Safe space. Safety and space. Truly elementary ideals, yet powerful and meaningful. Ideals that have resonated with me since I left the 2015 Equity Summit.
Equity as defined by the Equity Manifesto, “begins by joining together, believing in the potency of inclusion, and building from a common bond.” It is “just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. Unlocking the promise of the nation by unleashing the promise in us all.” This is equity- a safe space. This is security.
Throughout our lives, we work to achieve a level of security. We strive for this very comfort, and in some cases, luxury, surrounding ourselves with people, material things and physical structures. We vote, protest, worship and love because we crave a sense of security and our mere existence as a part of humanity affords us some semblance of security, but for many this is and will never be true.
James Baldwin wrote a letter in Progressive magazine in 1962, addressed to his nephew enlightening him about his existence as a black man during a pivotal time in American history. He notes “this innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.” Essentially, Baldwin was highlighting his nephew’s, and naturally his own, depravity of safe space.
Fifty three years later, Ta-Nehisi Coates, in his book, “Between The World and Me,” warns his son of the vulnerability of his black body and attempts to teach him ways to create a safe space in a world where black men are deemed unworthy of it. These messages will remain relevant for where are our safe spaces as we continue to lose this war on our bodies-bodies of black women and men? Where was Emmet’s safe space as he was grabbed from his bed and murdered in vain? Where was Trayvon’s safe space as he walked through his gated community? Where was Eric’s safe space as he stood on a familiar street block? Where was the Freedom Riders’ safe space as they rode peacefully from the North to the South? Where was Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s safe space as he tried to open the door to his own home? Where was the Charleston worshippers’ safe space as they prayed for the salvation of this world?
I am a black woman so as society would have it my safety is undeserving. In the workplace I am angry, saucy and opinionated so my safety is implied. In public, I am disrespected and disposable so my safety is at risk. In the media, I am hyper-sexualized, or on a good day, exotic so my safety is a mask. I am an immigrant, therefore my safety is not a right. Society dehumanizes me therefore I will never be safe. The public discriminates against me so I have no safe space and the media criminalizes me-my space is in a cage. I am a settler, so safety is not an expectation or a privilege. My social ranking does not afford me the right to safety or desirable space. The public has established a boundary between “The Have” and “The Have-Not,” while the media celebrates a new kind of settler; cultured, manicured and entitled. I live within the confines of these labels everyday, marginalized as our world mutates beyond recognition; destroying its elements of love, hope, peace and faith-its people.
“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...”-John Lennon
These words mean so much for they speak of a safe place and space. A world connected by a brotherhood of peace is a world where we all work together to ensure each other’s safe space, be it through faith based practice, spiritual teaching or legal obligation. In my work life and my personal life, I am driven by love and I will continue to spread this message of love and the importance of safe spaces through my personal and professional philanthropy-love of humanity.
|Le Anne Alexander