Safe Spaces and Why We Need Them

There’s been some discussion in recent years about safe spaces. Women-only, People Of Color-only spaces that allow those folks to get away for a few minutes or an hour, to decompress and refresh. Arguments have been made for years that these spaces are unnecessary: that they are a drain on resources, and create an exclusionary space that sends the wrong message about a convention.

In my pre-teen years I had neighborhood “friends” who enjoyed ditching me, and often kept me shut out of things they were doing. Naturally, my initial reaction to safe spaces was hostile. Because of my childhood experiences I view anything that smacks of such exclusion in a very dim light.

In recent years I’ve come to understand more the need for safe spaces. We’re talking more and more about issues of race and gender, and I’ve grown to understand that being surrounded by people who think and act very differently from you can be a source of tremendous stress. Having a space to get away from that — if only briefly — makes for a more welcoming and comfortable environment for everyone. The fact that we shouldn’t need such spaces is irrelevant: we DO need them, and the sooner conventions realize this, the better.

Put it another way: in recent days there have been attempts to ban people from certain countries from entering the US because some individuals from those countries have committed or attempted terrorists acts on these shores. The argument is “how do we know the good ones from the bad ones – they all look the same?”

Let’s turn that around: how do women and people of color know the good white people from the bad? They don’t. That smiling face could be hiding a Nazi sympathizer, or a member of the KKK. Or someone who will happily abuse or harass them and then gaslight them, so that everyone thinks they’re overreacting to something that looks innocent.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t easy. Shared experiences seem harder to come by these days, so we have to use those big brains of ours to reason, to think about the things other people face daily that we don’t. For example, I rarely think about threats to my person when walking down the street alone at night, but for women it’s a reality they face every day, and have done so for their entire lives. Not thinking about it and being unprepared or not avoiding certain situations can get them robbed, raped, or even killed. An acquaintance of mine was roofied very recently at a club where she was doing her job. Once the drug kicked in a group of men tried to spirit her away — literally an attempted kidnapping — but were stopped by several women who had seen what was happening. They may have saved that woman’s life, and certainly prevented her rape. This is the world we live in.

So am I in favor of safe spaces? You betcha. Though it makes me personally a little sad, the thought that it makes the lives of friends easier means it’s well worth a little temporary discomfort on my part.

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