broken heart

Still Grieving: Atlanta

Content warning: this post contains descriptions of racist and sexualized violence.

I have been grieving in private, scared alone, but I know that my grief is not my own and I am not the only one who is afraid.

It’s been a week since I woke up to the news that Asian women had been killed, targeted and killed, by a man who hated women who looked like me so much that he could not even say out loud that he hated Asian women. A week since the first police reports and news conference statements refused to say that a hatred of Asian women cannot but be a part of what happened. A week where I have cried every day for those who have been targeted and murdered, and for all of us who have suffered the major and not-so-minor violences of what it means to be Asian, and especially an Asian woman, in North America today.

I am grieving and I am scared. Scared for my elderly mother who goes to Chinatown in Edmonton once a week to pick up the Chinese-language newspapers that are part of the very thin line of defense that has kept my father from slipping too far into dementia. Scared for my super-smart daughter. I love that she looks a little (or sometimes a lot) like me and I am terrified that she looks anything like me. Because I know that being smart won’t be enough to protect her or spare her.

I am smart. And I have not been protected or spared.

It’s been a week where I am filled with rage about the harassment — and sometimes worse — that I have survived. The driver in the car I hailed to take me to the hospital for a procedure who told me about how he hadn’t seen his girlfriend in China for months and then looked at me, letting the silence fill the car so that I would feel the weight of his expectation. The guy who says ni hao to me and then goes into an expletive-laden rage when I do not respond. Always a version of, “Smile [insert an expletive that always feels like being slapped in the face when it lands in my ears], I’m talking to you.” The guy before him who did that too. And the one before that. And before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and before that, and, and, and. The one who stared and stared at me at a train station while my daughter sat reading her book on a pile of luggage at my feet, and then suddenly walked up to me and squeezed my left nipple so hard it bruised, and then walked away. The time when I was in a new city for an academic conference and tried to walk to a bookstore to buy the Sunday paper and was stopped by the police who told me that I Iooked like a prostitute because I was wearing a skirt and walking on the street. I loved that skirt. I never wore it again. The times when I am propositioned locking up my bike on my way to have lunch with my husband, and realize that I’ve chosen a bike stand that happens to be in front of one of the many second-story massage parlours that are dot the office-towered neighbourhoods in my city.

And so much more.

Of course, a variation of this happens to so many of us. I am not unique. Like so many of us, I have spent the week remembering all of these moments of minor and major terror. Remembering how I try to joke about them in the aftermath. And if it’s too awful for me to laugh it off, how I bury it deep, and try to forget it ever happened.

Except that it keeps happening.

It keeps happening and then the white world around me keeps trying to make me forget, to make me minimize it, or question the fact of it happening at all.

The denial runs so deep. The day after the shootings, I have to go to a meeting in my capacity as an Associate Dean and I am supposed to talk about international students and their access to our virtual classrooms. I am asked if we can expect students from China to be in our classrooms again this fall. I look into this virtual room of colleagues who mean well and I say that covid aside, we have a lot of work to do to assure our students that Canada is not a place where anti-Asian hate thrives. My voice wavers. Immediately, someone posts in the chat that it is not so bad in Canada. This on the same day that anybody who cared or bothered to look would have seen reports that “Canadians have reported more anti-Asian racist incidents per capita than the U.S. since the start of the pandemic.” Anti-Asian racism has been a part of my normal and its intensification during covid is something that every Asian person I knew braced themselves for when the pandemic unfurled more than a year ago.

We knew this would happen but that doesn’t stop our hearts from breaking.

If you are in a room, virtual or otherwise, with AAPI folks, know that our hearts are still breaking. We are still grieving. Our grief is deep and old. We are still scared for ourselves, our elders, and our children.

There is a lot to do and a lot to say and a lot of care to give and yes yes yes all that.

But for now, please, let us grieve. Let us stay in it. Don’t move too fast through it. Do not look away. There’s been enough of that.