A few years ago I started hearing about safer spaces and community when I moved to Colorado. I found it prevalent in the fusion scene and was intrigued by the idea. At the time, my understanding was of a movement to talk about the values we wanted at our dances. A big thing I remembered was that people were advocating that people stop doing lifts on the social floor and encouraging for people to request “lead or follow”. We were creating codes of conduct around inappropriate behavior at dances and trying to make people comfortable. As time went on, this idea not only spread but also changed. Soon I found the conversation changing from being proactive and during the dance focused, to things being demanded of people inside and out of the dance. More things were added, and I started to feel… uncomfortable. For me, this shift started with, “would you like to be in close embrace?”
To me this was a part of the dance, and as long as I wasn’t being forced into it or held there, I knew I could make that choice for myself. I argued this and it’s when I started noticing the focus change.
You should always ask, just to be sure
Maybe a person is uncomfortable
*I* don’t like close embrace
I don’t want to do close embrace with *that* person
But suddenly, I was being asked to check in with my partner instead of them just making it clear they don’t want a thing. This exposed some “truths” that were treated as universal:
- Women don’t know how to say no
- Saying no can be dangerous
- This is consent based
I found this strange and I’ll get to why later. Soon the conversation changed to asking about lifts and dips. Then it became may I touch you? May I hug you? Soon conversations started shifting more, some music made people feel uncomfortable, personal politics became a point to try to ban someone who’d not actually done anything, and everyone started advocating for what they thought they deserved. Women asked not to do emotional labor, people felt they deserved teachers time to discourage elitism, trans and non binary folks focused on gender issues, people want their food preferences acknowledged and it slowly spread to outside of the dance. Suddenly all events public or not, had a large set of rules of what you could or could not do, could or could not say, and your worth as an organizer was determined by meeting all these demands, vocalized or not. Organizers needed to anticipate the needs of their community, meet them, or be called unsafe. Being called unsafe in this community is one of the worst things that could happen to an organizer. The community put it upon the shoulders of the organizers to ask and handle every possible thing that a person may not like, and with this, community members stopped owning their own boundaries and empowerment.
It was around this time that the Steven Mitchell case– came to light. The dance world erupted. So many of us are unsafe! Organizers need to step it up. Victim blaming must be stopped! We have to control the power people have, inside and outside the scene to keep us safe! Anytime a woman ( as we for the most part didn’t listen to men’s stories) stepped up, we shut down any discussion, created ourselves as the law, and DEMANDED organizers take care of this. The women, must be protected from predatory men. Sadly, because of this set up there has been a trickle down effect. As our conversations around consent become more developed and our demands of organizers to take care of us go up, the waters of safety have become muddled. What used to be a conversation about physical safety at dances has turned into a lifestyle movement where any discomfort, concern, complaint, is taken as seriously as serial rape, and to not abide by this is to invite shame.
Let me point out that I don’t think having safer dances is a bad thing, nor do I begrudge anyone for advocating for their own interest. My concern is the way it’s happening, it’s inflexibility, the nature of it, and how extreme it’s become.
I believe a few things.
The pressure this has put on organizers is IMMENSE
We have gone too far and lost nuance
The system is unfair
The only safety cared about is white women/AFAB folx
It’s not only foreign to black people (and other minorities) but harmful
It plays into the patriarchy
It makes assumptions about the way the world works based on a cishetero white norm
Things have gone too far. You know what, I don’t feel safe. At all.
Instead I find the current state of “safer spaces” to be highly problematic. To quote one of my many stressed out rants to my therapist “I feel as though it’s my job to protect white women, when no one was there to protect me.” You see friends, not long ago I was called a rapist sympathizer because I dared to disagree with my community. Me, the rape survivor. I refused to judge based on hearsay of what happened outside my dance. My therapist and I talked about the problematic nature of the scene and my hatred of feeling like my own trauma didn’t matter as much as the white women in our scene who needed protected.
Here’s the kicker, this whole system is based on a white value assumption, the very one I assumed we were trying to fight against… that white women or AFAB folx are weak and need to be cared for. That they can’t use their voice and say no to things. That our duty as men, minorities, or officials is to ensure that they feel safe even at the cost of ourselves. That they have no responsibility and are inherently always a victim. As such we have to step in for them, and give them space to state their needs and on some level assume they aren’t capable of making good choices and nor should they be held accountable for those choices.
As a black person, this is some bull shit. Not only is our culture not based on this, nor the creepy white boy increase intimacy tactics, we NEVER teach our women to be so passive. Our women are raised strong, empowered and vocal about what our boundaries are. We learn early that no one is going to take care of you, but you. If you want something you speak up. If you don’t, you speak up. If you have ended up in a compromised situation, you say or do something. You don’t let people walk all over you and then expect someone to pick up the pieces. The idea of it is so entitled, I can’t even imagine it. You fight, you stand up for yourself, you get your friends too and you fix that problem. If it’s a problem you can’t fix, then you bring it to the matriarch, and they fix it for you.
On the other hand black men have it bad. Our culture teaches them that women will use their voice and to respect that. As a passionate culture…
” if you disagree with the view being expressed, you are obliged to speak up.” (Kochman, Thomas. Black and White Styles in Conflict (p. 29). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.)
“Black culture values individually regulated self-assertion. It also values spontaneous expression of feeling. As a result, black cultural events typically encourage and even require individuals to behave in an assertive/expressive manner” (Kochman, Thomas. Black and White Styles in Conflict (pp. 29-30). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition. )
But when interracial relationships happen, problems arise. These modalities of interaction, don’t mix. Some of that is touched on here.
But this propensity towards the extreme safety and consideration of white woman and AFAB folx create a HUGE minefield for anyone interested in dating them, particularly black and minority folks. Without recourse of communication around the issue, due to the fear of victim blaming and being labeled, unsafe or worse, a rapist’s sympathizer, a chunk of our community is at risk of ostracization without the ability to stand up for themselves within the miscommunication. Honestly, it’s not ok. The amount of minority people who are uncomfortable with this, and so refuse to date in the scene is high. I’ve even been told it’s part of why black people leave the scene or refuse to join properly. The waters are too murky, and the risks are too high. The amount of us burned is also pretty high. But since it’s miscommunication and not malice based, They aren’t just end up hurting and confused, worried and fearful. I hear about it all the time.
But Grey, I can almost hear, victims never speak out against things that aren’t bad! I dare to state a thought, When one is taught that everything bad that happens will be fixed by someone else, doesn’t that make the smallest thing seem egregious?
Is this the modality we want to live in? Where one part of our community gets the privilege of knowing that the majority of the time (nowadays) any concern, no matter how big or small, personal or professional, or in the event or outside of it, will be handled. While the other waits in fear that a unknown miscommunication, due to not explicitly ensuring everyone is on the same page (and the other half can’t/won’t/ assumes it will be understood without acting) could essentially end everything with little or no ability to appeal decisions?
I find it horrifying and feel so disrespected. As a victim, and as an AFAB black person. No one has ever taken care of me that way, nor have I expected it. So, now what? I think it’s time to put nuance back in the idea of safer spaces, to remember that women and AFAB folx aren’t inherently unable to stand up for themselves, and just making women and AFAB folx the ones with all the power without intersectionality just means they have replaced the oppressors.
I think as a community we really need to relook at how much pressure we are putting on our organizers, we need to look at how much we really want to regulate, and understand that the extreme version is pushing people away, particularly minorities. We simply treat individual needs differently than white communities. As we go deeper into peak white ways of handling our issues with personal needs and concerns with sexual harassment/assault/rape, as I feel more and more concerned about my safety and of those who look like me.
Honestly I’m terrified about posting this to the greater blues community, Which I also feel is an issue. As a community we should be working TOWARDS addressing issues with multiple points of view. I feel as though I’m risking a lot here. Still someone has to start this discussion.