This article is really well-written and hopefully it helps people see why we not only need to value POC safe spaces but protect them with our respectful absence.
I’m trying to learn and then share what I’ve learned because I have realized that safe spaces have been healing to me as well. Not just as a Mexican in Tucson, where talking through issues with other Mexicans has been invaluable to my mental health and groundedness, but, more generally, as a woman on the periphery of the comedy scene.
There are times when the insanity of what is going on demands that we be able to have places where we can drop our masks, not worry about offending others or having to manage their realizations and pain, and we can explore parts of ourselves that we might not even know exist because we’re so busy trying to survive in cultures that consistently deny our realities and punish us for even questioning the “natural” order of things.
I have seen my share of well-meaning white women crying and being upset about their discovery of racism and inequality and had to comfort them about it as they seek it out. I get it, they’ve been splashed by the boiling water of realization of how awful things are and it hurts them personally for the first time or the second or the third. But what they can’t understand is the pain of being born into the boiling water, along with every sibling and parent and relative and ancestor for generations and deprived of other options. It’s a different and more profound pain. Cumulatively, it becomes such a burden to have to comfort non-POC for their empathetic pain.
(As a side note, you should know that this is why non-Black people are confused when Black celebrities don’t show up in times of crisis. They want to be comforted by someone familiar. And meanwhile, Black celebrities are tired. They’ve been doing everything they can for a long time individually and collectively to raise awareness while trying not to get cancelled for being too political. You try walking that line and finding success in entertainment and sports. Non-Black people don’t deserve a Black celebrity making sense of the madness and they should stop acting like they do. See, e.g. Dave Chappelle generally but specifically his 8:46 special where he makes this point abundantly and artistically clear.)
This concept can be uncomfortable to grasp in the beginning, especially to people who earnestly want to help and support. They feel rejected because they understand oppression conceptually. Being rejected hurts. But it’s the sting felt by someone who has never felt rejection time and again so profoundly such that they have fundamentally altered who they present as in order to *not* be constantly rejected or menaced or fired or raped or killed.
I walk a strange line of being a light-skinned Mexican woman who can weave through different spaces and, for the most part, has been given carte blanche access to the most exclusive of environs. It means that my “otherness” is sometimes forgettable to the other people in the room. And you best believe that when I am in white only spaces that I’ve been privy to things white people don’t say in mixed company. It has been so hurtful but also incredibly elucidating.
I have needed spaces in which it was just Mexican women writers, and it has been so healing to say, “Wait, I’m not the only one who sees this?” And then, after some time to breathe freely, I can regroup, retool and regenerate so I can go back to a life in which my security and my comfort level are disregarded.
My burden is nothing compared to the burden of Black people in this country and I wouldn’t dare try to latch my experience onto theirs. But it does give me a tiny window into a what it must be like. And I have probably barged into these spaces more than I know. And I have probably done more damage than I know, not just because I was ignorant, but because I was autistic. All I can do is try and rectify it by walking a straighter line from here forward.
Moving to Brooklyn, and my neighborhood in particularly, I became keenly aware of my need to physically distinguish myself with visible and audible markers of my non-whiteness to cue others that I am not an invading threat. It’s all authentic…none of it is a put on. But I find that displaying my ethnicity puts other POC at ease. I’m dressing like a non-threat. It’s not manipulative for my benefit. It’s a sign that I come in peace. How do I know it works? Because, repeatedly, when I let a POC know who I actually am, instead of how I present, their shoulders relax and they lean in. But I also know that there are times where I have to respect unfamiliarity and make myself scarce. I don’t need to add to the problem with my presence.
I have so much to learn, but if I can impart that learning on you and give you a place to deal with your discomfort, then we all become a little bit more aware, more understanding, and less demanding of those who are always given less and expected to not just do more with it, but expected to give more back to the majority culture. If you really want people to heal, you have to respect their safe space where they do it. It comes down to that. Too bad, so sad. Accept and move on.
Here’s a playlist for your Sunday.