Keeping Company

This is a companion piece to Lily Cho’s Still Grieving: Atlanta. It is written in consultation with her. All italicized lines are from Lily’s post.

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. 

Lily Cho—Associate Dean, respected scholar, brilliant writer, sartorial witch, colleague, mother, friend—wrote these words. She wrote them a week after a white man shot and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women. She wrote these words a few days after an Atlanta police officer referred to this deliberate act of racism and misogyny, this hate crime, as the result of “a bad day.” My friend wrote these words, and in so doing made her grief public. In writing, in making public her grief, which is both fresh and historied, she put into focus what, for some of us may fall outside our immediate fields of vision.

If, like me, you are a white reader, a white woman reading this, a white woman working in the academy, you might recognize some of these griefs. Like me, though, you will not recognize them all. My fear and Lily’s fear keep one another company, but they are not the same creatures. Our fears are not fed and hunted in the same ways.

After reading Lily’s words, I found myself wondering once again with fresh urgency how to keep company with grief that is not my own. 

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.

I recently attended a virtual lecture by Dr. Sara Ahmed entitled Complaint! According to the host and moderator, Dr. Malinda Smith, over a thousand other people were tuning in as well. Ahmed’s talk focused on gathering the complaints of racialized women in academic institutions, giving them airtime, and thinking through the theoretical, affective, and material labours of making complaints. Complaints about oppressive systems and institutions come from within oppressive systems and institutions, Ahmed explained. Complaints happen behind the closed doors of these oppressive systems and situations. When we start to understand complaint as feminist pedagogy—and especially as feminist pedagogy that comes from a long lineage of Black feminist, feminist of colour, and Indigenous feminist critiques of systems of oppression—we begin to help open the door. We begin to keep company in the rooms of others. We begin to bear intentional witness. 

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

With her permission, I am weaving Lily’s words into my thinking here. Citation is part of academic practice, and citational praxis is a key part of an intersectional feminist practice. When I turn to Lily’s words, I read them affectively and I read them as a literary critic trained in close-reading. I read these words to keep their aliveness and their feeling close to me. Lily’s words remind me what a privilege it is to attend to the experiences and stories of another. What a responsibility this attending-to is, as well. As I do this weaving work, it occurs to me that in my institution making an official complaint is referred to as making a grievance. Grieving. That’s the verb.

I am grieving and I am scared.

This week, students and I are reading Anthesis: A Memoir by Sue GoyetteThe long poem is an act of reclamation through poeisis. It is, she writes, a public response to private questions. I found myself thinking about grief, and then, this: in the introduction, Sue writes about her methodology. The company she keeps and the pedagogy she receives come from an unlikely agave plant, blooming in the Halifax Public Gardens after its crate was badly damaged, and it comes from the J pod Northwest orcas, specifically J35. You might remember J35. In 2018, after her calf died, she carried it for seventeen days over more than a thousand miles. When she was tired her pod took turns carrying the calf to relieve her. 

Here is what Goyette writes:

“I am still intrigued by this for many reasons: by how J35’s grief was shared, supported; by how the whale was relieved, communally, from grieving in solitude; by how her pod participated in her grieving…. I wondered what I could learn from this. What would navigating by my emotional intelligence of this experience look like? What meaning-making would this process create? …. And how might learning with the orca shape a private and then a feminist collective response to (public) grieving?” (11)

What can happen when and if we work–or in some cases, continue to work–to keep company with grief and grievance as a feminist collective response? There is so much grief work to do. To keep company with. To loft into public view and give time, space, respect, and dignity to. To bear withness.

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

As I read Lily’s words, the words and griefs of people who are not me, whose griefs are not specific to my own lived experience, I am learning that keeping these griefs and grievances company, keeping them aloft with my attention and my time, is part of a feminist collective response to public grieving. It is also, I think, a way to stay with the griefs and grievances. For, as Lily writes, moving too fast blurs the details and decades and centuries of grievances that lead to violences and rupture events. And, as she writes and I write with her, there’s been enough of that