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In search of safe space

By LaDonna Sanders Redmond –

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I have always been in search of safe spaces.

The perpetual search is a fact of life for a Black woman growing up in America. Few people understand that safety is always on the minds of women, in particular Black women. Where to park at night, what you have on that might draw attention. Where you put your drink at the bar, how you meet a date. My gender and/or race can ignite responses that cause me to recoil, emotionally or physically. It can be a refusal to serve me in a restaurant or at a store counter; being told that an apartment is no longer available, even though it was available a few minutes before my arrival. It may seem that a Black woman must be on guard at all times. This truly isn’t possible but it does not stop one from being hyper-vigilant. Always checking and tending to the invisible energy that may shift against us at a moment’s notice.

Since Nov. 9, my usual havens are not providing the protection that they have provided in the past. Perhaps safe space was an illusion to begin with and I was happy to live under that illusion.

I have found safety in the places that may seem odd to others. The Laundromat is one such place. Washing clothes has always been a place of reprieve for me. The ritual of sorting for wash, loading and getting quarters, inserting quarters into the machine is meditative. I lose myself in the simplicity of the actions that are mindless but essential for clean clothes. Sitting and waiting with a good book is part of the process. This happens until someone interrupts. The interruption questions my presence in the space.

“Change is only for customers,” says an employee.

I explain that I am a customer. At 5’10” and living in a full body. I’m hard to ignore.

“No you aren’t,” insists the employee.

Hmmm. I’m standing here surrounded by all the accoutrements of washing clothes. I have balled up clothes, laundry detergent and baskets. I even have my wash day outfit on – a head tie, t-shirt, yoga pants and flats. A quick glance around the place lets me know that I am the only person of color in the Laundromat. The exchange isn’t important. I am not silent. I wash my clothes and the space monitor finds something else to do. The fact is that I have to explain my presence in a way that white people do not. I write a terse note to the owner. He and his wife respond quickly and invite me to meet for coffee. When I arrive, he recognizes me immediately. I have come to the Laundromat for several years. He apologizes. We shake hands. His wife thanks me. I still go to the Laundromat. The space monitor is nowhere in sight.

The election of the 45th president of the United States has caused me to redraw the lines of safe space. The campaign and the election have emboldened people who harbored racist ideologies.

Feeling freed from the restraints of common decency, they have the permission to spread racist, sexist or hateful language and words publically. Their behavior is now outwardly directed at any considered “other.” There are more people willing to share thoughts and opinions that directly question my right to live freely. Now, I must protect my liberation in the most forward fashion necessary.

Recent public policies regarding boarder walls or immigration bans may seem to have nothing to do with the life of a Black woman that is a citizen of the United States.

I live an intersectional existence. It is impossible for me to think that someone who voices support of an immigration ban or building a wall to keep Mexicans out would not also support public lynching of Black people.

Another safe space for me was the Internet and a local gym in Minneapolis.

On Facebook, I have cultivated a list of activist friends and foodies that share my thirst for freedom and liberation. Many of them grow or cook food. Many share my love of all things Prince.

The gym also offered a similar mix – people deeply in love with Prince and foodies of sorts, full of colorful individuals that are committed to health that were never at loss for a supportive comment or a welcoming smile. It’s a gym that many come to for different reasons but the fact that we are all there creates a bond. I bought a puppy for my faimily from someone at the gym.

That puppy is the light of our lives. I have built a few friendships with people that I normally would not have known. I realized that when I saw a statement by the gym’s owner on another body builders page.

One comment by the owner of Los Campeones on Facebook changed how I use, both the gym and Facebook, as safe space. The comment essentially said that he would gladly pay his fair share for the wall. He went on to say that he would pay another person’s share as well.

I was stunned. In 2017, in one of the most liberal communities in Minneapolis there is a business owner that will publically proclaim his support for keeping Mexicans out of the country.
Seward community is named after William Seward. As secretary of state, Seward fought for the end of slavery, passing laws to protect abolitionists and he used his position to intervene in cases where free Blacks were threatened with enslavement. Seward also supported immigrants and Catholics at a time when it wasn’t safe to be either. It is ironic that the gym calls itself “the champions” in Spanish and is located in a community named after an abolitionist.

I confronted the owner on Facebook through direct message. No answer. I posted to the gym’s Facebook page. No answers. I posted to my page. I have received responses from people that ranged from support of the gym owner to support of the issue.

The grapevine let me know that my posts have created discussion in the gym. That was the goal … discussion. With this new information about the gym, some people have cancelled their gym memberships. Others have asked to see the Facebook post. The post has been deleted. To those that are curious, I have suggested that they ask the owner what he posted, he does not deny his views or his support of the boarder wall.

White supremacy must be discussed and challenged. If you are for white supremacy, you should let everyone know. Some of us want to make informed decisions about who we support. I am not for any forms of oppression. I work to end oppression wherever I see it. I am not a martyr. I am woke. I work in solidarity with others that are oppressed.

I am not an immigrant. I am not Latina. Yet, I am threatened by immigration bans and a boarder wall; if that wall goes up. Other walls are coming.

I do not support colonialism or imperialism. I participate in the sustainable food movement. I am not a farmer. Yet, I advocate for farmers to be paid fairly. I am not a farm worker. Yet, I advocate for safe work conditions and fair pay for farm workers. I am not Muslim. Yet, I work in solidarity with Muslims for religious freedom. I am not a Black man, but I work to end state sanctioned violence directed at him. I am not transgender, but I will not stand by for a transgendered person to be harassed or killed.

For a business owner to use his right of free speech to support a contentions political issues is risky. Ask Uber, Eden Foods, Paula Deen and a host of other people who feel they have a right to say what they want, when they want. Hate speech masquerading as free speech always impacts a brand negatively.

I am a Black woman. I am forced to live at the intersections of race, class and gender. With this awareness, I can no longer support that gym. Just as I have let my friends know that this was an awesome gym, I will let them know that this is no longer the case – especially if you are Mexican, Muslim or an immigrant. I recommend being cautious of this place. One’s safety could be in jeopardy in word or action at any moment.

I feel a public apology is warranted. Not to me but to those who the owner aimed his comment. Usually this doesn’t happen because the white supremacist ego is fortified by the status quo. Even those who look like me may support the owner out of fear, ignorance or a combination of the two. It is hard to imagine, but not all Black people supported the Civil Rights Movement, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcom X. It is easy to see how this kind of conversation would not garner support. I can imagine the fear in the hearts and minds of Black people as they try to navigate the new waters of racist ideology. Fear of drowning in racist rhetoric is very real. However, white supremacist views do not go away, but become deeply entrenched in its host; hidden out of sight but out of mind. Still they must be confronted.

James Baldwin said there is a thin line between witness and actor. As a writer, I am a witness and an actor. It is my responsibility to write the story that ends oppression and to share that story widely and freely.

February 27, 2017
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