The Myth of Safe Spaces (and Some Happy Discoveries)

Exclusion

I want to start with the statement that I can have my own opinions and still be a part of a community and an ally to my community (or various communities). No one person or group of people get to make blanket statements for everyone else, we all have our own voices, thoughts, opinions, and can speak for ourselves as individual people. With that being said, I am beginning to think that the idea of safe spaces is a myth.

About a month ago, around the time of the Twin Cities Pride Festival, I got a text about a party for PoC (people of color). The message said that the party was supposed to create a safe space for PoC and that White people were also welcome if they were accompanied by at least three PoC. The party sounded cool, and I was excited to be invited, but that last line killed it for me.

I get that as a marginalized group, we need spaces that are our own, where privileged voices do not take front and center stage, and where we are not the butt of racist jokes or microaggressions, hypersexualizing, and the list goes on, believe me, I understand that, and I crave that kind of space SO badly. BUT I wondered, would someone look at me and ask where my three PoC accompaniers were? I don’t immediately come off as Latina, some people say I do, others say I don’t look Latina at all, so I couldn’t help but wonder which card I would end up drawing if I showed up at that party. I wondered even more, what would happen if I showed up with my White fiance. Would we be asked to leave because we were missing two PoC for her to get in the door? The idea that a certain number of PoC accompaniers is necessary for White admittance also positions PoC as commodities, like tickets for entry, which is not ok at all (though this is a relative idea, some might say it does the opposite of commodification, but that isn’t my perspective).

Needless to say, I ended up passing over this party. I didn’t want to feel like an outsider (because my race is not immediately apparent to some), or a commodity, or feel unwelcome bringing my fiance because of her race.It’s kind of ironic how an event that is meant to make people of color feel safe and comfortable in their own bodies and identities ends up actually marginalizing some of those very same people.

Where is the happy medium? I’m not sure that there is one. Some folks think it is impossible to create a safe space for PoC if White people are included and welcomed, because, (it is argued, and fairly so) that their privilege will dominate the space, their voices will be the most heard, and the PoC who are present will yet again become the marginalized and exotic “other”, existing for the entertainment of the privileged.

Others take a more colorblind approach saying sentiments like “We’re all just people” and that any form of exclusion regarding race is a form of racism (there’s a problem with that idea, but more on that in a later post), but then we go back to the problem I mentioned earlier of privileged voices/people dominating the space and the marginalized folks becoming the exotic “other” etc etc.

I don’t really agree with either of these approaches. Personally, I’d like to see an asshole free space. Plain and simple. But it’s not that simple really, because you can’t look at a person and identify them as an asshole the way you can look at a person and identify them as a certain race or gender. It isn’t visible (unless they have some racist/sexist/problematic shit tattooed on themselves or on their clothes) without some kind of statement or action. So really, this idea of a “safe space” is kind of a myth in my opinion. No place is safe when it comes to escaping the many faces of oppression.

Now, I hate to end on such a doom and gloom note, so here are some awesome Latin@ artists to check out, and a few discoveries I wanted to share.

Bebe
Choquib Town
Girl in a Coma

…and last but not least, because feminism and super heros aren’t just for White English speakers…
The Burka Avenger (yeah, I know, this one is pretty awesome, go ahead and do a happy dance, I sure did)
Here is a great article by NPR about this new kid’s show.

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