Skip to Content

Black Mermaids and Swimming and Red Hair and Ancestry

By Sasa Aakil

They say, Ariel could never be black.
That black folks don't have red hair and can't swim no how.
They list all the reasons we have no right to this title
and I can only think of Hasan.

Brown skin boy with hair red as fire.
Quick wit, quick smile.
Born with sunset resting atop his head like crown.
And yes, it's kinky, yes, it coils,
Yes, it's every bit as black as the skin he wears and the people he come from.

I think of Yasmine.
Low lids and mocha skin.
Long red locs resting on her shoulders like a cloak to keep her warm.
Red as cayenne.
Red as love.
Red as the day she was born.

They say, black folks can't swim and I think of my brother.
Who loves the summer,
because summer means beaches and
beaches mean ocean and bright sun that will take his skin tone from caramel to dark rich toast.
He splashes into the water and does not leave it.
Swims and calls the fish his brothers,
calls the ocean his friend,
calls the sun his benefactor and soaks in its rays.

They say, black folks could never be mermaids
and I think of my ancestors.
Who lived black and free in the sun until their capture.
I think of the choice they made
and how perhaps they grew gills and fins instead of being crushed under the waves.
How perhaps they were the first and only true myths
and maybe I got cousins deep beneath the Atlantic.

They say, we have no right to this
and I think of myself.
Girl who feels called to ocean every day.
Whose strong hands and calloused feet scissor kick and split the water with each movement. Whose black body is never more at peace than when it is submerged in water,
when it is in the waves,
when it is near her ancestors who breathed air and maybe water.
I look at the horizon where sky meets sea and I see tombstone and rebirth place.

They say, Ariel could never be black and yet I wonder
what do white folks know about ocean floor
or learning to breathe water because they would not give you air? 




Listen as Sasa Aakil reads Black Mermaids and Swimming and Red Hair and Ancestry .

Added: Friday, March 29, 2024  /  Used with permission.
Sasa Aakil
Photo by Tavon Taylor.

Sasa Aakil is a Multimedia Artist, Writer, and the 2021 Montgomery County Youth Poet Laureate. She is a potter, painter, poet, print maker, and bassist living and working in Wheaton, Maryland. Sasa has been featured in Bethesda Magazine for her work as Youth Poet Laureate. She has also been featured in The Washington Post, as well as on WTOP, for her work on the A Man Was Lynched Yesterday Project in 2020. She has won numerous awards in writing and performed poetry at the Kennedy Center’s What’s Going On Festival in 2023. Sasa has been active in the DC art community since age 13 and has been in numerous art shows around the DMV. She is finishing her degree in Fine Arts at Howard University in Spring 2024. More information about Sasa’s visual and written work can be found on her website

Image Description:black and white portrait of Sasa Aakil, an African American Hijabi. Sasa wears a black scarf and smiles slightly at the camera.

Other poems by this author