Last week, because of the mass shooting in Buffalo, we offered Listening/Sharing sessions for the employees of our US clients. These are meant as safer spaces for people to share and process the impact of such a traumatic event together.
Because it was a racially motivated hate crime, we created safer spaces by skin colour; three separate options for folx who are Black/African American, People of Colour, and white.
The reason for this is simple:
Folx who are Black, or African American have once again seen members of their particular community gunned down in the name of white supremacy. It’s personal, and brings up feelings of grief, anger, sadness, and fear.
People of Colour, although not part of the African American or Black communities are also impacted because of their skin tone. People of Colour know what racism feels like on a visceral level, and a racially-motivated hate crime also brings up anger, grief, sadness, and fear for them.
White folx (hopefully) are outraged by racially motivated hate crimes. And can also be experiencing anger, sadness and grief for those who have been killed, and for the world we live in. But they are not impacted in the same way as BIPOC folx will be. It’s not personal.
Because of this, we all need safer spaces to share and process.
And these spaces (at least at first, and post-traumatic event) need to be separate.
The Benefit of Separate Spaces
Particularly for BIPOC folx, safer spaces that separate mean they are not the focus of curiosity or questions that their white colleagues may have; they don’t have to explain their feelings or the context, and they don’t have to caretake if/when someone white cries, or feels uncomfortable by the level of emotion they are hearing, or the person’s tone, volume or the content.
Emotions are important. Making space for them is healthy. Having to explain them or justify them in the midst of pain is not fair or helpful.
The bottom line is that in any mixed group, those with dominant identities (identities with more social power) are liable to take up more than their share of the space – because they can, and because they are used to doing so, not because they are consciously insensitive – which makes such spaces less safe for the people who need them the most, because they don’t always have them.
In time, the ideal is that we can come together to listen, share, and learn from each other.
But that is step 2. Or maybe even step 3.
First we have to acknowledge pain and differential impact, and make room for folx to assemble and support each other within their own groups.
And not take it personally when the definition of safer means we are not invited.