The Death Café was introduced by Esther Ignagni and Eliza Chandler, who discussed what it entails and the meaning behind it.
We then got to break out into groups and have an open dialogue with the use of readily available prompts. It was great to just sit down and have a conversation with people I otherwise may not have engaged with. Discussing our different cultural and family traditions surrounding funerals and death was eye opening. I’ve always been really into talking about god and religion but not as much about coping with death and the ideas surrounding it.
This in particular struck me as in the past few months I’ve experienced a lot of deaths. The most recent being the passing of RTA’s beloved professor, Dana Lee. Seeing people coping with it and celebrating his life is really impacting. Death is a lot to bare and having moments with other individuals who feel the same way about him has been really meaningful. People live on in our memories of them, and the impact that they have on our lives, which is truly beautiful and worth discussing. Hence, Death Café.
“Black People Die Differently”
Within my group, I brought up the topic of black deaths that are the result of police brutality and the movement surrounding them. We also talked about videos that we witness online of victims of police brutality; which also brought in the topic of school shootings in America later on.
Going back to black death, a statement that stuck out to me is the notion that “death is [black peoples’] life […] in the present” (Walcott, 192). Topics surrounding police brutality are masterfully brought up in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing, which is an awards nominated film that showcases the tension surrounding race relations in Brooklyn, New York. It demonstrates that “[…] violence as practiced by police forces can at any time take a Black person’s life with impunity (Walcott, 192).
On a different note, I noticed the lack of conversation about a particular topic we have to find room to discuss within death café that I regret not bringing up.
We must also make sure to discuss animal death. An overarching commonality that I’ve noticed is that human rights activists who care about feminism, black lives matter, LGBTQ rights, do not see the overlap with these themes in terms of animal life, particularly animal agriculture, and our contribution to death as consumers. A specific moment when I thought about this was when we discussed our first experiences with death, an individual shared that her first experience with death was her dog. That was a comment that was surprising because we always think the ones close to us are human, meanwhile animal deaths, particularly dog deaths, sometimes get an even bigger reaction. Why? Perhaps it’s the innocence, the silent, yet powerful, emotional connection.
I always question, why just dogs? Other animals face a lot more and the only difference in how we see it is seeded in culture. Just like we won’t talk about the faults within religion, even when former believers discuss their horrendous experiences, we continue to be blinded by ideas we were brought up believing, that religion is just peace, that the problem is solely on the people who take it “the wrong way”. This notion that it’s purely peaceful while it actively and selectively dehumanizes certain groups.
One of my most real experiences with realizing death was witnessing animal death in factory farm exposing videos which I strongly urge you to watch.
It’s always so absurd to me that we see animals as so invaluable, commodities, just a number that simply isn’t troubling to many who advocate for human rights. There are differences but what are they, when animals are pure innocence, when they feel the same emotions we do? They’re like human babies, innocent, have a tough time communication, and don’t do harm. Just because they’re incapable of speaking our language, but we hear their screams, their resistance, their unwillingness to death.
I want to believe that humans are better than that, we don’t want to do harm, but then when people who are so open minded, serve non-vegan products, not even offering that option in a space where we talk about death, when we are contributing to eventual death, and extreme suffering. Who are we? We completely overlook our place and scientifically proven facts about the health and environmental benefits of not consuming animal products.
I was just prompted to ask the question, why were some sentient beings constantly omitted within the dialogue?
I wonder if this is something that can be introduced within the syllabus, if not this year then next. I realize that it’s hard to make a change when “food” is so personal to how we live our lives but this is the activist’s duty. We need to question everything, no excuses.
Deaf Community Involvement
On a better note, I was really pleased with the level of inclusivity within the Death Café. Giving the deaf community the ability to share their experience and opinions by utilizing an ASL interpreter.
This was more surprising for me even though I know individuals with disabilities are involved in death café discussions but the fact that I got to attend, participate and witness it in action was great. It’s nice to know when an institution doesn’t just talk about representation but actively participates in engaging with numerous communities.
A young mans comment really stood out to me when he discussed the lack of access and equal life opportunities for a deaf individual that ended up dying.
In relation, I wanted to share a short film that I got to see at TIFF, which won the Oscar for best live action short, called The Silent Child. It dealt with ideas of invisibility, extremely limited understanding, and unwillingness to learn about deaf culture and ASL. I thought it was phenomenally done, and really showcased situations that no doubt, many deaf youth experience.
Going back to the young man that was mentioned, reading Eliza Chandler and Esther Ignani’s “Strange Beauty”, and hearing stories and watching films makes me truly realize the importance of creating inclusivity and access for all. I’ve been an advocate for so many human rights issues and animal welfare but accessibility is something I’m now realizing to a different extent than I previously have. ASL is a language that has really fascinated me and I’ve wanted to learn it for a while so I’m looking at classes I can take. Deaf culture really interests me and I feel inspired. Thank you.
-Amreen Kullar (500763822)
Chandler, Eliza & Ignani, Esther, “Strange Beauty: Aesthetic Possibilities for Desiring Disability Into the Future” (unpublished)
Walcott, Rinaldo, “Black Queer Studies, freedom and Other Human Possibilities” in Queer Returns, Insomniac Press 2017