Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Regarding "Safe Spaces"

Let's talk about safe spaces and opportunities for dialogue and education.

A safe space is usually created when a person in a position of authority identifies a need for a community that is not typically in power to have an area to talk about their unique challenges and experiences without having to also justify those challenges and experiences to people outside that community. Safe spaces allow for connection and the development of community. While they may be a space in which an outward facing message is developed, they are not themselves outward facing or designed to provide anything to people outside of the community they are created for.

Opportunities for dialogue and education can be intentionally created, but also often arise out of circumstance and the natural push/pull of living in a multicultural society. Although not inherently adversarial, these spaces allow multiple viewpoints to be expressed and those viewpoints may be in conflict with each other. Opportunities for dialogue and education, particularly when intentionally created, offer an outward facing opportunity for a community without power to express themselves, but to be effective that community is required to moderate their message to appeal to the dominant culture in the space.

Safe spaces and opportunities for dialogue and education are mutually exclusive, but that doesn't mean that a progressive movement doesn't need both. The challenge comes when factions within a movement try to commandeer one to serve as the other.

To enter into a designated 'safe space' that is not created for you and try to use it for your own education is colonialism. It takes resources away from another community and redirects them. To enter into an opportunity for dialogue and education and try to make it a safe space is silencing. It robs those engaged in the difficult process of dialogue of the opportunity to be vulnerable and to learn.

Not every space can be safe, and not every conversation can be educational. We would do well, as a movement, to carefully designate our intentionally created spaces and to respect the intention of others in creating those spaces.