But what, exactly, does true liberation for Black folk look like? What would it mean for us to truly be free? How would we get there?


By Denarii Grace

Some days I wonder if the work that I do is worth it. On the surface, Black artists/cultural workers, healers, teachers and activists who live most on the margins have the least to gain in their lines of work. And in a society based on the allure of social and financial capital, we are often also told we have the least to offer our communities by people who value looks and status over dedication, calling and Love with a capital L.

This means, in our attempts to survive capitalism, we often struggle to pay bills. We go hungry, lose our shelter, wade in isolation, have our ideas stolen and commercialized, our contributions taken for granted, and we’re forgotten over time. And we only ever seem to care about each other—no one else cares about us.

Some days it makes me angry. “Why do I gotta struggle like this?” Other days I’m just weary, wondering why I had to be chosen to do this kind of work. I’ve certainly considered giving up at times, in more ways than one.

But as Juneteenth approaches, it feels as though the spirits of my ancestors are rising up, reminding me of both where they’ve been and where they need me to go. “You can’t give up; you’re needed. And we brought you too far. Our strength is your strength,” they tell me. And it’s a powerful reminder.

I know that, though the freedom our ancestors celebrated over 150 years ago was an important milestone, it was not the end of our struggle. In the words of Donald “Duck” Matthews from The Five Heartbeats, “We haven’t finished yet.” And with that in mind, I am rededicating my work to the liberation of all Black folk.

But what, exactly, does true liberation for Black folk look like? What would it mean for us to truly be free? How would we get there?

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Black liberation theology is decades old. And there have been many other writers, thought leaders, and agitators who’ve created roadmaps to our collective freedom. What I am offering is not unique. It is also not a complete picture, as I am limited by space. View it as a love letter—a renewal of our vows to our community, to ourselves, toward the dismantling of white supremacy and all its related isms.

Practicing these ideas requires us to educate, heal, and build in our individual communities, in ways that make sense for our own histories, cultural traditions, and access to resources. Some of these ways I have outlined below.

This is the Incomplete Black Liberation Manifesto of Denarii Grace.


I can’t write a Black Liberation manifesto without acknowledging the reality that we are a scattered people. Some of us remained on ancestral lands known as Africa. Millions of us, however, were shipped to various lands colonized and renamed the “Americas.” Most of us ended up in what colonizers call “Latin America.”

Due to centuries of imperialism, capitalist wars, and further colonization wreaking havoc on our various homes, destroying or appropriating cultures, histories, and economies, many more of us have found ourselves displaced through asylum-seeking, so-called undocumented migration, modern-day slavery and other means.

As such, I cannot talk about liberation for Black people without talking about our relationship with Native, First Nation, Alaskan Native, and Polynesian peoples, who are the Indigenous cultures (with a capital I) of much of the land on which we find ourselves today.

While I believe that we must remain autonomous in the creation of our own liberation, I practice this with an understanding of and commitment to the sovereignty of indigenous peoples (with a lowercase i) across the world. I believe that, in order for our liberation to be just, we must work together with Native peoples toward the destruction of colonization, capitalism and imperialism—which have taken so much from both of us, including our lands.

The subsidized apartment building that I live in was built on land that not only doesn’t belong to our landlord, but also doesn’t belong to me. And while I don’t believe that this means we should be forced to pack our bags and “go back to Africa” (historically racist, anti-Black rhetoric that ignores centuries of systemic oppression), to claim that this land belongs to me is also not justice.

It is way past time that we work through our collective and mutual traumas, through anti-Blackness within Native communities and anti-Native sentiments within Black communities, centering those who find themselves at the intersections of both Black and Indigenous experience.

Treading carefully in this endeavor cannot be overemphasized; there is already much damage between us. The process won’t be easy. Feelings will get hurt. People will say and do fucked up things—sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. In some cases, on a smaller scale, walking away will be the best thing to do. But on a larger scale, we must strive for healing and alliance-building.


In its simplest form, “autonomy” is the exact principle that both we and our ancestors have been denied since initial captivity. There is no Black person alive, in an anti-Black world, who knows true freedom from external control or influence. Even those who have “made it” routinely experience both the interpersonal and systemic effects of anti-Blackness. It is inescapable as long as anti-Blackness exists.

As both a Black person and a survivor of sexual violence and misogyny, the concept of autonomy is of utmost importance to me. It’s what guides my belief in the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, my deep hatred for rape culture and capitalism, my prison abolition politics, and my fights for disability justice and sexual freedom, among other things.

Autonomy for Black folk is two-fold. As a people, we must be able to determine, without outside influence, what is best for our local communities. As individuals, we must be able to consent to what happens to our bodies, our belongings, and how we move, think and grow in the world. True liberation will not exist if freedom doesn’t flourish in both of those senses.

This includes freedom for fat people and the destruction of fat antagonism, which asserts that bodies like mine 1) aren’t good enough 2) must be changed and 3) can be systematically abused and discriminated against as long as they exist.


There have been many conversations over the last several years about transformative and restorative justice as alternatives to the police/prison state. Unsurprisingly, these tools for accountability and healing have roots in Black and Indigenous cultures.

As we build a world in which practicing autonomy is safe for us, it’s important that we subvert the current capitalist, white supremacist, ableist, classist, colorist and trans antagonistic “justice” systems by building modes of healing and accountability that are founded on the needs of victims/survivors, love and compassion.

Black non-men are too often unsafe in the presence of Black men. We die at their hands far more often than we die at the hands of white people. Anyone who truly knows me understands the seething hatred I have for abusers, rapists and violent, manipulative people of all a/genders. Simply put, I don’t tolerate that shit. In fact, as pro-prison abolition as I am, I won’t lie to you: I rejoiced when Bill Cosby was found guilty of (only some of) the sexual violence he’s perpetuated. Survivors see so little justice in this world that we savor what little “victories” we can find. I will never judge or begrudge anyone those feelings.

But at the end of the day, the system that occasionally gets it somewhat right is deadly to those of us most on the margins. While we must make do with our current reality, we must also actively work toward total healing. We must begin using the alternatives that exist now—not tomorrow, not next week, and certainly not years down the line.

RELATED: What does prison abolition mean to the mother whose son has been decapitated?

Like capitalism, this current system of law did not always exist. Many of our ancestors had systems of justice that did not require locking people in boxes, taking away their rights, and violating them physically, mentally, and spiritually. We know that we can do better because we have done better.

Many resources already exist and fellow healers and educators are out there doing the work. Find them, learn from them, incorporate their teachings into your life. Create ways of addressing harm and abuse that don’t include involving the state. Develop ways to handle non-cooperative abusers that don’t dehumanize them. This world is possible, family.

Speaking of family, part of the work of healing includes not only creating new ways of holding those who harm accountable, but also addressing the trauma and ongoing hurt that we do to one another as a diasporic people. It’s of utmost importance that we connect to Black folk across colonized, man-made borders. It’s important that we repair relationships on this plane and cultivate relationships with our ancestors. Global anti-Blackness, internalized anti-Blackness, oceans, and distance (among other things) have kept us apart for far too long.


Last, but certainly not least, if we’re truly committed to divesting from the ways of our oppressors, this also means breaking our attachment to capitalism. Now, it’s true that political-economic ideas like communism and socialism, in their modern forms, are just as foreign to our ancestors as capitalism. It’s also true that the destruction of capitalism alone will not save us. But we know that the oppression of our people is inextricably linked to the development and spread of capitalism.

Capitalism is a system which necessitates—creates and maintains, even—an underclass in order for it to work. It is an economic system which, by its very nature, exploits the most vulnerable. There is no way to create a “benevolent” capitalism.

So, if we are to be truly free, it’s important that we begin unlearning capitalist beliefs (like the concept of “Black Wall Street”) and developing understanding of other economic systems. Systems that emphasize being in community, a love and respect for nature, and recognize the inherent worth of all human beings, whether they produce (work) or not.

Like alternatives to the police and prison state, many resources exist to learn about alternatives to capitalism, both the more well-known communism and socialism as well as ancestral modes of business and exchange.

By no means am I suggesting that we regress to a life before industrialization, computers, cars, and the internet. I love my Netflix just as much as the next person; Red Lobster is my favorite restaurant chain. (Don’t judge me.)

But I do believe that we would benefit from a returning: to our ancestors’ beliefs, modes of living, and understanding of people, Earth, and our relationship to each other.


All of this requires tremendous amount of heavy lifting, unlearning and healing. It’s impossible for this kind of change to happen even in a generation or two. But I do believe it’s possible.

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, I hope you’ll join me in doing the teaching and learning, listening and loving required for us to move closer to these and other goals.

This journey, like this manifesto, is only the beginning.

New York–based social justice warrior Denarii (rhymes with ‘canary’) Grace is a bisexual, non-binary, proudly fat, multiply disabled, poor, femme woman. She’s a blues singer-songwriter, poet, freelance writer/editor, screenwriter, public speaker/educator/activist, and a non-fiction editor at The Deaf Poets Society, an online journal featuring literature and art by D/deaf and disabled people. Denarii’s activism mostly focuses on bi+ (plus) identity and issues, disability, Blackness, and fat acceptance; they also talk about gender, class, colorism and other issues. Her activism today is primarily through their writing, music, and poetry, but she also has abundant experience moderating and participating in panels and webinars and facilitating workshops. As a freelance writer, they have written for Bitch Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, Everyday Feminism, and The Establishment, among several others. She coined the term “exogender” to describe their (a)gender experience. It’s a term for Black people only. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.