By Kerwin Holmes, Jr.
Oooo. You’re going to love being here, we accept everybody.
So, I do believe that 2015 can go down in history as the year when many educational institutions of the United States got put on blast. Really, it was a bit of a doozy, and the school year isn’t even over yet. It seemed like everybody had something to protest or some way that their feelings were being hurt, so the air was rife with political and social ire. I experienced this heat, and it felt a bit frustrating to me at times because I disagreed with the ways a lot of stuff went down.
And in a safe space, disagreement is hazardous to your health.
You see, we have grown a lot more tolerant about everybody. We aren’t living in a world of bigotry anymore. Difference is cool now, and similarities are boring, regardless of the topic. You see, people aren’t just allowed into our inner circles and institutions in spite of their differences. Now people are being allowed into our inner circles and institutions because of their differences. I mean, the more that your Twitter and Facebook friend group photos look like the tryouts for the future UN, the better. You had a “black” person, a Muslim, and a transgender person in your crew at Dave & Buster’s last night? Nice! You’re such an understanding person to have so many people so superficially unlike you as groupies. It really makes you stand out. Listen, it’s all good to be understanding and multicultural even though you totally are different than your friends superficially. But at the end of the day, we need secure locations where people who are like-colored and like-self-identifying can go in order to experience that real sense of communal freedom and societal belonging. We need to have official geographical areas where cultural understanding can flourish, and that only happens when you are around people from your own culture in your own space. Unless, of course, you’re a “white cisgender male.” Because if so, then you own the whole planet. You already have your space.
And what is the solution to the non-“white cisgender male” college students’ need for others who totally acquiesce to everything that they say and do…er, I mean…their need to have other people who totally understand them? Ghettos! No wait…that’s not right. Safe spaces. Places that are safe, and have space. You know, with the same group of people clustered all inside because the safety is intended for their group and no one else. You know, like reservations. I mean it isn’t that bad, other people can visit. They just can’t move in.
This happened when I encountered some feminists who noticed that I am male. You see, to them, my maleness obviously disqualified me from being their version of feminist, so it was best for me to stay away from their space unless I wanted a violent hashing about how sexist I was. And I was far from being alone in my situation. Most of the men in our program stayed on the designated male side of the Greek sorority house that we were housed in for the program’s duration. We rarely ventured to the other side. Why? Because to disagree with even one point being made by those few persons I describe was for all of us to proclaim in unison our male-chauvinist hatred for all women of all time. To disagree with anything that they stated meant by default that we were demonstrating our inability to understand what was being communicated due to our misogynist Y-gene. No safe space for us bigots, nuh-uh.
(Note, in order to disagree with anything you necessarily have to understand what is being spoken to you. If you disagree without having understanding, we actually have a nifty word for that already in the English language: ignorance. Really, look it up, it’s in the dictionary.)
And ignorance is exactly the problem with safe spaces. First off, most students and people demanding safe spaces really believe that they can see the inner thoughts of people’s souls. You see, foundational to “safe spaces” is the concept of the “microaggression.” A microaggression is a subconcious reaction a person has toward another person for an unjust reason. A person in front of me may scoot a little further away from me when they notice my skin color. A couple may lock their car doors when I walk by. A woman may walk at a faster pace when we are walking the same sidewalk at night. All of these microaggressions would be because of my skin color because all of these people are racist.
Now, passive aggressive crap like this happens for real racist reasons. Trust me, I know it does because I have lived it. But really, for every situation I just described there are a billion-bazillion reasons why racism may not be the answer.
The person in front of me may scoot further away in the line because it may be approaching their turn, or they are impatient, or I may have forgotten to put on my deodorant that morning. A couple may lock their car doors because they just put the car in gear, or they want to have a private conversation and think that locking the door helps, or I may be a stranger and they don’t trust me walking so closely to their car. A woman may walk at a faster pace than me at night for many reasons, and I for many reasons will most likely refrain from speeding up with her in order to prove a point.
De veras, mi gente, estas cosas deben ser muy obvias. People can’t read other people’s minds. We actually are all ignorant at that level. The best that we can do is deduce or reason for a motive based on context clues, and that doesn’t make us omniscient. And if a person does have prejudicial attitudes, then we should have maturity about it, especially in college where we are all adults. In all of those aforementioned examples, the most serious negative thing that would happen is that my feelings get hurt. Guys, that’s been happening ever since I played with other children in Pre-K playpens. I’m going to be okay, and you should be too. Besides, we are at universities. Since when did it ever become a good idea to segregate our campuses based upon people’s cultural origins or ideological leanings? Clubs and support groups are one thing. Officially changing school laws and policies for the construction and setting aside of actual building space to provide services for particular ethnicities apart from others is quite another thing entirely…what is this Woolworth’s 1960?
And also, sometimes microaggressions come from ignorance. I mean it, really. Some people have not had the privilege of being around every single kind of human culture or phenotype in the universe. Some people have not had the privilege of being around a crowd of humans significantly different from themselves. Some people are ignorant because their society allows them to be. So, when a “white” person says stupid things like “Oh, I didn’t know that ‘black’ people use shampoo and conditioner,” or a “black” person says “Man, I didn’t know Colombian girls speak Mexican,” it should really generate more ridiculing laughs than it does angry Twitter shares. Because such statements are, indeed, ridiculous. In what sort of environment can such ridiculousness stem? Ignorance, my friends, the fertile soil of such fruit is ignorance.
But… some of these safe space advocates don’t want to be okay as they do more important things in college life, like studying. They want students to be at home.
They want students to be around people who look and behave exactly as they do. They want students to feel like they feel, or else they will block off traffic on major roads.
And they want safe spaces at the expense of your personal space or any constitutional liberty that you may have.
Their message is simple: “This is how alienated we feel as we attend some of the leading educational and financially-sound universities in the world while the majority of the world’s population cannot afford the salad that we just ate for lunch.”
There are several ways to go about promoting messages of tolerance and anti-bigotry. None of these ways that I hyperlinked are solid answers. Part of communication is knowing your audience, respecting your audience, knowing what is expected of you…and communication. That last item generally means closing your mouth long enough to listen to someone else and vice-versa.
Let us keep in mind that I am not at all denying the reality of racism or bigotry. I mean, I did just use the word ignorance a couple of times to describe a certain behavior that qualifies as racist. I did literally say that racist prejudicial behaviors do happen; I even have admitted to being on the receiving end of that, and I’ll even admit to being guilty of dishing it out a couple of times in my life. Racism and bigotry exist. I just believe that racists are racist, not every human being who happens to identify as “white.” If you have a mind and you can devalue people who are somehow different than others, you have the potential for racist behavior.
And really, if you surround yourself with people who have only your monolithic ideology or people who only agree with your lifestyle…and at the same time you publicly shame and banish anyone who dares to differ with your stance…well, that is not being a bigot because at least a bigot allows the words of opposition to reach her ears before she ignores those words and shouts her opponent down with hateful retorts. What you would rather have is a personal 50-foot perimeter of safe space so that you don’t even come into contact with another person’s differing opinion. That isn’t bigotry, and it is a step lower than ignorance. We just may have to invent another word for that.
And the odd thing with these safe spaces is that it demonizes people who are advocates for integration. People who would rather be interacting with the flow of ideas and then have the personal freedom to choose who they should and should not associate with in private settings are perfectly capable without being provided Black Student Unions and LGBT dormitory halls by their schools. In the safe space argument, a person like me who could benefit from this safe space emotional rhetoric but who vehemently rejects it because of its double and triple standards becomes the “hate enemy” even though she don’t endorse anything hateful or racist.
In fact, I personally don’t even believe in the “races” that modern society tries to codify us into. Yeah, we are wonderfully different according to genetic diversity and geographical communities, but that doesn’t mean there are real races. I mean really, our modern definitions of “racial” diversity are totally drawing from definitions that were invented in the 19th century to give Scientific Racism its credence and to perpetuate the racialized caste system of chattel slavery laws in the United States. Look it up people, the slavery lingo has even reincarnated itself in our music. “Ni–ers” and “hoes” were literal terms that slave owners used for their male and female slaves. You will find these same words being blasted in the music of many college students regardless of their cultural context. Same words, same hatred, different hoods.
Yeah, really, I don’t believe in races. I really don’t.
You see, my viewpoint disagrees with Black Safe Spaces, Latino Safe Spaces, and LGBT Safe Spaces because I think there is enough space for everyone to be safe in the world together.
But that makes me a bigot. No safe space for me then.