I fly a lot. Conferences, guest lectures, conversations — sharing scholarship, sharing A Black Woman’s Journey, sharing the amazing transformation that I am in the midst of at Virginia Tech, an institution on the cusp of actualizing its potential, and an institution I have come to care about deeply, and sharing time with family. Lately, while flying, I take pictures of clouds,
of sky, of sun, of land and oceans.
While airports always seem full, many people in the world, most of the world never flies — literally and figuratively. Most never get to soar above, to be high, to be untethered to land, to gain perspective, to be above, to be free. Most people all over the world do not have the economic means to fly — to fly above and out of the circumstances of their neighborhoods, to be free from the dice that were rolled and allocated them to the streets of India in the lowest caste, the garbage cans of China for girls, the isolated villages steeped in poverty and hunger in Africa, or South America, or even rural Appalachia.
I’m grateful for my ability to fly, to detach, to soar, to sail in the air. It is a moment of freedom when I feel the power of an incredible multi ton monster lift off into the air, defying all the odds of gravity and physics. I try to hold on to that feeling, so that I too might feel that I can defy the odds of my birth as a Black woman, a descendant of slaves in America, with expectations of never rising above an identity tied to inhumanity, animality, and physicality, an identity connected to being permanently tethered to land as a slave like mules and oxen and donkeys. They don’t fly.
African people were not brought here on air, on planes, but by boat on a journey over the ocean…the Middle Passage…from Africa to America. There is still trauma in the world from the extraction from native land. ..for Native Americans and other communities – removals, relocations, refugees. There are sacred secrets in our native lands, answers from ancestors, often lost when we leave. As I fly over others, over people, I realize that flying can give us a false sense of superiority and dominance…being all high and mighty in the clouds…you know, up there with the Gods they say live in heaven, which they tell us is in the sky … somewhere….somewhere planes never seem to soar. Knowing that we have power and privilege that others don’t have, how do we stay grounded, committed to service, committed to social justice, committed to the work of equity?
Sometimes on the plane, I look and long to touch the clouds and feel the universe’s softness; to lay on the clouds like a soft fluffy pillow bed, curling up like a little baby and being comforted by the embrace of the essence of life and love that surely must exist in the universe. Suddenly, turbulence disrupts, creating dissonance, and disturbing the dream of safety and security. The abrupt landing — harsh, jolting, shocking — brings me back to the reality of the land, the earth, the ground, the place and space I daily navigate — full of injustice, inequity, inhumanity, inescapable poverty, the “ins” and “outs” of life.
Ahhh … to fly again, to feel free.