The Mystical Art of Codeswitching
In honor of Black Speculative Fiction Month, eight SFF authors share stories that honor forebearers and memories of the past, fight the legacies that underpin the brutalities of the present, and demand a future that’s freer than today.
The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the morning of October 19. They are collected here.
Omar lounged on his sectional, his face and body lit only by the blue glow of his phone’s screen, and pressed the Home icon in the app. He scrolled up to read the latest messages on his feed. Hunger gnawed at him, but he couldn’t drum up the energy to walk to the kitchen, let alone find and cook something to eat. For now, he pressed the Home icon again. No new notifications. He shifted to the What’s Trending tab and absorbed the chaos.
@CNN: BREAKING: Protests nationwide continue after 15-year-old Aaron Davis was killed in an officer-involved shooting on Detroit’s west side.
Reply to @CNN: Jazmine Jefferson-Hughes was killed two days before and there’s nothing but crickets. The misogynoir at these legacy media orgs is enough to make me want to [redacted].
Omar scrolled down his feed to another thread.
@BLM_IN: We’re organizing another march to seek justice for victims of police brutality: tonight at 7 p.m.! Come out in numbers, y’all! We won’t leave until that lying ass chief is gone.
Reply @BLM_IN: And we won’t leave until every one of you parasites is exterminated.
His heart began to beat double time, so he took a deep breath. Out. In. Out. In. “Don’t be afraid to log off,” his therapist would say. But he lived alone in the suburbs of Indianapolis and his neighbors openly stared at him every time he left his house. Families often gathered in the parking lots of his apartment complex, laughing and talking, until he stepped foot on his front porch, and they scattered like cockroaches under a floodlight.
He tapped Home, glanced at the five new messages on his screen, then pushed the New Tweet icon. Don’t y’all ever just . . . He stopped typing, then erased the four words from the message field. A second later, a private message notification popped up. He tapped the icon and waited for the webpage to reload. He didn’t recognize the username—@Free_Samaale—but he certainly recognized the name of his mother’s clan’s well-known forefather. “Freedom for Samaale” had been the protestors’ most recent battle cry before the West informally declared war.
Omar pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed, hard. He flashed back to the nearby boom of a bomb bursting just above the cityscape, leveling blocks of squat tenements while the pale, endless blue sky was swallowed by smoke. His throat burned from the phantom pain of inflammation; his ears rang from the explosion.
Good evening, Omar, @Free_Samaale had written.
Three dots danced underneath the text bubble, so he waited, willing his heart to quiet.
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
That could refer to anything, he thought. What is? he typed.
No shit, he responded.
It’s lonely too.
He clicked the user’s picture, an illustrated Pan-African flag, and when the page loaded, an error message flashed across a blank white screen: “This user account does not exist.” He pushed the back button. What the hell do you want? he wrote.
The better question is what do YOU want. Don’t you want to be free?
He didn’t have time for this nonsense. He deleted the message and blocked the user. Returning to the New Tweet screen, he began again: Don’t y’all ever just wish we could exist together without the people who hate us watching our every move? Then he hit Tweet.
But what actually appeared on his screen wasn’t what he’d written—it wasn’t even in English. Instead, it was a long string of foreign symbols—symbols he’d never seen before. Yet somehow, he was able to translate them, tell that they meant exactly what he’d intended to say. He hit the Home button again and the page was flooded with tweets using the same weird script, all of them expressing various levels of confusion, all of them from people he could identify one way or another as Black.
Yo, wtf is wrong with this website??? Why is the text all messed up? But I can still read it, tho???
I just checked my keyboard and it’s definitely set to Spanish, but as soon as I type anything these weird symbols come up instead…
Everything my white mutuals post is in English, but they can’t read mine!
If you can read this right now, are you Black? Where you from? This tweet already had dozens of responses.
Yes. Mississippi, one person replied.
Yup, Chicago, wrote another.
I’m in the Navajo Nation.
Yeah I’m Black, in Accra rn. This shit is crazy fr like???
Okinawa. The hell is this, some janky CIA project?
His app chimed again. He had another private message . . . from the same person he’d just blocked.
Aren’t you tired? the message read.
We are, they continued.
So we’ll help. Just like we used to reach out to the stars to guide us, the stars are reaching back.
Don’t be scared, though. It’s gonna be all right.
His uncle had said basically the same thing a year ago, before Omar fled Somalia through a work visa program. Even now they hadn’t found the man’s body, but every bit of extra money Omar scraped together went directly to helping his mother’s family rebuild after the prime minister’s assassination and the bombings.
Aren’t y’all . . . tired? Don’t you ever just—
He stopped typing. Don’t say it. Someone could be watching.
There was always someone watching.
But fuck it.
I mean . . . Don’t you ever just . . . want to stop pretending this is gonna end with anything other than a bullet to a lotta white folks’ skulls?
He watched the letters shift and change before his eyes and then hit Tweet.
If we goin there, then fuck it, came a response from a Black American. I have no faith left in this system. None. Burn it down. Molotov cocktails for everyone, shit.
Hypothetically speaking . . . a Molotov cocktail isn’t your most effective option, said the Salvadoran. Here’s how you REALLY start a revolution (1/?)
Omar shared the tweet and added his two cents, remembering the uprising in his home country. Rage flooded his veins.
And this is how they’ll try to destroy it.
“The Mystical Art of Codeswitching” copyright © 2020 by Sydnee Thompson
Art copyright © 2020 by Eli Minaya
Sydnee Thompson is a speculative fiction writer whose bylines include FIYAH Lit Magazine, Fireside Magazine, and io9. Her short fiction often explores the ethical and societal ramifications of technology developed under capitalism and how marginalized people find ways to subvert it. She is currently drafting a fantasy novel about queer people of color trying to avoid killing each other and falling in love, in that order, while accidentally saving the world from malevolent gods. When not writing fiction, she spends her time playing JRPGS, watching anime, taking naps, and working as a freelance copy and content editor for independent authors. You can find her other work and social media links on her website, shadesofsydnee.com.