To the Ones Who Can Fly: A Message from the Whirlwind

"We must establish a love of freedom. And we must center those on the bottom, so that we take charge of our destinies at last, and have full participation in the liberation of us all.”

To the Ones Who Can Fly: A Message from the Whirlwind
Image description: Within a black border, we see a cloudy daytime sky peeking out from behind rows of black women. From the top left corner to the bottom right, we see: (first row) Assata Shakur, Yaa Asantewaa, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Queen Nanny, Marsha P. Johnson (second row) CeCe McDonald, Korryn Gaines, Angela Davis, Sandra Bland, Sojourner Truth, Sylvia Wynter (third row) Miss Major, Bree Newsome, Toni Morrison (fourth row) Kimberlé Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Billie Holiday (fifth row) Marielle Franco, Nina Simone, Lucy Parsons, Hortense Spillers, Debbie Africa

To the ones who can fly,

the street queers of the future,

If you read this, you will hear things that we also heard.

You will hear that this land of liberty, your ancestors were brought here as slaves. You will hear that we suffered for a long time. You will hear that a civil war happened because white people realized it was evil to own other beings as property. You will hear that a man named Lincoln signed a law to help us get free, but then segregation came and Black people had to fight for freedom again. They will call it the “civil rights movement,” and they will never explain to you why we had to fight for freedom two times in the so-called land of the free in the first place. All they will tell you is that, again, white people realized it was wrong to oppress us. They will tell you that a President signed the law so that Black people could finally vote. Then you will look around, and see that we still aren't free, see that the earth is dying, and that we are very poor, that many of us are in jail or on the streets, and that a lot of cops brutalize us, and see that white people still chase and kill us. And you must ask yourself why that is, in the land of the free?

They will tell you that everything you face is because there’s a lot of criminals in our community. They will tell you not to be a criminal, if you want to be able to get the American Dream and its promise of freedom. But regardless of whether you did a crime, you still don’t have that Dream or promise. Regardless of whether you did a crime or not, there are still things — racism, transphobia, sexism, ableism — that keep you from living the Dream. What, then, is the truth? The truth is we are oppressed, and America is rigged, set up. There is no land of opportunity, “crime” is just what they call the things that oppressed people do to either survive a system of haves and have-nots, or to resist and fight to change it. When our enslaved ancestors tried to escape, that was a crime. When they freed one another by burning plantations down, that was a crime. And even if they didn't resist, even if they just looked for secret places to pray or have fun, even if they just went to sleep for a little while after being worked so hard — these acts of survival were also crimes. Every Black person who knows what it’s like to struggle at the bottom of the barrel should understand that each of us will eventually be forced to pick one of two paths — survival or resistance — and both are painted as “criminal” by the master. The sooner Black people understand this, especially Black trans and disabled folks forced to the margins, the better. It helps so much when we have clarity on how we are positioned in society.

Clarity comes from understanding history. As Black people, the stories we are told about how we got to where we are is only half the picture. This is called miseducation. I didn’t know this as a young child, but over time I did learn that it was not true that we started out as slaves. Who the white Man brought to this land in chains was African people, human beings, who had gifts and talents. We were medicine people, artisans, divers, farmers, storytellers, warriors, childrearers, craftspeople, swimmers, builders, musicians, and more. We were and are a people who hold the skills that are necessary to build a healthy society, because we passed those skills down from generation to generation, and we invent new ones and update them as time has gone on since the beginning of our existence. We were stolen because people from Europe needed our skills to build new societies for themselves on stolen land. They wanted to exploit our gifts and talents, to rob us for our labor and make a profit.

But our people fought back. Back in Afrika we fought. On the slave ships we fought. In America we fought too. We fought so bad, the whites realized they couldn’t keep slavery for too long, it was becoming unprofitable each time we fought and fought. And so they had to figure out a new system to build their societies, a new way to steal our labor and skills. The people in the North had this new system already, but the South didn't. This new system was an industrial system. This new system started in Europe and spread around the world, destroying the environment as Europeans continued to steal land and steal our people to finance it. The Civil War happened because the whites of the South wanted to hold on to the old slavery system, while the whites of the North wanted to expand the newer slavery system. That man Lincoln only signed the emancipation declaration, the law they say got us free, because he hoped it would stop the war and keep the peace, not because he cared about Black people.

Black people used this fight between the whites of the North and whites of the South to get free. Eventually we remade life for ourselves by our own authority. We took back land and began to redefine how democracy could look, based on our values. We used our gifts and talents to develop society in a more healthy, egalitarian way. They tell you about segregation right after the civil war but leave this part out. They leave it out so you don’t understand why segregation came along. Segregation happened because Black people had gotten so free by ourselves in the South that whites got scared we would take revenge. They feared vengeance, because all over the world people were getting free, from slavery and other systems of oppression, like the industrial one, which we call “capitalism.” It scared the Man to see so many Black people beginning to join up in solidarity with these worldwide struggles, to see us building a powerful and global movement for freedom. The master sees a planetary movement for liberation as a threat (this movement is called many names btw, “communism,” “socialism,” “anarchism,”). So the oppressor started the jim crowism to keep us down.

But Black people never backed down. We fought jim crow segregation too, just like when we fought slavery. We made things so unprofitable for the Man that it caused such a division in America once again, so the President had to figure out how to preserve peace and ultimately protect the master’s profit in this nation a second time. He did not sign the law because he cared about Black people. White America does not truly care for us, and that is why Black people had to keep fighting anyway, even after segregation was over. Just like before, though, we pushed to remake life, for us and by us, using our gifts and talents to fight for a healthier society. And just like last time, we connected our movements here to the revolutionary activism that happened worldwide. This scared the oppressor once again. A global movement for freedom is not something the Man wants to see, as it threatens white power and capitalism.

Instead of jim crow, though, they had to find a new way to neutralize our struggle. They found ways to poison us with lead and landfills and they burnt our communities down. Then, they started to put drugs in our community so they can say it’s a lot of crime and use cops and prisons to suppress us. The cops and prisons are like Jim Crow part two.

But again, like before, Black people keep fighting still, fighting in the prisons — and now in the streets, we are fighting cops. You will hear about this, and they will tell you it’s because we just wanna do illegal things. But, no we are fighting cops because we are still fighting slavery, still fighting to get free. And we are fighting so hard, soon we will cause a new division, we will threaten their profits, and the President will try to sign a law to help keep the peace again. They will tell you that this law was signed because white people finally wanted to respect Black people. Do not believe them. Understand that Black people have had to keep fighting to remake life by us and for us for one reason and one reason only: this country is built on our destruction. And we will start joining up with global movements for freedom too, just like before, because the entire world system is exploitative and destructive to all people and to the environment. When that worldwide struggle comes, the oppressor will get real scared all over again, and try to bring in a Jim Crow 3.0 — something we haven’t seen before.

I write this hoping that by that time, you, street queers of the future, are conscious enough to notice the pattern of history. That you will say, ‘hey, this is familiar, it happened two times already, why does it keep happening’ and you will say ‘nah, I don’t want this to go the same way it did before.’ I am hopeful that you will continue the struggle, but in a more insightful way, in order to keep the next versions of jim crow from happening.

Our ancestors used to tell stories about the people who could fly. I remember learning about that from this tiny picture book my mother had for us when I was real small. The people had forgotten what powers they had, so the story went, cuz they were enslaved. But ever so often, there was the ones who still remembered, cuz they knew the old ways we had brought from our homeland, and so they could mount up in the air like as if they had eagle's wings. They would swoop down over the plantation, the story said, and whisper deep knowledge, knowledge of self, knowledge of spirit, knowledge of solidarity and of struggle, right on into the ears of those Black people who had forgot, and get them climbin on up into the sky right along with them. And there was nothing the slavemaster could do about it. Nothing at all.

Those stories were about us, and because I know it is about us, is why I am hopeful that it is the street queers who will shape the consciousness of Black radical struggle for the future. It is we on the front lines of violence from the police, of capitalism’s failures that keep us on the fringes of survival, with no homes or jobs or safety. It is we who continue to be hyperexploited and superexploited, to sit at the bottom of a lowerarchy, with a thousand hierarchies stacked against us. We will be forced to become aware of the patterns in how the oppressor responds to us as Black people, and how we have been responding to them. We will understand that there is a contradiction between us and the master and his system of organized, protected robbery that produces wealth for him. We will affirm that the life and liberation of Black folk, especially the disabled street queers, will come only when we abolish that system and replace it with a society structured around our needs and our autonomy. Once we understand this, we will be armed to put an end to all the current oppression we see. We understand contradictions, we will gain knowledge of self — where we are from, what we have to offer to this universe. We understand contradictions, we will gain knowledge of struggle — how we have had to fight and why we fight. We understand contradictions, we will gain knowledge of what solidarity is — what it means to fight for intersectional freedom, centering those most vulnerable and overlooked. And if we understand contradictions, we will gain knowledge of spirit — appreciating the fact that we are the people who could fly, who hold African lifeways afloat, and the master only demonizes us and condemns us to hell to scare our people into adopting their values. If we understand contradictions, this enables our people to finally fight a global freedom struggle like we keep trying.

There are some telling us we must not go in that direction. The ones masking the contradiction, who say it's too extreme. They think it's “a reach” to consider this moment a slave rebellion, and to see us as slaves.

They say that all we need to do is find the right leaders to help us out. They believe we have a shared humanity with those who run the Game. And so they tell us to vote for better rulers, and I can assume that when you come into your power, they will say the same to you. Stay woke, my sibs. There were probably slaves who found it worthwhile to negotiate with the master back in the day. They might have said “We should ask the Man give us our drums back,” once the drums were taken. I imagine it might have been a good use of political energy too, if you could use that demand for drums to expose to fellow slaves why drums were taken away in the first place. That’s the only reason a negotiation should happen: expose contradictions and use that to build for revolution.

The tactical slaves could say “the master took drums to prevent communication among us that could be used to plan rebellions” (which is the historical truth). In seeing that master snatched away drums in order to suppress an opportunity for resistance, then we could clearly understand that the colonizer is invested in our domination at all costs and that that is why Man suppresses our liberties (whether it is drum use or voting rights). Negotiation is futile here, we should move as rebels instead and burn down the master’s house (this is what the slave who is truly tactical will use a demand or petition to reveal). But some slaves probably never took it that far, and to this day, many Black people in some sphere of political activation will not — as much as they claim to be playing “chess, not checkers”. Some just decided that when master said no to our demand, or beat us for even asking about our drums, this was simply because Massa was confused. Massa don’t know better. Massa’s heart needs to be fixed. The reformists and assimilationists say we just have to keep asking and praying for drums til we get them. And once we got them, then we could have fun on the plantation, because God honored us and master finally heard us. Meanwhile God had nothing to do with it (just like God would not have softened Pharoah’s heart because God wanted Moses to rebel). The only reason the master gives us our drums is so he could placate us and keep us from getting angry enough to resist. But more importantly it is so he could bring his fellows on to watch us play and dance and shout, so they could enjoy us performing for them, even gamble and make money off this performance. This is how it is with any other crumbs we try to lick off Massa’s table.

I pray that you street queers of the future do not listen to the negotiators. I pray that you understand that the only solution is to ensure that all power is to all our people, and not our proxies. The destiny of your generation is to get it to a point where nobody will be stolen and nobody’s skills will be forcibly robbed of them to build societies for people in power. What you must achieve is a global system where we will be able to finally build our culture and communities freely and safely, healthily, holistically, from the margins, and by our own authority. We must work to replenish the earth, too, and the way we use its resources must be structured according to the consensus and involvement of all, not the ruling few. And we must guard the lane: make sure our planet and its resources and any person or their labor and gifts is not held captive or stolen. We must do this by any means necessary. We must establish a love of freedom. And we must center those on the bottom, so that we take charge of our destinies at last, and have full participation in the liberation of us all.

With love,

for the God who makes the ocean roar,

who created the sun that gives us light,

who whispers ‘freedom’ in our hearts,

and for the ancestors, the nomads, the ungoverned,

the refugees, the lil friends, for the kinfolk,

the pirates, the runaways,  the maroons,

the insurgents, the gworls, the peasants,

the guerrilla warriors, the maGes, the street queens,

for the rioters, the single moms, the hood niggas, and all the wild things Man cannot house,

And for all those who are forgotten and unprotected.

All those who aren’t allowed to love or live as themselves freely

All those who fought and died for our freedom

For all our people wherever they are, and for our homeland, and for our planet

For all beings, even those who are not human,

and for all the people everyone says are less than human

And for all people whose brains work different or whose bodies work different

And for all those in prison or on the street

For all power to all the people. Asé.


If there is no other lesson I impart in this letter, know that the history of the US is a story of oppression and Upheaval: slave revolts against white capitalist domination. Each Upheaval threatens the peace in this nation, and so the government does something to “restore the peace.” They first try to show fake love for Black people, and when that strategy doesn’t work (because our people keep fighting anyway), they violently suppress us. The oppression always leads right back to square one, to more revolts, because the people will never not resist — and the resistance will always be criminalized. They get criminalized because rebellions are the testing ground for more revolutionary propositions. And it is a revolution that will shake the master’s house to its very root and core.

From rebellions we get William Dorsey Swann, Frances Thompson, Lucy Parsons, Hubert Harrison, and others. They are criminalized, as queer liberationists, feminists, anarchists, nationalists, and socialists. They came along after the First Upheaval (Civil War) had happened because it was time to widen the opposition to a more revolutionary proposition. And that was a threat to the master’s house.

From rebellions we get Marsha P Johnson, Kuwasi Balagoon, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X and others. They are criminalized, as trans liberationists, anarchists, nationalists, socialists, feminists. They came along after the Second Upheaval (Civil Rights) happened because it was time to widen the opposition to a more revolutionary proposition. And that was a threat to the master’s house.

You, the street queers of the future, coming out of the Upheaval (rebellions) of today, will be criminalized. It will be a spiritual war too, where they will demonize you and invoke hellfire upon you, because you keep the struggle alive, and it helps the master when Black people forget their own lifeways just to spite the queers. But, know that our destiny is in the stars before us, not the plantations, and that if we just keep on flying to freedom, the Man won’t be able to hold us down forever.