Why Your Space ≠ My Space

I’ve recently blogged about the emotional necessity of exclusive space for marginalized communities. Now, I want to take up that thread again and talk about why and how the need for exclusive space is not the same for people with power and privilege.

(For the tl;dr version, you can check out this Twitter thread.)

I recently came across this tweet from Trump and Majestic Marisol’s pithy response:

Blackish Trump

And I got to thinking about all the times that folks full of power and privilege have bemoaned the few safe spaces reserved for people lacking in that power and privilege. It’s almost a guarantee that the minute an LGBTQ person calls for safe space away from heteronormativity or a disabled person calls for safe space away from ableism, etc., someone from the privileged group is going to cry foul. You know, “reverse discrimination” and other mythical phenomena like that.

It always comes down to the same silly question: Why is it you can have this space without me and I can’t have space without you? Aren’t you just being racist, heterophobic, disable-ist, sexist, etc.?

The answer to this question is, of course, no.

As I mentioned in my last post on exclusive spaces, those spaces for marginalized communities is a matter of survival. It’s about physical, emotional, and mental safety. It’s about having a place to be, without fear of reprisal that could result in lasting harm. It’s about coping with a world that begrudges your right to be alive.

That is not the case for people with power and privilege when they set up their exclusive spaces.For those with power and privilege, these spaces are about far more than survival. They are about ruling.

When the Trumps of the world gather in exclusivity, when they pool all that power and privilege into one exclusive space, they end up with real, quantifiable and qualifiable advantage over everyone else in society.

EXCLUSIVE SPACE + POWER/PRIVILEGE = EXCLUSIVE ADVANTAGE

Exclusive space for whites, men, the cisgendered, the heterosexual, the able-bodied, etc. results in sites of power where decisions are made and business conducted that reach far beyond the location of that space. Stuff goes down in those exclusive spaces that affect all of us: business deals finalized, societies reformed, political alliances cemented. The problem with the KKK or all-white, all-male country clubs, or anything else like it, is not that those sites are exclusive. The problem isn’t even necessarily that those spaces are bigoted or rooted in hate. The problem is that those spaces are exclusive, bigoted, and exist as sites of power over the entirety of society. Long-lasting and far-reaching societal actions begin and end in those exclusive sites of power.

That kind of power and privilege simply does not exist in exclusive spaces for the marginalized. So to make the comparison between white-only spaces and POC-only spaces, between cis-only spaces and trans-only spaces, between middle- and upper-class-only spaces and poor-only spaces is to make a false comparison.

When it comes to exclusive spaces, context is everything.

 

It’s My Struggle–Give Me Space

One of my Twitter faves recently tweeted this about something that happened to a friend of hers:

This friend was organizing meetings for local people of color to mobilize for the #blacklivesmatter movement in his public library. The library was happy to offer the space until they realized the meetings were meant to be for non-whites only and shut it down. Now, this person has to find new space for the meetings.

This kind of issue comes up quite a bit. It’s definitely a concern for people who don’t understand or care about issues of oppression. The so-called colorblind, neutrality-believers who don’t get that neutrality is a myth and all things are tinted by the systemic bias inherent to our society. They always have a problem with things like affirmative action and exclusive spaces.

I’m not talking to or about those folks. They still have a lot of work to do.

No, I’m talking about allies. Those folks who consider themselves to be woke and progressive and all about the cause, but who hate coming up against exclusive safe spaces to which they are not welcome or invited. Allies who want to fight alongside their marginalized counterparts but only want to do so on their own terms. Those are the people I’m talking to and about.

The fact is that people from the margins need safe spaces. We need places we can go to laugh, cry, scream, and shout among our own. We need exclusive spaces where we can curse our lot, speak our minds, and then dry our faces and take back up our fighting stances. We need places where we can be weak and vulnerable without being in danger or exposed.

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“Always Curious What’s Behind Closed Doors” by Vincent Van Der Pas via Flickr,             CC BY-SA 2.0

As a black woman, I need space apart from white women to rage about how white women mistreat feminism. I need space apart from white men to rage about how white men mistreat blacks and women and black women. I even need space at times apart from my black brothers to rage about the patriarchy in our shared black community.

That doesn’t mean I hate white women or white men, and I certainly don’t hate my black brothers. But I need that space. And I need it to be exclusive.

Likewise, as a Christian, cisgender hetero woman with an able body and middle-class background, I understand that my atheist friends need space, my trans friends need space, my queer friends need space, my disabled and working-class friends need space apart from me to work through some of their struggle. And I understand that as a good ally, I need to respect, and at times help protect, that exclusive space.

To fight against that exclusive space as an ally is to insist that the struggle be centered on me, on my feelings, my needs, my desires. That is not good allyship. Being an ally means standing to the side and lending support. It does not mean being at the center. It does not involve performing theater as the star of the show.

I am forever grateful for my allies, for the white men and women, and the black men who stand in solidarity with me. But there are still places I need to go where they cannot follow. And that is okay.

Because good allies, true allies, will stand at the gates to the exclusive safe space and wait for me there.