- Afterword: Across Difference, Toward Freedom
I was delighted when SA Smythe invited me to write this Afterword. It extended an earlier invitation issued in 2018 to participate in a symposium, “Troubling the Grounds: Global Figurations of Blackness, Nativism, and Indigeneity,” held in May 2019. My response to Dr. Smythe was short: “My mother has cancer—not a secret—and I’m her primary caregiver. I’m unable to travel out of the country.” It was more curt than I’d have liked; the schedule of doctor’s visits and regular tests and intermittent hospitalizations and homecare left me too exhausted to think with others, even too exhausted to write more elegant emails. Some tethers are more weighted than others. I am so grateful that the invitation remained open, and returned, and that I could accept it this time.
This invitation arrived during a global pandemic, at a time of unrelenting grief and exhausting carework, a time of compounding losses and inventive mutual aid. A time when those vulnerable to premature death have been made even more vulnerable, while others have been made newly vulnerable. A time when thinking and writing have felt clotted: urgent in the face of ongoing devastation and impeded by the halting rhythms of fear and mourning. Time has felt interrupted and unending, labyrinthine and borrowed. We—I?—have struggled to document what it feels like to try to live now, and wondered what forms of analyses and invention can suffice to name our present.1 We—I?—have wondered if all writing is useless unless eulogy and obituary, and know that, in some way, every piece of writing is infused with the sound and feeling of loss.
Interruption and truncation have become rhythms of living and thinking, ways of marking the impossibility of time. Rest in Peace (RIP) and pole saturate the air:2 grief thickens, as does rage. And these mark the sayable—often choked out, always necessary, especially when survival and freedom are at stake, and especially when survival and freedom are framed as antagonists by those who want our survival, but not our freedom. I am not trying to be abstract—it is simply that geohistories stack against each other, and over and over we tell each other that India feels like Kenya feels like South Africa feels like Canada feels like England feels like the U.S. feels like Uganda feels like . . . : minoritized lives are at stake; minoritized lives are considered disposable; and minoritized lives are further minoritized by state neglect and abandonment. Everything is not everything—sometimes, it feels like it is.
And still, there is invitation: to think with and along, to imagine from where we are toward freedom, to see with clarity all the ways we are assembled as the undone and the unmade and to know with certainty all the ways we make ourselves possible as we pursue freedom. I can do no better than to echo and amplify the invitation that was extended to me. I invite you to read and reread the assembled writing, as I have also been invited to read and reread, to learn and to imagine toward freedom.
I am writing from Nairobi, Kenya. The name Nairobi is derived from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyrobi—place of the cool waters. A wandering nation, a nation of people who pursue life on the move—contact, pleasure, trade, food, adventure—the Maasai model ways to think about ancestral naming that do not privilege ownership. Not “I name this and so it belongs to me,” but “I passed here, noticed my experience of it, named that experience, and in that naming created dreams that might shape how others experience it.” Against the press of dangerous, ongoing ethnonationalisms in Kenya, where certain ethnic groups claim specific lands and attempt to expel others from those lands, I have been trying to imagine relations to place and space that are not based on exclusionary ownership. It might be that some names invite us to share experiences—a club named bliss, a bar named happy, a mountain named cold, a food named delicious—and that place is an invitation, not a boundary.
Geohistories: Where we...