What’s more important: sharing with white people or preserving my sanity?
From outright racial macro-aggressions to the undercover micro-aggressions, people of color run the risk of being verbally and emotionally attacked every single day. Most of us whom must navigate a white-dominated space have picked up on the special ability to detect on micro-aggressions. Some of us acknowledge these micro-aggressions (which can be exhausting), and some of us actively ignore them (which can be equally exhausting). No matter what the choice, the micro-aggression still exist.
A few months ago, California State LA started a controversy. The college has created the Halisi Scholars Black Living-Learning Community. This learning-community is for twenty-four students oriented around the black community, where the black population is only 4% of the total 28,000 student body. The college has clarified that the housing is open to all students and “focuses on academic excellence and learning experiences that are inclusive and non-discriminatory,” according to Cal State L.A. spokesman Robert Lopez.
In the case of living communities created around a specific race or ethnicity, some might find those specific living communities to be a form of racism or self-segregation. The argument here is that it is unfair to offer housing that focuses exclusively on one certain group of people and that this housing will promote segregation within the greater community. What people opposed to the new housing seem to forget is that themed housing around different facets of identity is not a new occurrence; it’s actually very common on American campuses. These types of living situations are, in their most basic form, safe spaces.
Safe spaces are exactly what they sound like and they should be on every college campus. They are spaces dedicated specifically for marginalized groups to feel safe, supported, and a sense of camaraderie. In the sense of Cal State LA, while this learning community isn’t exclusive to black students, it is a step in the right direction. It is Cal State LA saying that they recognize that their black student population might want a living space where they are surrounded by people who understand what is to be black on the campus, but also to live with potential allies interested in fostering safe environments.
Safe spaces aren’t racist. They are crucial, especially on college campuses, even the most liberal of them. What people fail to realize is that micro-aggressions aren’t obvious to those they aren’t targeting. But they sting like a bee when a person of a marginalized group hears them. It’s things like “you’re so pretty for a black girl” or “I would be scared if I saw a black man in a hoodie walking towards me” (fun fact: someone I know actually said that once as a black man they call their friend was in the room). They are the quick comments from people that makes a person in a marginalized group tilt their head and look for someone who might have heard it, too. A lot of times on American campuses, where the diversity is severely lacking, they have no one to look towards. Safe spaces are places where the non-majority can go and breathe and talk about how they navigate campus life without the fear of being judged and having to curb their tongue in order to not hurt the majority’s feelings.
Let’s be real: people who are against safe spaces are the same people who believe we should offer equality instead of equity (when you in fact need equity to reach actual equality). These are the same people who will deny you your humanity when you want to voice your anger, discontent, and dissatisfaction. These are the same people who will tell you that you don’t need a safe space to voice your opinions but won’t want to hear you when you do. These are the same people who have the “well, if I don’t have that, you can’t have that” mentality. These people are toxic and not addressing the reality of the issues at hand.
There’s also those who believe that non-white people definitely deserve to have conversations without white people sometimes, but then hop aboard the “it’s self-segregation and racist!” bandwagon when we want to extend these safe, non-white conversations into actual spaces.
I got into a back-and-forth with a white dude on Twitter who thought that a prominent black feminist suggesting that black people having their own safe spaces is promoting segregation, doesn’t solve problems, and just promotes hate. He then followed this statement with the fact that he’s never met a black or white person that audibly expressed to him that they needed their space from another race. I kindly explained to him that 1) this entire society is for white people and caters to them, so they really have no damn reason to need “only white spaces” because that’s literally everywhere. I then, addressed, the bigger point. Just because you, as a white person, have never heard a black person (or any minority, but we’re talking about black people for right now, so put down your pitchforks) express this, doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking, feeling, wanting, or needing it. Black people are neither obligated to always express everything we feel about our experiences nor need validation from white people to make these experiences true. As a black woman attending a PWI, this feeling of wanting black-only (or even POC-only) spaces is constant. These spaces are crucial.
Can you imagine how draining it is to live your LIFE in spaces where you are erased, invalidated, silenced, and so obviously an outsider with a difference that anyone with working eyes can see? Once you switch the word “spaces” to “society,” this feeling just becomes exacerbated to a point where it becomes truly overwhelming. Now pile on the fact that when we finally DO create these spaces, white people cry victim because y’all feel excluded. As if we don’t live our entire lives feeling excluded in spaces dominated by whiteness? Also, sometimes we just need a break from being around those who reside in the oppressive group (read: white people). White people are so used to having and claiming everything, that it becomes unfathomable that we can create something ONLY for us.
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