Blogs & Writings

My Take on “Safe Spaces”

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.

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  • Narek Khachatryan Jun 24,2016 at 12:50 pm

    Hey Michael, thank you for what you are doing. I agree with you on a lot of topics from police violence and decriminalization of drugs to more empathetic justice system.

    I however disagree with you on this particular topic. The argument that “protesters want to control the narrative and not let certain media do that instead by means of not letting anyone critical to highlight their events” is conservative and sectarian. That’s a totalitarian logic of regimes in countries like North Korea, Saudi Arabia and lobbyist groups in DC.

    That kind of logic is not liberal. Liberal approach I believe is: “I am having a demonstration or a discussion to spread my ideas; you have a right to highlight it however you want; if mainstream media misrepresents my ideas than my job is to create an alternative media to communicate my ideas”. Making and spreading alternative content now is easier than ever. In that case we will have a pluralist society instead of a society of several ideological and religious sects hiding behind the closed doors.

    I think that Trump’s success is societies response to reactionary policies of the so-called “liberal progressive movement” which I would rather call post-modern conservatism. Safe spaces, closed doors, controlled narrative are conservative and lead to self-radicalization and create fear on both sides. Transparency and empathy are systematically more promising.

    • Michael A. Wood Jr.
      Michael A. Wood Jr. Jun 24,2016 at 1:00 pm

      Sorry, I don’t find that to be logical and can do nothing other than ask you to think about what you are saying and what that would mean.

      • Narek Khachatryan Jun 24,2016 at 3:46 pm

        No problem, Michael, don’t be sorry. I think issues like safe spaces and cultural policies are important philosophical and political problems that a global liberal thought has faced. I think it is because of those unresolved problems that different forms of civil and religious conservatism are taking over around the world.

        In my comment above I didn’t try to engage in some ideological battle, rather, to start a discussion in order to better understand your position or maybe to share some of my experience and perspective, as I have lived in three different countries and have been a minority kid in much more xenophobic country than US. We could have discussed it if you pointed at the specific argument(s) that you consider illogical or if you proposed a counterargument. But I guess, we both can live without it:)

        Anyway, I disagree with you, but I respect your position as I can see it coming from empathy. Thank you for being a smart and decent public figure and thanks for shedding light on some dark corners of our society. Good luck!