This world is not safe for most of us. For most of us, we are constantly being harassed, assaulted and otherwise harmed, either overtly or covertly. This world is constantly attacking us; through messages from the media, through small, seemingly harmless words. Through physical murder and rape. Through the continued colonization of Third World people, both here in Ameríca and abroad.
Moreover, we are constantly carrying the baggage that that history of oppression, colonization and subjugation gives us. And we always have our armor in place. Armor that chafes and restricts us from growth. Armor that keeps us from making a true connection with other people, people like us. But it is an armor that is absolutely necessary. For without it, we are defenseless against those everyday assaults. We are naked before the sword of oppression. And we are torn to ribbons. There are many draw backs to that armor, and it isn’t a perfect defense, but it at least keeps us safe, keeps us from losing our minds in this world that hates us.
And most of us don’t even know we have it until the opportunity to take it off presents itself to us.
We’ve had this armor on for so long, since our earliest childhood days, that it becomes normal. The armor becomes a seamless part of our being. How could it not, when it has always been there? Perhaps we feel its tightness when we get close to someone, feel the armor scrape against someone else’s but its so commonplace and so subtle that we dismiss it. We fail to realize the way we restrict ourselves.
In my case, it wasn’t until I entered a space that held only Queer People of Color that I finally realized the heaviness of the armor. It was only when I was surrounded solely by people who have experienced the same type of oppression that I had experience, who had baggage and armor similar to mine, that I realized how much SHIT I carried around with me everyday.
And in that space, I was finally able to put it down. I was able to let go of the armor and the baggage and allow myself to be vulnerable. It was in that space that I was able to grow and expand in ways that I never thought would be possible.
This is why QPOC only space is so important. Because it allows a healing that is not possible when white, straight, cisgender people are present. This is because even if they are the staunchest of allies, even if they are the most amazing of anti-racists, the history oppression and colonization that they hold in their skin, a history that cannot be erased or forgotten, is made apparent in many, many subconscious and subtle ways. Because we have been socialized since birth to place white people first, whether it be the first helpings of a meal or the most space in a conversation, we do not even know that we are doing it (and at times neither do they). And this subconscious knee-jerk reaction makes it impossible to put down the armor and baggage and allow for growth and expansion.
Now, I know what you are going to say. You are going to say, “Morgan! You are being a reverse racist! White is a color too!” And to that I would respond that reverse racism is impossible. It is impossible because racism is a system that involves institutional power. That power is held by white people. I can’t be racist against white people because I don’t have the systemic power to be racist. The other reason for the exlusion of white people, other than the ones already mentioned, is because every space that one walks into is a white space. This is because white is the societal default for people, spaces, things. When I say person, the image that pops into your head automatically is a white man (specifically heterosexual and cisgender). So it is with spaces. When I say “we all got together at my place”, the hypothetical “we all” is primarily, or all, white.
For that reason, it is important to state that it is a POC space. We need to carve out that space for ourselves because it is not given to us. We need to delineate those boundaries because no one else will do it for us. Not only that but any space given to us by white people is not a claiming of safe space. It is a segregation and ghettoization. It is relegating us to the back of the bus. When we claim that space for ourselves, by ourselves we creating a thorny island within the greater, mainstream, white context.
And if we are going to do the work that needs to be done to transform this world into the truly equitable world it needs to be, then we need these safe spaces. We need them to recharge, to facilitate self-care and healing. We need these spaces to regroup and come together as family so that we can be effective and transformative in our work.