The concept of a “safe space” doesn’t exist. It’s a figment of your imagination. I know, the buzz term makes you comfortable, gives you hope, but it’s also farce. Don’t believe the hype.
That was rather cold of me. I meant no harm, honestly. Could I have said it better? Yeah, my mom dukes would have kittens if she heard me speak to someone like that. Let me start over…
In a nutshell, a safe space is an environment where people are able to talk openly and listen respectfully. People (e.g. educators, counselors, and neo-liberals) like to create this “environment” that allows for voices to be heard. However, it doesn’t lend itself to all spaces and all participants because there is always that possibility that someone one will not feel “safe.”
For example, people are invited into a “safe space” to discuss sexuality, but then a topic like rape or a mental disorder is brought up and some people may no longer feel safe. It’s not that they are “sensitive,” but their lived experiences have made them respond in different ways. Now, the “safety” no longer exists. It can be a gradual progression or it can be instantaneous. Either way, the reaction/response of those who no longer feel safe can range from silence and withdrawal to experiencing heart palpitations to crying to engaging in arguments or worse.
How do I know? It happens to me whenever a certain mental health disorder is brought up in an off-the-cuff manner. I become quiet because I know someone with this disorder and it was very scary seeing them before they were treated. My safety gets compromised about something that indirectly affected me, but I am silent…for now.
Then there is question of safety for whom?
Recently, I wore my black t-shirt that has a map of Africa with “Brooklyn” in black lettering as a nod to Kendrick Lamar’s visual expression in his riveting 2016 Grammy performance. Normally, I hesitate to wear my pro-Black attire to work, but I thought, it would be fine (read: safe).
Later in the afternoon, this white man looked at my t-shirt and assertively said, “Brooklyn, U.S.A.” I grilled him and he walked away. Like damn, this dude just killed my vibe and tried take me out my element. The ability to represent my birthplace and what’s in my DNA, while expressing my pride, love and loyalty was being challenged.
To me, his words were white privilege attempting to “correct” my black pride. I was triggered. Arguing that Brooklyn is in the United States, misses the point, clearly. I can also see how it may have been a learning opportunity for him, however, I wasn’t going to perplex the tranquility I had left to educate him. Moreover, I didn’t value his “safety” to compromise my own. The poetic justice of the graphic was above and beyond him. If he didn’t know, then he needed to stay humble and ask. However, now I know that wearing my pro-black attire at work may cause some issues…I’m ready.
Safe spaces are mercurial. I am not saying not to attempt to have a place where through communication people can create a community, learn and heal—actually, I’m all for it. Triggers, however, are always waiting to show up and show out. It is imperative to acknowledge this so when the conversation becomes difficult for people, they already have some awareness of the space they are in.