I’m afraid of being too much, of being someone most people don’t know how to love.
Jody Chan, “Safe Enough”
It is an image that I can neither claim nor refuse.
Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
Can we help but look? I think about this as I sit at my desk and watch my grocery order being shopped until the list flips over into the map where I can watch the driver’s icon slide from pin to doorstep. I complain to myself that my groceries will be 10 minutes late as I pour my time out on social media (more watching and being watched). Later, I skype with Haida and she talks about the weird potential embarrassment of hiring someone to clean her apartment and the charged realities of the racializing surveillance that situation asks of her. That’s a hell of a dialectic to negotiate – the positive and negative potentials in being watched and the ways those potentials are shaped, maybe even determined, by evaluative logics where we constantly carry around our rubrics.
Jody Chan writes about the awkward risk of queer dance parties, about the invocations and impossibilities of safety. She looks around the room and gushes, even in a moment of loneliness that “there are too many cute queer couples to count, publicly parading the kind of cute queer love it still shakes my heart to see.” But this looking turns to another: “Every time I lock eyes with a stranger, they are the first one to look away.” And another: “We aren’t targets until we are.” Chan lays out tense dynamics around looking – an inside/outside problem that echoes (but only echoes) McKittrick’s and Browne’s reflections on the hold.
I want to know what ethics there are in looking and how do those minor events add up into the kinds of stratified spaces that Saldanha describes. How does my looking lock hard into Saidiya Hartman leafs through archival photographs to look for the wayward resistances of young Black women and finds the categorical limits drawing of the hands holding the camera. She looks for a sightline to what can’t be seen in the enabled and enabling visibilities of the archive as it both records and defines what can be seen. I read Hartman’s book and think about the camera (or the keyboard) when it’s in my hand. If Hartman describes Black women as she sees them refusing a visibility imposed on them, what is my refusal, my tact? Is it a refusal to impose? A refusal to draw the sightline up?
Is it a refusal to even be visible? Its tempting when the visibility of my whiteness opens up space and enables a whole field of agental possibility. Every time a stranger locks eyes with me, am I the first to look away? The risk and potential of an intimate event might open with a look and, if we’re to transform intimacies, we also need to look and to touch. To meet one another otherwise somehow, but to not just leverage underlying dynamics of visibility. Danielle writes that “We cannot possibly be in waiting for a singular event that touches all of us in the same way that produces a collective will strong enough to then produce us as politically acting subjects. Too many people laugh at drunks and addicts to feel better about themselves. I can only return to my personal project as a subject affected and effected by other subjects. And then we die, but maybe hands can touch differently or we can appreciate that they ever touched at all.” That pull to relation – to touch, to care, to a look, a word. Chan feels this. The desire for a partner crosscut with the fear of not having a partner. A fear, for Chan, not necessarily conjoined to the demands of the couple form (though…), but to the lack of support system that comes with ableist structures under capitalism. The need for an anchor to call her back into relation. I feel this too.