Over Shadowing Narcissus
– 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 has been featured on pirate cat, red handed blog, fcc free radio, mutiny radio, wobc, oakland channel 5, OPB, Denver Open Media, slacker radio, livewire urban radio, savage henry magazine, the black juice, rudmania radio, xmag, the Sacramento Punch Line, the hard rock hotel and casino in vegas, broadway comedy club in New York, berkeley city college, Tommy T’s, the drake hotel in toronto, Kenyon College, Liquid Comedy Club in Boise, Rooster T Feathers Comedy Club, Humboldt University, the comedy store in hollywood, the Grog Shop in Cleveland, Miami University of Ohio, Brandeis University, UT Austin, university of md, uc merced, uc santa cruz, university of arizona – Tucson, and at the Mocha Lounge in DC, Toronto Pride 2007, crossroads theater in denver, mister theater in PDX, Club 5 in DC, the Jokers Comedy Club, the sco at oberlin college, comedy machine in oakland hawthorne theater in pdx, the green mill in Chicago, merchants of reality, brava theater, and brick & mortar in sf, the Oakland metro & all around the continent of North America.
blunt 1- it’s my birthday, i couldn’t think of anything but champagne and citrus when i
woke, mimosas are my primary hydration oftentimes. by the time i got back from the
store for a third time, without success- the blunt was already burning. matt lillard keeps
trying to act like a normal person onscreen, which always disappoints me. i miss the old
lillard, tongue wagging and eyes ablaze, inked up- raving and ranting across salt lake
city, cyberspace & the landscape of suburban horror. i’m living my dream life and i want
to die less than i used to- i have a joke about this, about quantum and the fear of mortality.
eventually, we do what works. i was reading today about how black men fail to ride for our
women- and i had to think back on all the ways i haven’t managed to look out and protect
the concerns of my community. i’ve spent the last decade looking for loopholes in capitalism
and usually it’s the folks furthest away who appreciate me the most. wonder what that means.
that first blunt took the edge off, blur of tobacco- wet eyed, unprepared. music drifts around me
as i consider the steps Linking me, like Zelda, down the path of an adventure i seem to have
chosen. years ago, i mapped out five goals and realized – years later – they had all technically
come true. recently, my goals are less defined and as nebulously qualified. the pot still works.
waxing philosophically, craving that mimosa as my only source of fruit and water. do you ever
sit for hours, wanting to move- reaching out from within your mind but unable to articulate the
wail rising unspoken through your spine? some days i clutch my phone and stare, knowing a
monosyllable i left in someone’s text box will be mistaken for indifference- other times i have to
ask myself why i can’t muster the appropriate emotional response to trauma. i’ve been talking
friends down from suicide for years- perhaps the secret is i want it just as much as them.
mimosa one – i’ve become obsessive with regard to freezers, multi layered frozen drinks for
art and sustenance. you can skip this ad in 3 seconds. here we go- if you chill a pint glass for
half an hour, your beer will be the best you can imagine. i leave mine in for weeks at a time-
rinse as needed. sometimes i leave two inches of water to freeze beneath my beer, it looks
pretty cool: i’ve watched water freeze as it runs down the side of my glass. when i go to pour
the mimosa, i lose time for a second and spill it all over the counter and down the cabinets.
i do pretty much what i want, but sometimes it’s up to gravity. after cleaning the mimosa, i end
up craving a second blunt almost immediately – maybe, just to know i can. mimosa back in the
freezer – i roll one up and watch lillard lose his mind. citrus is my motherfucker – fools don’t know
about mimosas … i know how to drink them properly. the champagne has to be practically frozen.
sometimes i end up covered in champagne froth, the timing is delicate but completely worthwhile.
perfectly chilled champagne, with a hint of pineapple and approximately one third orange juice
is freaking inarguable. i also invented a vodka cocktail and a warm drink called Sweet Mary’s
Vagina. i’ve been fairly productive, i guess.
years back, i was in san francisco at this coffee shop and i asked for pineapple juice. the barista
laughed and told me about some movie i had never seen. long story short, she hinted that i must
have fairly appetizing semen. i didn’t get it until later. supposedly, she’s dating her boss. i should
start another business.
blunt number two i tasted briefly and then snubbed it out. i’m on youtube, cursing their algorithm
out, demanding deep cuts. a glass pipe lays out on the bed, along with this freaking campfire
lighter and a white midget bic, plus the game controller, some napkins and wrapping papers. no
sheet. i haven’t had an actual lighter in about a week. one i can use with young arthritic fingers.
lit the blunt again and it’s gone, oedenkirk rhapsodically philosophizing w/ tompkins over whiskey
on his webseries. i have to leave soon for this podcast, thinking about what’s going well and what
isn’t. letting things go. at some point matthew lillard said some bullshit about how easy it is to make
time for a child, which seemed disingenuous. i’m feeling pretty good but i can tell the high is fading.