I have heard plenty about “safe spaces” lately, as many of us have. What seems to always lack is a fundamental understanding of what a “safe space” is and why they are needed. Granted, this explanation is heavily directed towards protesting. The expression of why was famously demonstrated by my brother, Kwame Rose, when he confronted Geraldo Rivera on television during the Baltimore uprising. What Kwame was expressing is this frustration in grassroots activism where media comes from all over when something sensational happens, but they come to tell their story, not the story of what is really going on or even why these events are going on. They come and they take snippets of what we say and twist the context to fit their narrative, their agenda, and far too often their agenda, involves words like thug, “black-on-black” crime, bootstraps, children of addict parents, and much more. They loop the CVS burning, never asking why. They loop the outliers, so infuriated with oppression that they lash out, but they never ask why. They never follow-up, they never ask Kwame why he is there, instead they tell you why he is there and ask why he does not go home.
Sometimes this happens with the best of intentions as well. I assure you that what you see of me in Fixing the System with VICE on HBO, #BlackLivesMatter documentary, and many other appearances, do not tell the full narrative, do not capture the complete nuance, and (hopefully) were not the smartest things I said those days. What is missing, can be told by the Baltimore uprising. During the cleanup of the uprising, a friend of mine was in town from Dallas, David Smalley, who hosts a podcast called Dogma Debate. After talking about the movement, I took David down to Penn North to see. What David saw was a community united. White, black, young, old, gay, queer, straight, educated, uneducated, and more. There was music, cookouts, songs, dancing, and a feeling of hope that you could taste in the air. David was shocked because all he heard was those media presentations from his home in Dallas.
David was almost jovial that we had to tell this on his podcast and we did, long before that media sensationalism brought my name to your ears. So what is a safe space then? A safe space is a facet of an attempt to control the narrative of the movement, so that what is really going on is told. A sister in the movement, Makayla Gilliam-Price, started a different facet, organizing and publishing independently, which you can see is about “controlling our narrative.” A safe space is demanding the respect of those around to not come in to a designated area where comrades are free to relax a little and converse without something being taken out of context and made a national headline. While we can argue about that being the best response, remember that those who did not understand what it was, is simply because you did not bother to ask. If you are demanding the truth from your media, this would not be a thing. As you complain about safe spaces, I find it ironic that it is only because you failed to take the bare minimum of journalistic integrity, asking the people in the safe spaces what it means. I do not know if I agree with them or not, but I care enough to understand why and respect it.