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Black Spaces Matter
Why freedom from the white gaze is a necessary gift
I’ve been thinking a lot recently of the importance of me, as a Black woman, having spaces where I can let my shoulders drop. In many cases, that means having spaces where all the members or participants are Black.
Before I dive into why it matters, let me make a couple of things clear:
First, I don’t choose my friends according to the colour of their skin - their values matter more, and those who are fighting oppression rather than colluding with it are often my people, no matter what’s on the outside.
Second, it takes ALL of us to create an equal world where racism is a thing of the past. Again, if you’re active in this quest, I’m happy to know you.
However, we’re not there yet, and this is why all-Black spaces matter.
As a white-presenting person, you may take your place in the world for granted. After all, in many cases everything is set up to remove obstacles from your path. In fact, you might not be aware certain obstacles exist at all, so far are they from your day to day reality.
But for people who look like me (and this also applies to people of the Global Majority and people who face isms) that’s often not our reality, especially in white-dominated spaces. There’s often a need to be hyper-vigilant because of the way being Black is perceived or characterised, and because of the real disadvantages that can be imposed by systems set up to exclude us.
It’s a lot to deal with, and sometimes we just want to breathe. Sometimes we want freedom from the white gaze. That’s why Black spaces matter.
Black Spaces are a Gift
Of late, I’ve noticed that many Black people are no longer trying to get into spaces that weren’t made for them - they’re creating their own. I’ve talked recently about a couple of DEI spaces, and my sister Lisa has founded The Great Exhale. I’ve seen many other spaces surfacing.
The ability to be fully yourself without pretence and without hyper-vigilance is a gift. There’s an online meeting I attend that’s just for Black women. And because of that, there are things we don’t have to explain - the background to who we are. Instead, we can just get to the essence of what we really want to talk about.
We also know that we won’t experience the kind of harm that comes as standard in many white-dominated spaces, even when the people we’re with are trying to be inclusive and welcoming. That’s not to say you won’t hear things that are negative or hurtful in all-Black spaces, but it likely won’t be because of the colour of your skin (colorism aside, of course).
The Irony of Perceived Exclusion
Despite this, of course, many white people are threatened by us wanting our own spaces. So threatened that they kick up a stink, cry “exclusion” and try to shut down all-Black spaces (and no, I’m not exaggerating - a friend told me of this happening recently with a play intended for a Black audience, and I’m sure you can think of any examples).
Apparently Black people are supposed to want to be in the spaces that privilege whiteness. And white folx are suspicious of what’s happening in spaces that exclude them because they think and viscerally believe that all spaces belong to them.
It’s time to get over that thinking. Especially because Black folx don’t want to think about or talk about white folx in those spaces - we’re focused on being able to breathe and simply to be.
As I said earlier, in an equal world, we wouldn’t need our own spaces, but we’re not there yet, so Black spaces matter. A lot.
Anti-Racism Advocates: Take Action!
As a would-be white ally, here’s one thing you can do: as an act of advocacy, you can promote those spaces, tell your fellow white folx to butt out, and explain why. After all, there are already plenty of shared spaces where we can come together, so can we Black folx just have a few spaces of our own? I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, do you?
Thanks for reading,
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© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.
Cover photo courtesy of Canva.