At the root of it all, I understand that safe spaces were created with good intentions: to make everyone involved feel comfortable enough to speak their mind. However, for me, that is just not the case and often, does just the opposite. I feel as though, these particular spaces I have entered into are counter productive because people often are so worried about not offending someone, that they don’t give their full opinion on whatever topic has arisen.
As a black girl growing up in not only a predominately white school but also a predominately white country, the word “safe space” has come to actually mean “safe space for those who are too sensitive to hear any views outside of the generic and non confrontational ones.” The two words together seemed to float over my head warning me not to go too far in case I might offend. However, when I leave a chat amongst multiple peers in an organized area, why do I feel like I have not accomplished anything? Why do I feel more upset than when I walked in?
I specifically remember the day after Trump won the election. I was furious and quite frankly, every emotion but happy. Mostly, I was confused and just seeking to understand the world around me and how we had gotten to this low point in a year like 2017. I knew the second I woke up and he was president, I wanted to have a moving discussion at school amongst my peers to make sense of it all. Yet that didn’t happen.
Someone once told me that the two things people should never bring up to make small talk are religion and politics, because some people just have views completely outside of your own and these views might be so far away from your own, that you get upset. However, at school, I knew we needed to face this political situation head on, because if not that day, then when? Of course, it was an extremely sensitive subject matter, but to me, it was so incredibly important that I talk about it in order to feel less hopeless.
Immediately upon entering the venue for the chat, the first sentence out of someone’s mouth was, “I want you all to remember that this is a difficult time for some and that this is a safe space regardless of what happened.” Personally, I took that as a game over, but I didn’t want to be pessimistic and decided to see what others had to say.
By the end of the conversation, I was indeed more upset than I was when I walked in. Part of it was my fault for not speaking up at all during the meeting. But the other part was because our meeting was not productive. People were talking in generic circles saying things like, “we have to be the change we wish to see.” Which is completely true, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. If you asked me what exactly I was hoping to hear, the answer would a genuine conversation between both sides. I wanted to feel like I was allowed to be angry at the outcome of the election and that I was allowed to have those feelings.
That day, I can honestly say, I did not want to be the bigger person. I didn’t want people to tell me that we are the future and we need to bring about change because I knew all of that. As one of the few minorities, I felt neglected because it felt like my feelings on extreme anger were not valid in that space. I wanted to shout that I couldn’t focus on my future when I felt that the man freshly elected into office didn’t care for my well being or success in this country and many people in the room, regardless of what their stance was on the outcome of the election, could not relate to minority struggles. A place like St. Mary’s is amazing at fostering discourse, but, as I told some of my teachers after the chat, it isn’t always meaningful. We never really get to the nitty gritty, although many believe us to be on the right track.
Like I said, I understand where the idea of safe spaces is coming from. But I do feel that if we are going to gain anything, as individuals and as groups, groundbreaking about those around us, we need to have meaningful cross-cultural discourse. I’m not perfect, and I hope I never come off in a manner that I have everything figured out. But I do wish, that into order to further understand others, and understand more about the human condition, we have an honest talk. At the end of the day, I might not agree with you and you might not agree with me about everything, but I at least hope to have a specific conversation about different topics so that we may understand each other a little more.