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One Cobble at a Time

A White Woman’s Thoughts on a Black Woman’s Post

Sandra Tayler's Journal

responsible woman

A cobble by itself is just a small stone, but when many of them lay together they create a path . My life is made up of many discrete parts. I have to find ways to fit them all into place so that I can continue to journey where I desire to go. This journal records some of the cobbles that create my path.

A White Woman’s Thoughts on a Black Woman’s Post

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responsible woman

Today I read Tempest Bradford’s post alerting her readers that Wiscon will have a room named The Safer Space which is set aside for people of color to meet and have discussions which are pertinent to them. The logic behind the decision to have the space is outlined in her post. I’m not going to be attending Wiscon this year, but I found myself pondering this choice in a cascade of thoughts. I particularly pondered it because I am considering attending Wiscon sometime in the future.

First I felt alienated knowing that there is a place at Wiscon where I would be unwelcome.

Then I pondered that the alienated feeling is rare for me, but that there are people who feel that every single day. I thought that this mild feeling of alienation was probably good for me as a reminder of how privileged I am in so many areas of my life.

Then I wondered if increasing the quantity of alienated feelings in the world is a good thing for anyone.

I re-read the post and completely agreed with Ms. Bradford’s statements that communities need private spaces which are free from judgment by those outside the community.

Yet I still felt alienated and a little sad, because The Safer Space would probably be host to dozens of conversations from which I could learn. I know that I am ignorant on many racial issues. Hearing those conversations would teach me much, but I would be excluded from them.

I thought about posting my thoughts on the issue, then pondered whether as a middle-class white woman I have any business posting opinions about an issue which is not mine.

But shouldn’t the issue of inclusion and exclusion belong to everyone?

I pondered whether my thought processes might be interesting/valuable insight for the people who suffer at the hands of racism to explain why so many people stay silent. Not because they don’t care, but because they’re afraid to offend. Unfortunately silence sounds like support of the status quo. Speaking up is scary, particularly on the internet. There is the chance of saying something ignorant or offensive without meaning to. Speaking up risks exposing my prejudiced or racist thoughts. We all have them because the human brain is wired to categorize. It takes conscious effort to see the people in front of us rather than categories.

In the end I decided to be brave because silence does not increase understanding. Only conversation does.

Some people think that The Safer Space is important and necessary. Others feel that it is an additional barrier to understanding. I’m not sure which position I hold. I’m still learning the issues and afraid I’ll get it wrong. But I know that having a conversation about the existence of The Safer Space is a step in the right direction.

I welcome commentary, please disagree politely. I’ll use my moderatorial powers to make disrespectful comments disappear.

Mirrored from onecobble.com.

  • I am conflicted on the existence of The Safer Space. On the one hand, I think it's great for people who have a shared cultural background to have a place to discuss their shared fandom and related topics in the context of that background. On the other hand, a part of me whispers, "What would the reaction to the room be if you took the same post and substituted 'white' for 'of color'?"
    • I share your conflicted feelings. I also wonder what people have experienced so that the creation of The Safer Space seemed necessary.
  • Safe from What?

    (Anonymous)
    It's interesting. Political correctness is a filter designed to make you question what your gut tells you is right. At it's core, it's noting more than a form of thought policing - paging Mr. Orwell.

    Your gut on this was right, this is offensive and it's wrong. There are a lot of reasons for that, but let me just give one. If this room is a Safer Space, it implies that the rest of the convention is un-safe, or at the very least, less-safe. I've been to cons all over the country and I've never met a more accepting group than con goers, and here we're being accused of being dangerous.

    The really sad thing is that some of the people who will avail themselves of the "Safer Space" will also get the message that the con as a whole is dangerous or racist. Then, if they happen to meet an idiot, as most con goes do if they stay in the game long enough, they'll attribute that to racism instead of stupidity and the whole thing becomes a self-fulfiling prophecy.

    I suppose in the end there will be at least one racist at the con. The person who thought up the Safer Space.

    Dan Willis
    • Re: Safe from What?

      Identifying racist thoughts and actions should be the beginning of a conversation, not the end of it. What follows should be both sides trying to understand what unmet emotional needs are driving the segregationist thoughts and actions. Perhaps there are already people who feel like conventions are unsafe for them.
    • Re: Safe from What?

      I admire your ability to determine what and how people will think.

      "I've never met a more accepting group than con goers", you say - and I'm sure it's nice that they accept you wherever you go. Extrapolating your personal experience to that of everyone else, whoever, is poor logic. Did you miss "boobgate", by any chance?
      • Re: Safe from What?

        Boobgate, Elizabeth Moon's comments last year, KeyCon...

        I am taking metaphorical deep breaths and trying to avoid angry comments veering into the disrespectful, regarding the idea that cons are de facto safe spaces.
    • Re: Safe from What?

      I've never met a more accepting group than con goers, and here we're being accused of being dangerous.

      Is it possible that, just maybe, your experiences as a white male aren't representative of what people of other races (and for that matter, women) have experienced at conventions?
  • I hadn't heard of this, and am not sure what to make of it. In recent years, Wiscon has increasingly become concerned with racial discrimination. It's a worthy subject, but in many ways unrelated to and different from feminism.

    I guess I don't know enough about this safer space to have an opinion on it, and since I'm not attending wiscon, I am doubly unqualified to venture an opinion. In my experience, meetups and social events organized by and for POC tend not to attract caucasians anyway (for better or worse), so I would need to know more about why there is a need for this to unpack it. It's possible that in the past obnoxious white people have shown up to and disrupted gatherings of POC at wiscon, and therefore something a little more pointed was needed to keep those individuals away.
    • I agree. I would like to know why the Safer Space feels necessary so that I can understand more.
  • I can understand your intiial reactions - I had something similar when I first read that piece by Tempest - but what occurs to me is this:
    The conversations that take place in that room may well be educational for some of the people who are excluded - but there is nothing stopping people from having such conversations elsewhere as well, if they so desire.
    Exclusions only become an issue if the excluded have no other outlet available. Which is precisely why the priveleged don't need exclusive spaces that the less-priveleged do (cf. the constant and unnecessary carping from men that women can have women-only organisations, but any attempt to institute a men-only organisation is prevented as being sexist - conveniently ignoring the fact that the great majority of "mixed" organisations end up being male-dominated).
    So I'm cool with it. Not that I'm likely to be a WisCon attendee any time soon.
  • backyard neighbor

    (Anonymous)
    I am a Sociologist and Race and Ethnic Studies was my emphasis. There is a really great book that may help you to understand this situation better. It is called "Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" I read this while living in Ann Arbor as part of the Ann Arbor Library book program. Ann Arbor has a very diverse group of citizens and it often has little pockets of ethnic groups within the community. Reading the book was a way of opening the conversation to the community.

    First of all, we gather together in ethnic or racial groups because we have similarities. I have traveled all over the world and I immediately feel a kinship to those who share my religious background or have lived in the same states I have or cheer for the same team. When I see someone wearing a UMich t-shirt, I can't help but yell "Go blue!"

    Secondly, the book asserts that whites are inherently racist because they receive benefits from their race whether they know it or not. This was one of the most difficult parts of the book for me to swallow. I countered and argued and felt mad and cheated because the desires of my heart is for unity and peace among my fellow citizens.

    However, my sister is raising bi-racial children and my son's best friend is bi-racial and the more I go out into the world with these children, the more I have discovered that there are many people who still treat people differently due to their color. I have had people torment my niece because they didn't know I was her aunt. I have had school workers say degrading things about my son's friend because they didn't realize he was with me. In all of the cases, once I stepped up and spoke for the child, the people were abashed and changed their tune because "one of their own" was present.

    At a conference, I think that it would be in the best interest to focus on the shared beliefs of the group rather than emphasizing the differences but I can also see how it would be different for a black person to get into publishing or the arts and it would be beneficial to learn from those who have been successful. We would like to believe that it is equally hard for everyone but my experience has been that it is not.
    • Re: backyard neighbor

      Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences. The children you mention are beautiful and wonderful people. I am sad to hear that they are given grief. I'll have to look up the book you recommended.
  • Do women find their own space

    As a guy, I've always been fascinated by the phenomenon of women all going to the restroom at the same time. My wife tells me it is a chance to talk about "girl stuff." Society has conveniently provided a "safer space" for women in the form a gender separated restrooms. There are indeed whole conventions that form a "safer space" for different groups: Geeks, comic book fans, SciFi people, writers; all these people want to have a space apart with people who share something in common. I would posit that it is only our country's enormous cultural baggage around race that makes this room so much more uncomfortable then any other.

    As to what might be said in such a space, probably nothing important, probably the same things that are said in general company. The difference is being able to say them with one less filter to pass then through. If you want an analogy, think about the difference between a writer talking about what they do in mixed company verses a group of other writers. The same things get said, they are just said without the need to add background, context and explanation other writers just "get it." Make sense?
    • Re: Do women find their own space

      What you say makes excellent sense. Thank you.
    • Re: Do women find their own space

      There is a difference between a space that's dominated by a given culture and one that excludes those who don't fit the criteria, though.

      A better world would not have people feeling they need places that exclude people based on their skin color or gender or perceived ethnicity or whathaveyou. I don't know that prohibiting people from making such places actually makes our world better, though. :/
  • One of the things I've learned from spending time outside of the country is just how many prejudices I have lurking in recesses of my brain, and just how many privileges I have that I don't normally think about as a white middle-to-upper-middle-class male. I can appreciate the need for someplace to retreat to where I don't have to deal with that constant pressure of assumed privilege from others.

    I wish the need for a 'Safer Space' wasn't there, but hopefully discussions like this can help those of us coming from positions of privilege move towards a point where the need won't be there.
    • I keep catching prejudiced thoughts in my head. Everyone has them. I believe the key is being self aware and willing to adjust. Thank you for participating in the conversation. Like you, I believe the more we have them, the closer we are to finding solutions.
  • Perhaps I am hopelessly naive and positive (I've been accused of being dangerously optimistic) but my thought is that if you want something for yourself (ie. lack of exclusion) then you should extend it to others. If you don't want to be discriminated against, then don't discriminate against others.

    Having said that, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a con room that has a particular focus no matter what it is- I simply think that no one should be made unwelcome there.
  • Upon reflection, I think I am completely fine with Wiscon's safer space. The name of it is a bit inflammatory, but if you disregard that, there's nothing remarkable about setting aside a lounge where people who share a challenge can meet up and connect. For example, if there was a lounge set aside for people with autism spectrum disorder to connect and share the experiences they've had in fandom, it would probably not upset people. Likewise, a meeting space for disabled people might be nice, and it would be understandable. Could they choose a better, less confrontational name for the room? Possibly. But it doesn't really matter.
    • I would not be surprised if people did put up a fuss over a 'disabled-only' space. It's more common to say 'this area is for X' without also saying 'and anyone who is not X must STAY OUT.' The net effect is very similar -- few non_X people will be interested anyway -- but the perception of exclusivity, of being banned, is triggery for quite a few people.
      • I only have Tempest's post to go by, but it doesn't seem to explicitly say that white people are banned. It says the space is reserved for POC. Subtle difference, but significant.
        • Er ... the distinction between "POC-only" and "people not POC not allowed" is far too subtle for me, I'm afraid.

          I am not, incidentally, perturbed by this personally. I expect there are good and bad parts to designating such a space; I don't know if the former outweigh the latter but I'm perfectly willing to assume that they do. That people feel a need for it is indicative of my world not being the place I'd like it to be, though. :/
          • The distinction I'm seeing is that "POC-only" or "set aside for POC" suggests that people should respect the room's purpose and make their own choice. Saying "no non-POC allowed" implies that there will be someone at the door checking skin color and kicking people out accordingly, which WOULD be very offensive.

            I agree with you that I'm sorry there's a perceived need for such a space, and as I said elsewhere I would be interested to hear what kind of problems or disruptions the folks at Wiscon have had with less clearly defined conversations that led to the establishment of the Safer Space. I hope it works out well for everyone.
  • Looks like Tempest made a post discussing the need for PoC safe spaces here.
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