The only way I can begin to explain the importance of safe spaces for those of us from minority backgrounds is to share my own experiences. It usually starts in the same settings being school, work, conferences or Tim Hortons. Okay, Tim Hortons was random, fair enough. Sadly though, this is most often where I’m usually asked “where are you from and how did you come to Canada?!” All I wanted was a half hot chocolate half french vanilla to start my day right, I didn’t ask for this.
Back to the main point. I always find myself in these settings where people are waiting for me to speak on behalf of all of my “people”. If you are nodding along, you are not alone! This seemed to be a recurring theme in my life. At moments like these, there would be so many thoughts coming to mind but I couldn’t seem to vocalize them. I would find myself constantly mumbling:
“Africa is not country…”
“No….you don’t have to be Arab to be Muslim…”
“How did you all get into this class in the first place..?!”
During these awkward, funny, yet completely avoidable situations I would find myself in, I couldn’t help but feel alone in these moments. No allies, no one with a shared lived experience and no one else to pass the “I guess I’ll speak for everyone” torch to. Most often, we find ourselves constantly being pushed into these roles. Now what exactly do I mean by “ourselves”? You probably read that and were like, please don’t include me in your nonsense. I’m referring to those of us who identify as coming from a marginalized background and what I like to call “the best of all worlds”.
We’re spoken for, our narratives are erased or disregarded and we can’t seem to find spaces and people willing to hear our stories. As a result of this, we require spaces that promote our unique yet shared narratives from lived experiences. It’s not exclusion, it’s simply fostering inclusive spaces for those of us who are not always included.
That’s not to say this piece isn’t for you, if anything I hope it serves as a way to promote dialogue and help you understand how to respect certain spaces and play the role of an ally.