Safe spaces for Black folks are not negotiable; they are necessary and vital to protect the mental health and support the multi-faceted well-being of Black people. So why is the idea of a Black-only safe space still such a taboo?

Earlier this week, news from Paris, France brought us reports that the mayor, Anne Hidalgo, had condemned a Black feminist festival as being racist for providing a section of it as a safe space for Black women only. Some international anti-racism groups even put out statements claiming that an exclusive space for Black women was racist. Why do people still interpret safe spaces as being this way?

The idea of safe spaces have been popping up quite a bit in the last few years, thanks to social justice rhetoric becoming more widely accessible and community-focused initiatives in response to 45’s election. Safe spaces, or groups created to support people within a specific community, are not only becoming more popular but are necessary additions to both online and in-person spaces, as targeted violence becomes more of a reality.

But not all safe spaces are made equal.

For many, safe spaces can often carry nefarious undertones. If they are not crafted specifically to decentralize white supremacy and perpetuating anti-Blackness, no matter how subtle, these can still be violent spaces for Black people to be in. Of course, we recognize this within safe spaces that are open to everyone, but safe spaces touted as being for “all people of color” can carry this as well.

Related: BLACK LIVES MATTER JUST WON SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE. IT’S TIME TO STOP CALLING IT A HATE GROUP.

Safe spaces for Black folks are not negotiable; they are necessary and vital to protect the mental health and support the multi-faceted well-being of Black people. So why is the idea of a Black-only safe space still such a taboo?

Even within the spaces that I frequent, I find that often the most amount of pushback when a Black person addresses micro-aggressions or anti-Blackness come from spaces that claim “intersectionality” in name only. I’ve seen this behavior happen time and time again from white people, but non-Black people of color are also not immune to this. The duality of wanting to stay within a space because it has been good for a certain part of your life (whether that’s professional networking or in building community around a certain topic) often creates a deep divide within many of us, though having to rationalize survival within a space where violence occurs is an unhealthy sacrifice for Black people to make.

Don’t get me wrong, having community-exclusive groups aren’t perfect solutions. Black-only spaces won’t completely eradicate homophobia, misogynoir, ableism, and oppression from happening. However, they’re still a necessary step in creating community, safety, and a feeling of visibility that Black people especially deserve to have. Whether these spaces exist online or in real life, the same rules apply.

Related: GRIEVING FOR BLACK LIVES IS NOT ONE-DIMENSIONAL

At the same time, an important note should be made here: the creation of Black-only spaces isn’t an excuse for queer Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPoC) or open-race spaces to not work on their own anti-Blackness. Black people should have the option to enter whichever kind of space they choose and not have to fear that anti-Black violence will be encountered in the group space at any moment, or that it was even something that was considered as an afterthought when creating the space.

When we fail to include dismantling oppression within the framework of a group – especially if that group lauds itself as one that is “intersectional” or “social justice” and “feminist” – these groups become the unconscious tools of upholding that oppression. And when you’re creating safe spaces, this work is both necessary and non-negotiable.

By centering the definition of safe spaces for BIPoC in all safe spaces that we create and continue to grow, we’re redefining exactly how we see these terms in ways that work best for us. How much more enjoyable would the digital work that we engage in and the community building that we center in real life be if we knew for a fact that safe spaces would include everyone? How much more productive, joyful, and eager to engage would Black individuals be when they know that their needs and boundaries have been considered and respected?

As the need for safe spaces grows, I’m inspired by those within their communities creating the safe spaces that they wanted for themselves, but couldn’t find elsewhere. These individuals, in their bravery and selflessness in filling a need, bring forward the important message that we’re here, we deserve to be seen, and we matter.

 

Featured image: courtesy of NYANSAPO

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