Using Afrofuturism to Power New Modes of Tech – Interview with Blogger Sherese Francis (Futuristically Ancient)

“Because the mask is your face, the face is a mask, so I’m thinking of the face as a mask because of the way I see faces is coming from an African vision of the mask which is the thing that we carry around with us, it is our presentation, it’s our front, it’s our face.”

– Faith Ringgold

What do we think of when we think of science and technology? Living currently in our high-tech, digital world with computers, the Internet, techies and laboratory scientists, many of us separate ourselves from science and technology as if they are not part of our everyday lives. Do we think of a mask as technology? I want to explore that idea.

A few weeks ago, I began reading Tempestt Hazel’s Black to the Future Series in which she interviews artists and intellectuals about Afrofuturism and Afrosurrealism. While reading some of the answers of the interviewees, I recognized a subtle framing of and at times distancing from Afrofuturism based on electric and digital technology of the 20th and 21st century. Phrases like “I’m not a techie,” in a sense undermines how much science and technology are embedded in the creation of our lives and that they have existed longer and have a wider reach than we normally think. As the aesthetic movement of Afrofuturism gains recognition, we need to break down the boundaries of what we describe as science and technology.

Last year, I attended The Festival of the New Black Imagination where futurist Nat Irvin II gave a lecture on the importance of futuristic thinking that included a history of science and technological advancement, beginning with the Agricultural Revolution, which could also be called biotechnology. He claimed that only now we have reached an age of hybridity where man and machine are coming together.

Thinking back on that claim, I have come to disagree. We have always been hybrid creatures or cyborgs as Amber Case discussed in her lecture about prosthetic culture and cyborg anthropology. To say that only now we are, is to think in the same linear Western sense in which racists tell societies they consider primitive that Western culture brought them science and technology.

Science and technology are much more than machines and computers. If you look at the definition of both terms, their meanings are more inclusive. Science is the knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws. Technology is the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes or applied science.

Machines and computers are tools and instruments, which are all applied knowledge for specific purposes. Referring back to the theme of my post, how does that relate to the mask? Since technology is an application of knowledge, or, in other words, an extension and expression of one’s abilities and thoughts, then so is a mask, in both its creation and use.

Robert Pruitt’s Towards a Walk in the Sun

Many of us may think of a mask as only art or an object used in a religious ritual, but it is a tool or instrument applying some sort of knowledge as well. Like the mask, technology works as a medium; they let us do things we would not be able to do without them. A mask is an alternate face similar to prosthetic limbs, electronic pacemakers and even musical instruments that extend our bodies’ abilities. Astronauts and scuba divers basically wear masks and costumes that allow them to go where a normal human being would not be able to go. The mask shows us that we are cyborgs (cybernetic organisms). We are part natural and part created; we have been since as early as the agricultural revolution. This is the reason I disagreed with Irvin; any tool we have used has been an extension of us.

Rethinking of science and technology can also help us to rethink our views of our bodies and on religion. Think of it in terms of the Lucius Brockway’s line from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “We the machines inside the machine.”

Often art, the body and religion are positioned as the opposite or outside of the realm of these things, but I agree with ethnomusicologist Kyra Gaunt when she said in Games Black Girls Play that musical instruments and bodies are also forms of technology. Our physical bodies are manifestations of thoughts, knowledge, memories, experiences. Since we take in information from the world, the mind analyzes it and the body evolves accordingly. The development of our opposable thumbs, which allows us to create all the technology we have, can be considered a technological development.

In terms of religion or cosmology, for those who believe in a god or some sort of divine consciousness, creator or designer, and for those who believe we are spirits having a physical experience, our body then can be considered a tool or medium of a spirit of God. And if God is a creator or designer much like we are, then it is not perfect, but constantly experimenting and re-inventing itself based on its experience. This can connect creationism and evolution together. Also, depicting ourselves as both spirit and body represents another form of the hybridity that I discussed earlier.

As we look at our cultures through the lens of Afrofuturism and encourage younger generations to learn more about science and technology, I also encourage that expand on these to explore our cultures’ pasts, presents and futures. Re-evaluating our scope of and how we relate to science and technology could benefit us in the long run. They are more than the current advancements that developed in the industrial and post-industrial eras and that are exclusive to dominant cultures, upper classes and capitalists. All types of science and technology, whether it be in the form of a mask or a computer, allow us to fantasize about, explore and experience possibilities as well as understand ourselves and the world around us better.


1. How do you define technology? How do you define Afrofuturism? How do you participate in Afrofuturism?

My definition of technology came from reading Kyra Gaunt’s book, The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes From Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop while writing my undergraduate thesis on The Percussive Approach in Hip-Hop. In her third chapter, Mary Mack Dressed in Black: The Earliest Formation of a Popular Music, one of the subsections was the “body as technology.” Here she describes her view on technology in terms of black musical production:

“In this way and others, the body is a technology of black musical communication and identity. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “technology” as “the practical application of knowledge, a manner of accomplishing a task (i.e., identifying with blackness, the African Diaspora, Africans), using a skill or craft, a method or process” (1999). Extra-somatic instruments … are acceptable media of artistic technology. The social body as a tool or method of artistic composition and performance, however, continues to be overlooked in the study of music … ” (59).

She continues to say how extra-somatic musical technology are extensions of what our bodies and voices naturally can do. Reading her words broadened my scope of what technology is and part of the inspiration for my post, The Mask as Technology. Technology is the application of knowledge and wisdom through the invention of extensions that compensate for our needs and desires and that reach across limitations and boundaries.

For centuries, Black bodies have been exploited as forms of slave/capitalist technologies, designed for the desires of white hetero-patriarchal cultures. Although I don’t tend to give Afrofuturism a specific definition as it means different things to different people, I view it as a tool, a kind of technology as well. I use it to reclaim our whole bodies (physical, mental, spiritual) through the exploration of various possible futures and presents in addition to revising or revealing (the meaning of apocalypse) various pasts of the African Diaspora using tropes of current speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, myths, legends, folktales, fairy tales, historical revision), magic(k), spiritual systems, science and technology.

I participate in Afrofuturism through my writing and studies, including my blog, Futuristically Ancient. I see myself as a kind of archivist, linking the past and future through recording the arts and cultures of the Diaspora that the mainstream may ignore or degrade to show Blackness and the Diaspora outside the box of expectations in which they are placed. What we have been told about who Black people and African descendants by others are filled with untruths used to control us and the imaginations of ourselves and what we can be and do; I want to show the various possibilities of Blackness and Black people that has already existed, still exist and will exist if we fight for it.

2. One criticism about Afrofuturism is that it does not advance technology or dream up novel technologies that can have practical, real-life applications. What are your thoughts on this critique? How does Afrofuturism/Black futurism inform your research and real-life work?

I wonder how Afrofuturism is perceived or used in their questioning. Are they using it as a singular movement or word in which they see only a small segment or its mainstream advocates, and then ask why they do not see a specific aspect there that they would like to see? Or do they see it like I do, as a tool to explore various areas and ideas of cultures of Black people and African descendants in and out of the mainstream that could result in those inventions. I know that there are people out there who are imagining or inventing new technologies because we are humans and humans are constantly engineering new technologies. We are inventive people who survive in times of necessity and within oppressive societies, in music, food, spirituality, electronics (think early days of hip-hop and rewiring the streets to power turntables), etc.

The focus should be redirected from inventing new technologies, because that will always come, to the cultures, spirituality, ethics and values around those technologies. How do we shape minds to think outside of the boxes of the oppressive cultures in which we live and develop responsible technologies? How do we cultivate cultures and critical thinking that will foster new technologies? How do we make available access to information, spaces and tools that will help people to create new technologies? It reminds me of Amiri Baraka’s essay, Technology and Ethos, where he says our machines are extensions of us, the creators, so they reflect our core values. Why does the typewriter look the way it does and why does it not function in another way? he asks. A lot of how we see technology is steeped in Western thought of efficiency, progress and making capital and not how it enriches our lives, the lives of other animals, plants and the Earth. We still have a lot of unlearning to do.

Afrofuturism has centered my thoughts, giving me an angle from which I could process them and research new ideas. It has allowed me as a writer to explore outside of conventional, singular narratives of Blackness, of gender, of sexuality, of culture, of religion and spirituality, of science and technology, of the construction of narratives themselves and so forth. Through it, I have a fresh way to look at the cultures of the world, including my own as an Afro-Caribbean-American woman, not through the mainstream’s eyes, but with eyes of understanding and connection. For example, I see now the genius of African-derived spirituality and religions like Vodou, which is often demonized and simplified through Christian morality and racist philosophy (and I was guilty of that as well); my research into it formed the basis of my upcoming essay, ‘The Electric Impulse:’ The Legba Circuit in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Afrofuturism was also the basis for my interest in mythic studies and mythic literacy, much of which has influenced my poetry writing as well.

3. What experiences and inspirations led you to create your blog? How has technology and the Internet revolutionized the way we share and participate in cultural phenomenon, such as Afrofuturism? What challenges are created by technology and the Internet?

The inspirations for my blog, Futuristically Ancient, came during my junior year in college. At that time, I was in a blogging class with Bridget Davis and the final assignment was to start our own blogs. I was thinking about what kind of blog I wanted to do, and I remembered watching a small portion on Youtube of John Akomfrah’s The Last Angel of History and I liked the connections it made between the past, present and future of the Diaspora through the investigation of memory, music and digital technology. So, I centered my blog around those ideas at first before I even knew the term Afrofuturism. But as I began to research more into related materials to his film and while doing research for my thesis, I came across the term Afrofuturism, and then my blog developed into what it is now. The name of my blog actually comes from a phrase someone had used to describe poet Aja Monet and it stuck with me, so I used it in addition to Aker, the Egyptian god of the horizon representing yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Technology, especially the Internet, has played a significant part in the spread of information about Afrofuturism and other cultural phenomena. Personally, as a blogger, writer and researcher, it has allowed me to voice thoughts and ideas that I rarely saw in popular spaces and share them with others in ways I would not have been as easily able to do before; it has allowed me to connect with others who are working in similar fields or whose work has similar tendencies; it has allowed me to more easily find materials and information, especially rare ones, to share on my blog and to use for research. So, it has been helpful to a person like me, who is introverted and kind of shy, to be able to put myself out there on my own terms. Like me, others have benefited from the more accessible information and connection to people all over the world through new technology and the Internet, which has allowed ideas about Afrofuturism to spread fast.

However, as with anything, there are downsides to technology and the Internet. People will use technology and the Internet to try to discourage us, to attack us because they see what we are doing as a threat to their way of life, to try to silence us especially if they have more capital and power to do so, to use our ideas to sell their own agenda without crediting us or to use our ideas against us. In some ways, old oppressions are magnified through the Internet and new technology because of how quickly and easily information can spread.

4. Where do you see Afrofuturism 10 years from now? How can marginalized communities and youth gain more access to Afrofuturism?

Ten years from now, Afrofuturism can go in different possible ways. It could become bigger and go mainstream to the point it is diluted and appropriated so much that it lacks power and we move on to the next movement, term, idea or whatever. Maybe it will have another or several names 10 years from now. Or hopefully, it can evolve and grow along with the changes in our cultures and technologies, which is why I like that it does not have a fixed definition. I want us to continue defining it for ourselves, especially with the controversy over the origin of the term. I want Afrofuturism to change and shape shift into various meanings depending on the different localities it reaches and how it can best benefit them. As Octavia Butler wrote, “God is change,” let Afrofuturism do that as well.

As for marginalized communities and youth gaining access to it, gatekeepers who have closer access or are in more privileged spaces need to continue sharing it and the ideas within it with those who are more marginalized or younger. For example, in the art world, much of the art tends to stay in higher-class institutions that are either out of reach or out of the means of more marginalized groups. That is why I like to go to events at museums or other institutions and review them, so at least some of the information discussed is available online for others who may not have access to them can learn.

But in the opposite direction, marginalized communities and youth should be encouraged to explore outside of the boxes that are placed on them. Our cultures need to not limit our freedom of expression and questioning, as I have seen in some spaces, like often the church. Explore the world around you, the worlds alien to you, in any way you can, whether it is traveling to another town or to a place in your neighborhood you never went before, going to the library and getting a book that is outside of what you normally read, or even thinking an unconventional thought on a common thing. Keep an open mind to the various possibilities of the world outside of your own direct reality.

Those ideas to me are already inherent in Afrofuturism – the need to explore and to invent, even if it is only in your head. Afrofuturism is just a new term for many of things we already do, but are either told we don’t do, suppress them or don’t realize it. We use our memories of our pasts and traditions of our cultures, reshape them and build new futures out of them in the new places we disperse and in the face of new crises and limitations of survival.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

Donald Glover Finally Takes Over as Spider-Man (In a Cartoon)

Donald Glover will be the voice behind Miles Morales, the half-Black, half-Hispanic youth who takes over as the new Spider-Man after Peter Parker died.

Four years ago, fans took to social media to push for Glover to play Spider-Man on the big screen in the Amazing Spider-Man reboot.

The social media campaign fell short as the role went to actor Andrew Garfield instead.

While Glover still won’t be making an appearance on the big screens as Spider-Man, he will be voicing Morales on Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors.

Glover’s character took on the role as the new arachnid-inspired superhero after the Green Goblin killed Peter Parker in 2011.

In a clip release by USA Today, Glover’s character is shocked to come face-to-face with Peter Parker, who seems to be unaware that he was killed in Morales’ universe, which led to the 13-year-old filling in for him.

Glover, who is known in the hip-hop industry as Childish Gambino, said he has always been a Spider-Man fan and just tried to be himself when voicing Morales.

“I just tried to be as me as possible, because you’re always just going to bring it back to yourself when you watch the show,” he said according to The Verge.

Meanwhile, the show’s creator is just glad to see the minority character so well received by fans.

“It’s certainly long overdue,” creator Brian Michael Bandis said in 2011, when Morales was first introduced to Spider-Man fans. “Even though there’s some amazing African-American and minority characters bouncing around in all

the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”

The new Spider-Man series will premier on Sunday, but the Huffington Post reports that the episode featuring Glover will not air until 2015.

Glover also added that he is excited to take on the role even though he would still like the chance to show off his spidey senses on the big screen.

“I still have hopes to do something like that one day,” he told USA Today. “I don’t look at this as second place. Spider-Man, he’s such an icon – you have to do something with him.”

Young Jamaican Animator Launches Arcade-Style Game App

A young animator, 24-year-old Stephen ‘Big Bomb’ Williamson, recently launched his  arcade-style game app called TapKat Fiesta.

Williamson is the director of Jamaica-based Island Interactive Studios, which is trading as Pandsoft. He launched the app in May.

As cellphone users turn to their mobile devices for entertainment, games such as Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja and Temple Run are becoming more popular.

Williamson hopes TapKat Fiesta will also attract the huge number of players these successful games have managed to garner.

TapKat is very simple and allows the player the tap the screen to shoot healing balls at mutated birds.

“You have to watch out for bomb birds that explode on impact and also make enough shots before you run out of fuel,” Williamson told the Jamaica Observer about his game. “It offers classic arcade game-play that mixes elements from Duck Hunt, Fruit Ninja and Sonic.”

Williamson was experienced in the realm of animation and producing digital content, so he knew how to create and market the game.

“Given our background in animation and how attractive the market was, we had already been producing content for marketing companies which represent various major brands, so producing digital content for a global market wasn’t such a great challenge,” he said.

However, he is aware that there are harder challenges ahead. While introducing the game to the market was easy, standing out among a sea of video game apps is difficult.

The success of games like Flappy Bird is rare and the creator of the extremely simple game manages to pull in $50,000 a day.

“An effective growth strategy has to be carefully planned and executed or else the game will just be another game in the app store,” he said.

As of today, TapKat has earned high reviews but has only drawn about 50 downloads in the Google Play market on Android.

While users said they loved the simple game play, some suggested a tutorial to give clearer instructions.

For now, users have to “learn as you go,” but the simplicity of the game allows them to catch on quickly.

If the game attracts more attention, Williamson is prepared to move forward and make his next move quickly.

“If it manages to do well on its own, that success will be short-lived so marketing decisions for successful games are considered before the game is started and continue to influence the design and growth process when the game is launched,” he said. “We plan to grow naturally, like that of a well-nurtured tree seeking sunlight in a forest.”

Broadcast by Blerds: New Technology Drives DIY Radio, TV

The dawn of podcasts (the digital medium of episodic audio-recordings that can be downloaded or streamed online) circa 2004, ushered in a new era of independently owned and produced media. Podcasts, a mash-up between the words “broadcast” and “pod,” of iPod fame, have become a popular platform for marginalized voices.

Essentially only requiring a recording device, an Internet connection and a podcast hosting website, podcasts are relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, allowing content creators to produce episodes regularly and frequently.

During the first half of the 20th century, radio broadcasting functioned as the foremost medium for delivering relevant news, music, public affairs, and current events to largely Black audiences. Black radio also played an important role in the development of disc jockeys with powerful on-air personalities that strongly influenced musical tastes and provided discourse and commentary on current events, such as the Civil Rights Movement.

However, with payola scandals and increased corporate sponsorship came increased censorship, standardized scheduling, pressure for ratings, and less focus on issues of concern to the audiences the radio stations were catering to.

In the Internet and smartphone age, podcasts have become a reclamation of radio broadcasting, opening the door  for those who typically have been shut out from producing radio shows where they do not have the backing of corporate sponsorships, access to stations, experience and training, or resources for broadcasting equipment. Many local, community-run organizations, such as PhillyCam in Philadelphia, teach workshops on how to produce podcasts, or provide shared broadcasting space, community radio stations and other resources.

Podcasting opens up the space for important cross-generational conversations, as youth and older generations alike can produce, or tune in to podcast and internet radio shows with the click of a button.

During many shows, the hosts will live tweet, take calls, or open a chat room to broaden the discussion across various platforms. In this way, podcasts deepen the connections and conversations that take place through the Internet, expanding them out in ways that a character-limited textbox cannot always capture.

The audio encapsulated on podcasts, easily archived and shareable, digitizes the oral traditions of our ancestors, allowing us to honor these traditions and tell our stories in ways that gel with our 21st century realities and technologies.

A look at the podcast scene reveals that self-described Black nerds are very active in producing all types of Internet radio shows, and in doing so, are helping to shift the image of the typical nerd to a more realistic view – that no one color, creed, culture, or gender dominates nerd culture.

Podcasts also expand cultural safe spaces for Black nerds who can express themselves directly and personally with other like-minded Black nerds. Below is a list of 9 podcasts and Internet radio shows catering to Black fandom, nerd/geek culture, pop culture, sci-fi, tech, comics, horror, and more.

What are your favorite Black alternative or nerd culture podcasts?

1. Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are, in a world where the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is considered an anomaly.

The BGN Podcast broadcasts weekly and is available for download on iTunes.

2. Black Tribbles

The 2014 winners of the Philly Geek Awards for Streaming Media Project, the Black Tribbles toss around sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons and anything a geek would love, twice weekly on G-town and 900AM WURD.

The Black Tribbles reveal untold stories of geek history, showcase new and upcoming projects, engage in thought-provoking conversation and provide critical insight into a culture that is often devoid of Black influence; all with a humorous irreverent tone that delights as it educates.

3. Black Girls Talking

A pop-culture podcast with four Black women discussing representation of people of color in various forms of media.

4. Black Science Fiction Society

A community that highlights, celebrates and develops science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, movies and games. Every Friday evening, BSFS hosts Genesis Radio with sci-fi author William Hyashi and Penelope Flynne.

The pair discuss relevant topics in science fiction from a Black perspective with special guest authors, illustrators, producers, and other Black sci-fi creators.

5. Blerds on Nerds

#SpreadtheNerd with Blerds on Nerds, a weekly podcast discussing the past week’s highlights in technology, movies, gaming and comics, while paying homage to Black nerds who have paved the way for us all.

6. Geek Soul Brother

Join Geek Soul Brother and The Five Nerdy Venoms in a conversation about the geek universe, including movies, television, comics and special topics, from the old school to the new geeky stuff coming out soon.

7. 3 Black Geeks

Three Black guys reppin’ all geeks everywhere, reviewing the best Black movies, martial arts, action, anime/manga, comics, and everything that white people think Black people aren’t into.

8. Fan Bros

The voice of the urban geek, Fan Bros discusses the week in geek while keeping an ear to the street for the topics and controversies that affect the world of fandom.

Show hosts DJ BenHaMeen and Tatiana King-Jones serve as the cultural guides for this unique show, along with a revolving cast of guests that run the gamut of interests – -from hip-hop and politics, to comics, movies, television and video games.

9. The Black Geeks Radio

A bunch of Black geeks get together and chaos ensues as they discuss movies, television, comics, technology, video games, and all things geek.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

5 Cartoon Blerds of the ’80s Who Shaped the Blerds of Today

If you’re like me, then you were a Black nerd (“Blerd”) who came of age during the 1980s. You were probably a socially awkward kid who loved not-yet-cool stuff,  like comic books, science fiction, fantasy, computer games, and Dungeons and Dragons. It’s also likely that you had a physical appearance that could best be described as “in progress.” Making friends wasn’t your strong suit, and your parents didn’t know what to do with you since you weren’t involved in athletics, but stayed out of trouble. Finding people who understood you was difficult, but there was one outlet you could turn to for self-actualization: cartoons.

There were two features that made the cartoons of the 1980s better than previous decades. First, the art was better. The growing popularity of anime (“Japanimation”) provided a style that cartoon creators tried to import or emulate. Second, there was a focus on diversity. Quick, name a Black character in “The Flintstones?” How about in “The Jetsons?” If you’re struggling, that’s because most of those pre-1980s cartoons had all white casts. However, the ’80s provided a wealth of diverse casts with strong Black characters. And, somewhat surprisingly, many of them were Blerds.

Here’s a roundup of five cartoon Blerds from the 1980s and the lessons they provided for Blerds of today. The first four are examples of great Blerd role models, but the last one is a cautionary tale.

1. Walter “Doc” Hartford

Series: The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers (1986 – 1989)

Description: Mixing Star Wars with the American Western genre, this series was set in the future when interstellar space travel became possible. The cartoon followed the story of four “rangers” who could unlock superhuman powers by touching their badges and unlocking their Series 5 implants. The four rangers were Zachary Foxx, Shane “Goose” Gooseman, Niko, and, of course, Walter “Doc” Hartford.

Blerd Bonafides: Doc was a master technologist who was responsible for most of the technology used by the team. His Series 5 implant augmented his already immense mastery of computers. Doc’s mobile computer also carried six pet programs (called “tweakers”) that looked like flying sparks of light and helped him understand and control almost any type of technology.

What Doc Taught Us: Being a master of computers doesn’t mean you can’t be cool. Always remaining calm and maintaining an impeccable set of manners can get you far in life. Also, a sense of humor makes you more attractive in both platonic and romantic relationships. However, being mannerly doesn’t make you a punk. Draw your weapons with the quickness when necessary. Finally, before fixing a technology problem, confidently saying out loud, “The doctor will now operate,” increases your chance of success to almost 100 percent.

2. J.D. ‘IQ’ Bennett

Series: Bionic Six (1987 – 1989)

Description: Set in the near future, this show followed a family of bionically enhanced superheroes. They included Bionic-1 (the father), Mother-1 (the mother), Sport-1 (their biological son), Rock-1 (their biological daughter), Karate-1 (their adopted Japanese son), and, the Blerd of the family, IQ (their adopted Black son).

Blerd Bonafides: While IQ is the strongest member of the team, his bionics provided him with super-human intelligence. He is often tasked with providing technological solutions to problems faced by the family or come up with smart solutions to difficult problems.

What IQ Taught Us: You can have a quiet personality and still be an effective team member. While others (sometimes including family members) may try to claim the spotlight with their oversized egos, an introspective nature provides the ability to find innovative answers that they will overlook. Being consistently good is better than momentary flashes of greatness.

3. Baldwin P. ‘Bulletproof’ Vess

Series: COPS (1988 – 1989)

Description: This cartoon was set in the year 2020 and followed a special group of law enforcement agents called COPS (Central Organization of Police Specialists). Their members came from all over the United States and represented various types of law enforcement personnel including vice, K-9, motorcycle patrol, helicopter patrol, and others. They were led by Bulletproof who was given a cybernetic torso after being critically injured during a fight with the main antagonist of the show.

Blerd Bonafides: While rarely using technology, Bulletproof was living technology. His torso consisted of an android replacement that, in keeping with his nickname, made him impervious to gunfire. He also had a computer port in his bionic torso that he could use to attach a cable to machines and control them. His torso also had storage areas that held disks. He could attach these disks to machines that would short-circuit or destroy them.

What Bulletproof Taught Us: Your intimacy with technology can sometimes result in distance between you and others, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a great team leader. In fact, your ability to be objective is an invaluable asset when mediating conflicts between team members. Also, while you may not immediately share it with everyone, always have a plan.

4. Edward ‘Turbo’ Hayes

Series: Rambo: The Force of Freedom (1986)

Description: Capitalizing off the tremendous success of the Rambo movies of the early 1980s, this cartoon portrayed a toned- down Rambo, who is the leader of a special operations group called the Force of Freedom. His team included Katherine Ann Taylor (an Asian master of disguise), White Dragon (also Asian), T.D. Jones, Chief (Native American), and the Blerd of the team, Edward “Turbo” Hayes, a mechanical engineer, pilot, and race car driver.

Blerd Bonafides: Turbo provided the technology tools used by the team and usually handled their transportation needs, whether it was a plane or vehicle. He was always called upon to fix any electrical or mechanical problem.

What Turbo Taught Us: While most of the cartoons of the 1980s focused on the team concept, this one always reinforced Rambo’s superiority. This meant that Rambo often had to “save the day” when the actions of his team mates were portrayed as ineffective.

You may work in an environment with one or more Rambo-type, who excels at emphasizing their accomplishments and making it seem like your contribution is not as important. If that’s the case, you should stay calm, play your position and focus on flawless delivery of your own work. That’s the best way to position yourself for the next opportunity.

5. Black Vulcan

Series: Super Friends (1980 – 1985)

Description: If you were a kid in the 1980s, then you definitely remember the Super Friends cartoons. What you may not remember is that there were several incarnations of the show including The All-New Super Friends Hour and  Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. The cartoon featured popular DC Comics heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but the creators introduced three characters that did not exist in the comics at the time. They were Apache Chief (Native American), Samurai (Asian), and Black Vulcan (African-American).

Blerd Bonafides: Black Vulcan was a master of electricity with the ability to fire lightning bolts from his hands and fly by transforming his lower torso into electricity. He could also use his powers to fix circuit boards by soldering them, which hints at some level of expertise in electrical engineering.

What Black Vulcan Taught Us: Black Vulcan was an unfortunate example of how to not be a Blerd. He demonstrated that even being an electrical wizard is no replacement for an identity. Everyone else on the Super Friends had a real name, but Black Vulcan was always just Black Vulcan. He also had no back story that explained how he got his powers. You have to let people know that you’re a person with a history outside of work or you risk being treated as an inferior.

If Batman ever runs late for a meeting, then his team mates can say, “Hey, he’s billionaire Bruce Wayne so we’ll cut him some slack.” Or, if Superman ever drops the ball, then it’s understood that he’s reporter Clark Kent so he has to maintain his journalism gig. But, Black Vulcan? He has no excuse.

So, get your work done, but let everyone know you have a personality as well as a personal life. Otherwise, you risk being painted with stereotypes and discarded during times of stress (e.g., layoffs, recessions, etc.)

Anjuan Simmons has worked in the technology industry for over two decades. He is also the author of “Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology” ( You can find out more about him at

5 Interesting Topics You Have To Be a Blerd To Appreciate

1. The Author of  ‘The Three Musketeers’ Was a Black Man
During the mid- to late 1800s, Alexandre Dumas rose to literary fame as one of France’s most prolific writers. He wrote alluring and adventurous tales. His novels were filled with descriptions of picturesque French landscapes and deadly sword fights. His most notable novel The Three Musketeers has boasted over 100 film adaptations. His other well-known novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, is loosely based on his father General Alex Dumas, who had a reported rivalry with Napoleon Bonaparte.

2.Why Lonnie Johnson is One of the Coolest Inventors

Lonnie Johnson, African-American engineer and entrepreneur, is a dynamic inventor who has made significant contributions to NASA space travel, but Blerds can’t ignore the impact one of his inventions has had on children worldwide. ABC news reported that in 1982, Johnson was  working on building a heat pump when he attached a nozzle to the end of the pump, which he connected to his bathroom sink.

Immediately water blasted across the room and the Super Soaker was born. In 1990, the Super Soaker hit the market and garnered much success. Since the invention of the Super Soaker, water fights have never been the same.

3.Why Raze From ‘Underworld ‘ is Our Favorite Werewolf

If you’re a fan of the Underworld film series then you are probably a huge fan of Raze, the big, booming and ferocious Lycan. Raze played by Kevin Grevioux, not only had a significant role in the successful franchise, but Grevioux also wrote the original screenplay for the first film. His creativity and love for science fiction did not stop there.

According to Shadow and Act the Howard University graduate, who majored in microbiology, wrote and executive produced the sci-fi film, I, Frankenstein, released earlier this year.

4.Why ‘Sharknado 2’ is Worth Watching

Blerds everywhere know that Sharknado 2: The Second One is far from cinematic excellence, with its questionable blue screen graphics and its equally subpar script. However, you know you were one of the 3.87 million viewers glued to your flat screens on July 30 to watch the Syfy channel original movie. Do you regret watching the sequel? No. In fact there were some memorable moments that made you feel better about watching the film. Two moments in particular were cameos by two rap legends.

You may have cringed, bust out in laughter or both when you saw Pepa, from the ’90s rap duo Salt-N- Pepa attempt to escape impending danger from flying sharks while riding a bicycle. You definitely rooted for Biz Markie when he went from an ordinary cook to a knife-wielding shark killer. Either way after those two appeared you felt a little better about tuning in.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Ultimate Blerd
If you are true Blerd then you consider Neil deGrasse Tyson Blerd royalty. The Bronx, N.Y.-bred astrophysicist removed Pluto as the ninth planet.

In true blerd fashion, Tyson argued that the “dwarf planet” doesn’t share the proper criteria to be given  “planet” status. To add to his awesomeness,  he currently hosts the 12-time Emmy-nominated series, Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey.

15 Distinguished Black Entertainers Who Attended an Ivy League School

Rashida Jones

Jones went to Harvard University, where she studied religion and philosophy. She graduated in 1997. The actress, who is also the daughter of music producer Quincy Jones, is most famous for her role on the NBC TV comedy Parks and Recreation.

John Legend

The Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter went to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied English with a concentration in African-American literature and culture and graduated in 1999. His albums include Get Lifted (2004), Once Again (2006), Evolver (2008) and Love in the Future (2013).

 Aisha Tyler

The comedian and actress went to Dartmouth College. She graduated in 1992 with a degree in government and environmental policy. She is most famous for lending her voice to FX‘s adult, animated show Archer and for serving as one of the co-hosts on CBS’s daytime show The Talk.

Tatyana Ali

The actress graduated from Harvard University with a degree in African-American studies and government in 2002. She is famous for TV role as Ashley Banks on NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996). 

David Alan Grier

Grier went to graduate school at Yale University, earning a master of fine arts degree in 1981. He has been in many films and TV shows; however, he is most notable for being featured on Fox’s sketch comedy series In Living Color (1990-1994).  The show was produced by actors, comedians and siblings Keenan Ivory and Damon Wayans.

 Tyra Banks

The supermodel, film star and TV personality went to multiple universities. In 2012, she graduated from Harvard Business School. Some of her notable TV shows include The CW’s The Tyra Banks Show (2005-2010) and America’s Next Top Model (2003-current).

 Alicia Keys

The Grammy Award-winning singer went to Columbia University in 1998, but she dropped out a month later. Her most recent album is Girl on Fire (2012).

Robert L. Johnson

Johnson, a businessman, attended Princeton University. He graduated in 1972 with a master’s degree in public/international affairs. Johnson founded the cable network Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980.

blerd angela

 Angela Bassett

The Oscar-nominated actress went to Yale University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies in 1980 and a master of fine arts degree in 1983. She is known for her portrayal of legendary singer Tina Turner in the film What’s Love Got to Do With It (1993), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She is currently working on FX‘s upcoming American Horror Story: Freak Show. Produced by Ryan Murphy, American Horror Story is a series that focuses on horror tropes such as witches and serial killers. Bassett is married to fellow Ivy Leaguer Courtney B. Vance.

Courtney B. Vance

Vance studied at Harvard University. He graduated in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in history and went on to Yale to earn a master’s in drama in 1986. He is most famous for his role on NBC’s  Law and Order: Criminal Intent (2001-2011). He is married to fellow Ivy Leaguer Angela Bassett.

Hill Harper

The actor graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater from Brown University in 1988. He went on to Harvard to earn a master’s degree in public administration in 1992. Harper has been in numerous films and TV shows. He is notable for roles on CBS’ CSI: New York and USA’s Covert Affairs. 

Ryan Leslie

Leslie went to Harvard University and earned a bachelor’s degree in government and economics in 1998. He is a music producer who produced recording artist Cassie’s hit single Me & U (2006). A recording artist himself, Leslie released a self-titled album in 2008. He earned a Grammy nomination in 2011.

Sanaa Lathan

The actress studied at Yale University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in drama in 1995. She is most notable for films such as The Best Man (1999), Love and Basketball (2000) and Brown Sugar (2002).

Joy Bryant

Bryant studied at Yale University on a full scholarship. She left school in the late 1990s to pursue a modeling and acting career. Her films include Antwone Fisher (2002) and Get Rich or Die Tryin (2005). She currently stars in the NBC TV show Parenthood.

Brian J. White

White studied at Dartmouth College. He graduated in 1997 with a bachelor’s in political science, psychology and theater arts. White went on to become an actor, starring in movies such as director Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds (2012) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). 


‘Cosmos’ and ‘Wormhole’: Black Men Taking Over Pop Culture Science

We are reminded repeatedly that to inspire children to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics, they need to see people who look like them in those fields. Every kid needs a role model and until very recently, there weren’t many images of famous Black Americans in STEM. How many teenagers these days know who Geordi LaForge is, much less Mae Jemison? But they need those images if they’ll ever believe that they can become great scientists too.

Enter: Pop Culture.

Fox network and the Science Channel have done what no one else has: they’ve put Black men at the forefront of America’s new scientific curiosity. With the documentary series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Through the Wormhole,  television is doing for science what Reading Rainbow did for reading: it’s showing children (and adults) that scientific exploration is not just a white man’s game.

Who are these Black men, you ask? Well, you probably didn’t ask because they’re everywhere. But just in case you don’t own a television, a radio, aren’t on Twitter, have never heard of the Internet and don’t listen to podcasts- the host of Cosmos is satirist Jon Stewart’s favorite astrophysicist- Neil deGrasse Tyson. And the host of Wormhole? Academy-Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. Because the story of the universe should pretty much only be narrated by Morgan Freeman.

If you’ve never seen these shows (they’re on Hulu and Netflix so there’s really no excuse), Cosmos is a revival of the popular 1980s show hosted by Carl Sagan. Now hosted by Tyson, Cosmos explores the workings of the universe and the people who discovered exactly what’s going on in this world of ours. Cosmos is beautifully produced, engaging, and the fact that Tyson is so very in love with science encourages the viewer to fall in love with it too. Nominated for 12 Emmys, Cosmos’ global warming episode tied The Bachelorette in ratings. A show about science tying a reality show? Incredible.

Also Emmy nominated, Through the Wormhole covers everything from whether zombies really exist (spoiler alert: yes), to whether or not time travel is possible (non-spoiler alert: I really, really, really hope so). Freeman is completely engaging in this show, not just because of who he is – Morgan Freeman –  but because of what he’s not, a scientist.

Like our children, he’s just a guy who thinks the world is awesome and wants to find out more about it. Now in its fifth season, Through the Wormhole answers the questions we’ve always wondered about and confirms some things we were pretty sure about – see zombie comment above.

It’s an extraordinary thing to have two Black men hosting the two most popular science TV shows of our time, and even more extraordinary that one is a scientist, and the other is one of the most famous actors of the century. Such different men prove that no matter what our children become, or where they come from, nothing is more important than an education.

As Tyson said in Mother Jones earlier this year, “Science is trending in our culture, and if science is trending, that can only be good for the health, the wealth, and the security of our species, of our civilization.” And if a more diverse cast of characters are leading the trend? That can only be good for the hearts and minds of our children.

In hip-hop artist Talib Kweli’s best song (don’t argue, that’s scientific), he says:

“The TV got us reaching for stars

Not the ones between Venus and Mars

The ones that be reading for parts.”

After all of these years, “the TV” is showing us a wide universe of possibility. Are your children watching?

Kat Calvin is a social entrepreneur, writer and advocate for the empowerment of women, entrepreneurs and the black community. She is the founder of Michelle in Training, a mentoring and educational organization. You can follow her at @KatCalvinDC.

9 Blerd Celebrities Who Are Taking Over Pop Culture

blerd tyson Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, author and advocate of science literacy. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

From 2006 to 2011, Tyson hosted the educational science television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS, and he has been a frequent guest on other TV shows, including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Since 2009, he has hosted the weekly radio show StarTalk.

In 2014, Tyson began hosting a TV science documentary series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, an update of late astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, a 1980s television series.

Tyson has also appeared on television episodes of sitcom The Big Bang Theory and sci-fi series  Stargate Atlantis.

blerd rhimes

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes is a screenwriter, director, and producer, who is best known as creator, head writer, and executive producer of the medical drama television series Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Private Practice, and the political thriller series, Scandal.

In May 2007, the popular Hollywood writer was named one of Time magazine’s 100 people who help shape the world.  Rhimes has a new legal series on ABC, How to Get Away with Murder, which will air in the 2014-15 season.

Rhimes, who describes her self as a “nerd” says one of her favorite activities is to watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee and to “nerd out” while blogging about the competition.

“I’ve been watching the bee forever. Way back, when it was first on ESPN is when I first started watching. I’ve been watching forever. I’m a nerd that way, but I was very into it and a bee nerd in school,” she said.

Rhimes attended Dartmouth College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree, and the University of Southern California where she received a Master of Fine Arts from the School of Cinema-Television.

blerd glover

Donald Glover

Donald Glover is an actor, comedian, rapper, writer and proud Black nerd, who first became popular for his work with the Internet comedy sketch group, Derrick Comedy.

From 2006 to 2009, he was a writer for the NBC comedy series 30 Rock. He was also cast in the role of Troy Barnes in the television series Community, and in 2010, he starred in a stand-up special on Comedy Central network.

Glover released his debut album as a hip-hop artist the next year,  followed by a second release in 2013. The young star graduated from New York University with a degree in dramatic writing.

Melissa Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry is a professor at Tulane University, television host and political commentator with a focus on African-American politics. Harris-Perry hosts a weekend news and opinion television show on MSNBC.

Before working for MSNBC,  she taught at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. Harris-Perry is also a regular columnist for the magazine The Nation, the author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

Harris-Perry attended Wake Forest University where she received a bachelor’s degree in English, and Duke University where she earned a doctorate in political science.

More Than Fun & Games: The True Power of #BlackTwitter

With well over 600 million active users, it was always apparent that Twitter would become a powerful social vehicle, but in recent years it has been a niche community inside the social media giant that has unveiled itself as being unbelievably and undeniably powerful.

Every now and then you may see the hashtag — #BlackTwitter — but most of the time you will find yourself unknowingly stumbling upon Black Twitter’s hilarious antics or growing social movements.

Black Twitter is the name that was given to the community within Twitter that has always held Black popular culture, news and controversies at the center of its timeline.

While it initially became famous for outrageous jokes and sparking worldwide trending topics in a matter of minutes, it has recently become the latest and perhaps one of the most effective tools for social justice and racial equality.

Black Twitter’s list of accomplishments includes the cancellation of a book deal for a juror in the George Zimmerman case; Reebok’s rejection of rapper Rick Ross’ endorsement deal after his infamous date rape lyrics; and more recently,  promoter Damon Feldman’s withdrawal of a George Zimmerman celebrity boxing match.

The community has managed to use clever hashtags to gain support from other Twitter users across the globe to achieve commendable goals, all through the use of 140 characters and countless numbers of retweets.

“It’s kind of like the Black table in the lunchroom, sort of, where people of like interests and experiences and ways of talking and communication, lump together and talk among themselves,” said Tracy Clayton, a blogger and editor at BuzzFeed.

In fact, if anyone knows the power of Black Twitter, it’s BuzzFeed.

During Zimmerman’s trial, Black Twitter began sending out its own BuzzFeed-type lists with the hashtag #BlackBuzzFeed, which put BuzzFeed’s social media to shame.

“Black Twitter made this the No. 2 hashtag worldwide,” BuzzFeed later tweeted about the #BlackBuzzFeed hashtag. “Our wig has thoroughly been snatched. *Bows down.*”

Even the NAACP realized the momentum and power behind Black Twitter and made the community a part of its strategies.

The NAACP used hashtags like #TooMuchDoubt to gain support for halting the execution of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, and the #OscarGrant hashtag trended nation wide, leading to support for the film “Fruitvale Station.” The film documented the life of the young Black man who was unjustly killed by a police officer.

“We realized more than anyone that we had to go in that direction and we’ve done it,” NAACP interim President Lorraine Miller said of the organization’s social media use.

Perhaps the real magic behind Black Twitter is the combination of fighting for justice and captivating comedy.

Black Twitter gains attention through humor, while also bringing attention to major issues.

For example, when celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted to using racial slurs in the past, Black Twitter created the hashtag #PaulasBestDishes, which began trending nationwide.

The hashtag earned tons of laughs with imaginary recipes like “Massa-Roni and Cheese,” “We Shall Over-Crumb Cake,” “Three-Fifths Compromise Cheesecake,” “Coon on the Cob” and “Swing Low, Sweet Cherry Pie.”

At the same time it garnered attention to Deen’s remarks, created a national discussion via Twitter about the use of the N-word and led to the cancellation of several of Deen’s endorsement deals.

In short, Black Twitter has stepped to the forefront as the lead watchdog when it comes to racial injustice and other controversial issues.