I found the recent op-ed “Safe spaces are unnecessary – the real world is not a safe place for anyone” ignorant and unfounded. The writer’s idea of these groups seems to cumulate in the opinion that they are shelters from reality and somehow responsible for their own problems. However, he bases his opinion on an uninformed perspective of the struggles minority Americans face. These issues are not opinions, they are statistical, sociological realities. You must have an understanding of them in order to build a valid argument.
In the op-ed, the writer seems to equate his experiences in society with everyone’s. But the inequalities and dangers at present are more complex than simply saying everyone is equal and should never defend their differences.
Is it really “coddling” to recognize that some people struggle with issues like racism and misogyny that deeply complicate and even endanger their lives? The writer touches on an aspect of the world we all know to be true: it is not a safe place. The world is full of enemies, real or subconscious, especially for victims of violence, psychological trauma, and prejudice. Oppressed people have specific concerns, anxieties, and rights that relate to their individual and shared experiences of this unsafe world, which differ substantially from the dangers white straight men face.
The writer claims solitude is the only safe space, as if independence works as a coping mechanism for everyone. But for some, not even the mind is safe. Coming together with similar people is how some heal and empower themselves. This alone attests to their firm grasp of what the writer calls the “real world.” In the real world, isolation kills. To disqualify this copying method professes ignorance to the disparity between the world he experiences as a privileged person, and the reality of living as one who is oppressed. The real world was built by the strength of communities.
In the case of racism and its intersection with misogyny, it is not “uncomfortableness” that causes oppressed people to seclude themselves into groups, it is fearing for their lives, their children’s lives, their financial and work stability and their freedom, and desiring one place where they have more control over this. It is another life—one the writer is not informed enough to judge.
As a straight white man, an identity that holds disproportionate social and legal power in America, the writer disqualifies his argument as soon as he implies that safe spaces for underprivileged groups somehow exclude or “segregate” him. He has never experienced the fear of being the only one of his race or gender in the room. He has never had his rights denied because of his identity. Society was built for people like him, and that is the problem. Should we really trust the majority to take care of minority needs if they cannot even understand them?
African American men and women of all races won the right to vote against a Constitution that privileged white straight men over every other American, and it took decades for women of color, especially, to express this freedom long after it was legally given to them. They achieved this through special interest groups, originating in secret, safe spaces, where they could voice their opinions and empower each other, creating a force for change driven by the unity found among themselves, unsilenced by their oppressors’ voices.
The Abolitionist movement and the Women’s Suffrage movements could not have achieved their goals if the issues had been left to dominant society. Their roots stretch back to the original all-black safe spaces or all-women meetings necessary to the creation of strong, comprehensive missions that could not be hijacked by privileged “concerns.” The Civil Rights movement and the Women’s Liberation movement continued these efforts for a more egalitarian nation, revising perspectives, laws, and constitutional interpretations to reflect the realities of inequality in modern society. The current Black Lives Matter movement and fourth wave feminism are extensions of these historic processes, evolved to fit the times and address intersectional issues.
Because of recent revolutions by specific groups, police brutality, systematic racism, LGBTQ discrimination, poverty, and reproductive rights are no longer unquestionable issues. They are dialogues about issues that exclusively affect certain people in order to create changes which ultimately improve the safety of this world for everyone.
The sovereignty of these groups is necessary to preserve the focus of their goals. Because of safe spaces, movements that would change American history took root in extremely oppressive environments. Due to these efforts, our government and national identity constantly evolve to create a more equal and inclusive society.
All are not equal until we decide the voices of oppressed groups are valid. Safe spaces are not examples of “reverse” segregation, they are a defense against racial segregation and other forms of discrimination that still exist today—the kind the writer perpetuates with his misguided sense of “inclusion.” He calls racism unchangeable. This is because he rejects the very groups who hope to change it.
We do not live in a utopia, but our world and our views are not static. Our strength lies in our ability to defend our diversity, not pretend we are all the same.