eerily playing out the shadows, reflecting

on some gem that time may have forgotten.

do the right thing. the invisible man. beasts of no nation. dogfight. the wire. go tell it on the mountain

slivers of a broken mirror, pieces of our story- they called it bad luck, but we carry our history with us &

it still cuts deep. i stare up at moonlight, down at the motion of light in water – discovering disparate

elements of my own cultural composition. we human beings are made of water, slowly drying up over

time, til we all eventually crumble. “i didn’t know you liked to get wet.”

i went from bourgeous to homeless, in the way of the prince & the pauper- a black artist in the cacophony,

like eric andre, destroying whatever i’ve set up around myself, broadcasting on the wavelength of a cartoon;

til the set returns to black, reflecting everything else in the room. David Bowie named his last record Blackstar

and I wonder what Mos Def thinks of that. the first time i heard sinead o’connor, nobody told me whose song

she was singing. memory can be funny like that. but, next time you’re on youtube – look up what etta james

did to prince rogers nelson’s masterpiece: a tear might fall in lucid puddles of the purple rain.


~baraka noel

Don’t forget to check out an episode of The Nitty Gritty Show!

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By baraka noel

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