April 18, 2018

Take a look around the room you’re scrolling in, the train you’re riding, or the coffee shop you’re sipping in.  What’s happening in that space? How is it filled? What does it sound like? Are you alone or do you feel surrounded? Do you feel the freedom of a space only occupied by your body, or do you feel the weight of centuries of cruelty, intolerance, and judgment filling the space?

Are you comfortable? When you look around this space, do you feel familiar with the rules of that space? Do you know what to do, how to act, whom to talk to, or when to avert your eyes? What does it feel like to be occupying that space you’re in? Are you small or do you feel validated and unaware of your presence?

Space is no small topic. Space is restricted, controlled, manipulated, and broken. What fills the space, what breaks the space, what causes the most pain in the space is created by man.  Take, for example, space as a woman.  A woman is constantly aware of the amount of space she is allowed to occupy and how quickly the space she occupies can be used against her.

Don’t be too big. Don’t take up too much space. To be feminine is to be small.

Don’t be too loud. Don’t claim too much space with your voice. To be feminine is to be smiling and quiet.

Don’t be too small.  To be small is to be mocked, weak. To be feminine is to be delicate and pretty.

Space is a constant as a woman. Even when – especially when – moving through a space. Whether it is a restaurant, a store, public transportation, the street, or the workplace. Eyes are on her and her space is critiqued. To be in a space is to be completely self-aware.

Space, itself, exists without the rules of a society. However, a space is filled with the bodies and minds of those existing in a society filled with strict, unforgiving, and even fatal rules. 

To live within the system of rules is to risk death. To challenge the rules is to risk death. 

Unspoken rules like where a woman can go and what she can be wearing. Unspoken rules like where a man can go and display his religion. Unspoken rules like where we can all go and share our political beliefs without crucifixion. Unspoken rules like what space we can fill, attend a concert, study in, dance in, live fully in and make it out alive.

Unspoken (and often denied) rules about where a black man can sit in Philadelphia and wait for a friend. The civil rights movement used space to create change. They sat. Quietly and peacefully. They sat. They chose not to sit on busses. They organized and chose to boycott space. They sent their children into terrifying and life-threatening spaces to seek an education. They saw real opportunity in a space.

In 2018, we see beautifully written corporate policies that come up against the unwritten rules of space.  This is where we are now. Reality must be thrown directly in our face, as if we are taking a punch, in oder for us to talk about it; to create space for everyone at the table.

Spaces are filled with bodies, with people, but it’s the unspoken rules we carry with us that create our moments of pain, fury, heartbreak, and polarization.

What rules are you sitting with? What rules are you carrying with you and choosing to enforce through your own judgment? Who is welcome in your space and who is “welcome” in your space? Repeatedly saying “everyone is welcome” and denying the truth does nothing but give you warm fuzzies. Living with a post-racial mindset will only produce more of what we already have.

To be clear, the first step is not to judge yourself and repeatedly beat yourself with the shame stick for admitting that you have racial biases. This is America – welcome to the party. Our country occupies a whole lot of space (space we’ve stolen) with people from many different backgrounds. Shame and guilt won’t do anything to change that.

You CAN, however, begin to create change by acknowledging the moments you feel the weight. The weight of fear, of nerves, of discrimination, of the need to call law enforcement because of color. Yes, you see it. Unless you’re blind, you see it. If you’re trying to begin your next defense by saying you grew up in a household that treated everyone the same, then….

Congrats. You had decent parents.

But you still see color and you’ve certainly felt the weight of race and space in this country.  When you can move past this admission to yourself and accept that you do, in fact, know that racism is a real thing that exists and shapes our lives today, then we can begin the next part of this conversation.

Until then, take a look around the space you’re in and tell me this….

What does it look like and who is “welcome” in that space?