Category Archives: The My-Stery

The My-Stery: The Legba Circuit in Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’

“After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, The Prologue,” a 1999 photograph by Jeff Wall

Two of my favorites quotations from Invisible Man: “Beware of those who speak of the spiral of history; they are preparing a boomerang. Keep a steel helmet handy” and “The old is ever new.”

Today is Ralph Ellison’s Birthday and he would have been his 100th birthday. So, here is a taste (a short summary) of my essay, “’The Electric Impulse:’ The Legba Circuit in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” which I submitted to be in Afrofuturism 2.0, an anthology edited by Reynaldo Anderson and Charles Jones.

Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s quotation, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration,” I argued that Legba (also associated with Eshu, Exu, etc.) is the guiding force of Ellison’s novel, incarnating himself through several of the characters in the book and under-girding the main themes of the book. 

When it comes to dissecting the novel, many will focus on the intersections of technology and race or even the musical aspects of it, since Ellison was a trained musician before becoming a writer, but rarely do they explore the spiritual, mythological and cosmic framework of the novel in relation to those other elements. Ellison had said himself that he uses myth and ritual as part of the process of his own writing in the Paris Review and he makes several references to those mythic ideas within his work. Thus, the novel intersects the two strands of spirituality and technology, much like the major guiding Legba-like character for the narrator, Rinehart, the spiritual technologist. Ellison uses the surface of technology to explore deeper questions of race, history, humanity, spirituality and understanding of the universe.

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The My-Stery: The Ghost of AfroFuture…

Art by Moragot

Social Death, Wounded Transformations and The Hauntings of Prophetic Tradition :

Tomorrow is Christmas and one story that came to mind in relation to afrofuturism, and especially after I watched Arthur Jafa’s Dreams Are Colder than Death, was Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the story’s ghosts of past, present and future.

In the Western imagination, blackness, darkness and Africa (Heart of Darkness) to an extent has represented a kind of social and metaphorical death. For example, Edgar Allen Poe’s tropes of blackness and darkness representing death and evil in works like “The Raven” (the animal also representing the antithesis of the “human” in western construction) and his lesser known novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Even today, we still see the pervasiveness of it, such as Justine Sacco‘s tweet about Africa and aids, reinforcing the implication that Africa as a whole is a wasteland, a place of death only, or even ghettos across America where they are only viewed through lens of crime and death.

But that imagination also be observed within the diaspora as well. Jafa mentioned in the discussion after the film that in one particular West African indigenous group, if certain children were past the point of initiation, they were not able to be reclaimed and thus were left in the woods to die. He asked how did that relate to the diaspora; are we the monsters in the woods, the dark big bad wolf in a sense. Jafa emphasized that this was something we need to address to heal.

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Posted by on December 24, 2013 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, The My-Stery


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The My-Stery: The Social Brain, Psionic Ability and Shiftings of Mind, Body and Space

Source: Scientific American

While reading this morning Brainpicking’s, “The Science of Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” the article stood out to me because of its connection between sociality, survival and mindreading:

“[Matthew D. Lieberman] argues that this osmosis of sociality and individuality is an essential aid in our evolutionary development rather than an aberrant defect in it:

Our sociality is woven into a series of bets that evolution has laid down again and again throughout mammalian history. These bets come in the form of adaptations that are selected because they promote survival and reproduction. These adaptations intensify the bonds we feel with those around us and increase our capacity to predict what is going on in the minds of others so that we can better coordinate and cooperate with them. The pain of social loss and the ways that an audience’s laughter can influence us are no accidents. To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.

The implications of this span across everything from the intimacy of our personal relationships to the intricacy of organizational management and teamwork. But rather than entrusting a single cognitive “social network” with these vital functions, our brains turn out to host many…”

“The Social Brain and Its Superpowers”

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What Is Afrofuturism? Part 17: Decentering Cultural Space in Afrofuturism

Afrofuturism as an aesthetic and critical lens is known for its analyses and strategies of decentering and revising norms and stereotypes about race, gender, sexuality and class, but as Afrofuturism is expanding, there are other areas, besides the ones mentioned before, to still be worked on like issues of globalism (“the neoliberal vision of homogenising the planet”).

Is this ratchet/hoodrat stuff or futuristic? Source: Hoodfuturism

Going through the tag on afrofuturism on tumblr, conversations have been brewing about whether there is a need for a label for urban afrofuturism or hoodfuturism (here is one explanation). Some say no because afrofuturism is an all-encompassing term, whereas others say yes because it highlights specific subcultures and specific critical analyses of those cultures that may go unnoticed. In that respect, I have to agree more with later. Although afrofuturism is an umbrella term, much like blackness, there are specific identities and localities of being within it. Depending on where you are or where you come from, afrofuturism may have a different local ethno-cultural aesthetic (and issues of class may come into this as well).

This is not only a problem within afrofuturism, but overall. Dr. Yaba Blay mentioned in an interview with W. Kamau Bell on Totally Biased about the confusion between black and African-American and how Americans immediately conflate black with being specifically U.S. Black American. As a Ghanaian-American, she says, “African-American to me really reflects a type of American narcissism in a particular way.” And she is not disrespecting the label of African-American, she is highlighting a specific ethnic, cultural locality. A lot of members on tumblr have also been in arguments over this kind of American and Western centralism.

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Posted by on November 16, 2013 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, The My-Stery


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The My-Stery: Why STEM Fields Need an A(rt)…

Picture from boxset of science films of Jean Painlevé

A few days ago I witnessed a twitter battle between astrologist Sam F. Reynolds and Science Nerd/Blogger Rai Elise on November 5th (click on view conversation to read her tweets) over the legitimacy of astrology and the conversation highlighted some important and common conflicts between art fields and science/math/technology fields. Reynolds says some key things in his argument that I wanted to spotlight (I rearranged the tweets):

“Science is only as good as its tools, like everything else…The tools of science have their limits like anything else. People seek astrology for meaning. Science may do that less for ppl.”

“I don’t have a hope of an objective reality. Even with our scientific tools, we see the cosmos as we are…It’s not objective reality we’re talking about. It’s consensual reality…We’re not talking about tools of science, but what inspires them and the net meaning derived from them”

About electricity: “That’s still a consensual use of a force that most of animal kingdom has no use for. Not free of subjectivity”

“You say it’s not true, but do we have independent & known perceptions of things from other species on this planet?”

“Astrology ultimately comments on behavior using planets as references…Astrology isn’t about studying nature, but the study of human nature as symbolized by celestial phenomena…The natural world has its motions, but how we assign meaning is the province of all other arts. Are they less important? …Astrology is poetry applied to celestial events. What’s to prove with poetry?”

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The My-Stery: Holidays, Celebrations and The Pleasure of Racist Masquerade

Source: News One

Anyone on social media has probably already come across the shitstorm of white people dressing in blackface/brownface costumes. The recent events have included dancer and actress Julianne Hough‘s Orange is the New Black costume, the 21-year-old Australian woman’s “African”-themed birthday party, the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman costumers, Italian fashion designer Allesandro Dell’Acqua‘s “Disco Africa” themed Halloween party and the San Diego high school football coaches who wore blackface for their Cool Runnings Halloween costumes.

When we look at these photographs, we see ignorance, insensitivity, prejudice, and disrespect, but often we do not examine how these ritualistic masquerades are part of a production of and investment in pleasure and community at the expense of people of color. The main reason why they continue is that their is an enjoyment and communal, identity-structuring power, albeit sickening, in doing so. It is no coincidence that often these blackface costumes are done during times of celebration and joy, like Halloween, birthday parties, and Christmas, as in the tradition of Zwarte Piet in The Netherlands. As holiday season comes, we see the greater occurrences of these costumes. wrote a post, “The Delicious Pleasures of Racism”  about the sadistic kind of pleasure white Netherlands enjoy from dressing up as Zwarte Piet:

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The My-Stery: Tribute to Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes

After reading Shadow and Act’s review about the TLC biopic, Crazy Sexy Cool: The TLC Story, I was reminded of how much Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes is underrated as an artist. In TLC, some thought of her as mainly the wacky and crazy rapper of the group who burned her boyfriends house down. But if we listen to her raps and works, they show that she was also an intelligent, sensitive, and beautiful thinker.

The biopic itself lacked the depth I wanted to see in the film; it felt rushed, focused too much on the drama of their relationships and gave slightly one-dimensional portrayals, even if the acting was good. At times, the film did hint at Lopes’ positive mind and spirit. For example, she was the only member who explicitly disliked the song “Creep” (which I admit that although I like, is a foolish song about cheating on your man because he cheated on you), her wanting to go in a different direction with the group, including take inspiration from Parliament and sci-fi, then her attempt to release her Outkast-like album Supernova, and her final spiritual journey. But I wanted it to show more of that side of her. By the way, she was also the TLC member who introduced us to the music group Blaque, who are know for their futuristic videos. She was definitely the most interesting member of TLC and I wonder what she would be doing today in her career with TLC and as a solo artist.

Lisa Lopes was a complex, inspiring and creative person and I wish we had more time with her to appreciate her. RIP Left Eye.

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The My-Stery: Domestic Violence and Speculative Fiction is both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Black Speculative Fiction Month, so, I want to highlight a campaign and a works of speculative fiction that brings awareness to domestic violence. The campaign I want to focus on is 31 for Marissa in honor of Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot from a gun to protect herself from her abusive husband and faced 20 years in prison for it, following the rejection of the “stand your ground” defense. In September, she received a chance to get a new trial, but still without the “stand your ground” defense. Esther Armah from Emotional Justice writes about 31 for Marissa:

“Emotional Justice Unplugged, Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Women, Free Marissa Now launch a month long multi-media letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. Throughout the month, we are urging men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, share stories of violence experienced by women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic Cover for 'Flee: A Short Story'violence movement. Participants are also encouraged to invite, inspire, challenge and engage 5 other men to join the campaign. We are asking a nation of men—of all creeds and colors—to stand up and engage in the pursuit of freedom of a Black woman.”

One of the tumblr websites, theSWAGspot, as well as other voices have been participating in the campaign, writing heartfelt letters, poems, anecdotes and articles.

Authors have featured domestic violence and abuse in their works, like Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber, and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lillith’s Brood and Patternist series. Last year, speculative fiction author, Alicia McCalla, published her short story, Flee, which tackles domestic abuse through a fantasy lens. It is suppose to be a prequel to her upcoming Soul Eaters book. You can read it for free, here and here.


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The My-Stery: Our Future Selves Are Strangers?

Random Thoughts:

I came across a few articles and a video about how our brain sometimes prevents us from planning our futures because we do not see our future selves as us but as strangers. In NY Times article I read asked and answered, “Why does this matter? Because our connection to our future selves can have an impact on lots of important decisions we make right now about our lives.” Listening to the news this morning about the government shutdown in the United States, and how our bigger problem is our government and country not planning for the future. But do certain conditions keep us from projecting into the future — not seeing ourselves living past a certain age, not seeing opportunities and access for us, or those of us who are too immature, stubborn, self-absorbed or lack the self-discipline to do so? Do we not see our future selves because of a lack of belief or imagination, as Daniel Goldstein says here. Are we committed to our future or too wrapped up in our present selves and wants? This is an interesting prompt for a time-traveling, or interactions between present and future versions of oneself, story or poem, no?

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Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Afrofuturism/Afrosurrealism, The My-Stery


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The My-Stery: Janelle Monae and the Struggle for Black Complexity in Mainstream Media

“Narrow views of Blackness lead to a sometimes stalled consumption of challenging art and media.” – Dara M. Wilson
While reading the Pitchfork feature on Janelle Monae, some of the issues concerning her art process and the reception of her art reminded me of the balancing act between black intellectuality and black physicality and the mainstream media tendency to lean towards more of the latter or other forms of stereotypical blackness.
Mainstream audiences have been trained to go and appropriate to the most accessible forms of black cultures that tend to fulfill stereotypes of black cultures (ex. Miley Cyrus and twerking, Madonna and vogue). Mainstream audiences do that in general, not giving as much attention to the more inaccessible/harder to decipher parts of cultures or to more than one part of them at a time.
I see Monae as part of the lineage of black artists who want to challenge the preconceived notions of blackness, like Sun Ra in the above clip from Space Is the Place. Or, as Nelson George said about funk bands, like Parliament Funkadelic, who were large, musically experimental bands that wore outrageous costumes with their chests all out in the open. They were not many people’s definition of a “safe negro.” They are not easily digestible, they do the unexpected, and I like that, but I understand that the majority does not because it’s scary. It is a possible reason why Monae does not receive as much attention as she should on the charts, according to Pitchfork.
Also, to top it all off, Monae includes what the other artists I mentioned before did not as much, black womanhood and black queerness. For example, her creation of the cyborg metaphor of Cindi Mayweather to comment on otherness and intersectionality. Or her latest album, The Electric Lady, as she tries to balance the two sides of the futuristic and earthliness more this time, we still have Monae paying tribute to womanhood and black womanhood in songs like “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Electric Lady,” “Ghetto Woman,” “Sally Ride” (think of the girl games that are often referenced in male musical artists’ songs), and “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” (an obvious play on “Bette Davis Eyes” song, a nod to an ignored black sex symbol, and someone Monae looks a lot like). Monae pushes the mainstream to recognize black girl genius, black queer genius, black histories on the peripheral and black otherworldliness, and I love it!
The Electric Lady is out today!

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