The Dangers of White Women in BIPOC Spaces
Growing up in small-town Georgia, I could fill novels with instances of being made to feel small in public spaces where most people were white, but instead, I’ll discuss something that repeatedly happened that still sticks in my mind to this day. Most places where I grew up were within walking distance, so we would walk to the stores, restaurants or walk to visit family. I’d always be so confused that no matter how long we’d be walking on the sidewalk, if a white person were coming towards us, or even behind us, my grandmother would get off the sidewalk to “make room” for them. As a child, I followed along but still questioned why they couldn’t, or WOULDN’T say excuse me if they just so badly needed to pass us. It was almost like it was instinctive, like she’d been trained to do it; as an adult now, I know that she indeed was. I also know that for them, it was an unconscious need to let us know that even in our casual stroll, they take up space where they see fit.
Now, in the age of the social media boom, Black and brown people are creating safe-havens. We are creating spaces for us, by us, where we can let down our virtual hair and talk about the things we can’t otherwise discuss in the majority of white spaces. Those spaces are created most times because we’ve been either banned or kicked out of those very spaces. So, it’s no surprise to any of us that once we get comfortable enough to talk about the exhaustion of constant code-switching on the job, how PTOs in our children’s schools aren’t a reflection of the entire student body, the admins ask the question that we all dread.
“Do you think that we should open this space to white members?” Those members join the group and tell us how it’s “not so bad” because they experienced something similar and made it. We’re now tone policed, in a space that once felt free.
The danger comes in the damage this costs us, literally at the expense of our lives. Recent studies have shown that racism is shortening the lives of Black Americans. NBC reported that, “According to a survey, encountering racism can lead to higher levels of stress, which in turn causes cells to age more rapidly. The adverse health effects of racism on African Americans are well documented, but the Auburn study focuses on its impact on telomeres, pieces of DNA that protect cells.” In short, racism even when not causing immediate physical harm, is killing us. So, creating these spaces, where we can just BE are essential.
Sierra Carter, a psychology professor at Georgia State University and the leader of another study on racism and aging published in September, said the Auburn study’s results are in line with a growing body of research on the role racism plays in lowering life expectancy for African Americans. She said that over time, experiences with racism and even chronic worrying about it can cause significant “wear and tear” by increasing one’s allostatic load, the lifelong buildup of stress, which accelerates aging and puts African Americans at greater risk for chronic illnesses. (Excerpt from NBC News article)
But how? How do we create these spaces, when we have been conditioned to coddle white tears? We’ve been conditioned to make space where there is typically none for us, even when it makes us uncomfortable. The tears are most times the gateway, the tears of desperation, the tears letting us know the help they need, the help only we can provide. SO PLEASE, can this ONE TIME, we let them in. STOP. DON’T. That’s it. Whatever unique situation that makes them feel can only be fixed in a majority black space can be fixed by Google. Nothing that has happened to them hasn’t happened before. Encourage them to create a space unique to their experience, and then reclaim your peace.
Continue to find places you can escape to, continue to find ways that help you escape from the racism that is physically and mentally killing us. Allies, everything isn’t for you. Some spaces will never include you. Be okay with that.