Defend and Protect: Safe Spaces and Privilege

This is an expanded lecture taken from Guardians of Peace In the Galaxy: Being An Ally as a Jedi.

Jedi are charged with defending and protecting those around us. Unlike the fictional Jedi however, we rarely are asked to do this physically, or asked to give our lives or bodily safety for the defense or protection of others. We usually need to use our observational skills, our words, our knowledge, and our intuition. Two excellent ways to defend and protect those who need it in your everyday life are by creating a safe space for people who need one, and by using your privilege to interrupt privilege. One is protecting, the other is defending, both are vital.

What does it mean to create a safe space? 

A Safe Space is a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel unwelcome or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age, or physical or mental ability. A place where the rules guard each person’s self-respect and dignity and strongly encourage everyone to respect others. So how can you help create one?

Firstly, identify the ways in which you have extra ability to help others that other people might not have. For example, I am well-educated, so I can share knowledge (in a way that isn’t condescending) with people who want or need it. I’m white, and was raised in a well-off household, so I am not likely to be judged or attacked for classist or racist reasons. I have a bunch of Jedi training, meaning I am pretty good at staying calm, communicating well, and managing my own emotions, as well as mediating conflict. Creating a safe space involves looking at the specific powers or privileges you have, and using them to create extra space and breathing room (sometimes literally, but often just metaphorically) for people who don’t have those abilities. Here are some other examples:

  • As a man, you might give a woman more space on the train, or keep your distance from her walking home at night; you know you would never do anything to bother or hurt her, but she doesn’t. Statistically 20% of women will face rape or sexual assault in their lifetime, and a leading cause of death for women is homicide by men. Her fear doesn’t harm you, but your presence could cause her fear. By giving her extra space physically, you are helping build a space where she can feel safe existing.
  • As a white person, you might let a person of color lead any conversations where their experience is more relevant, such as those about race or racism, or even at work where they are less likely to be seen as intelligent or capable. By listening actively and backing them up when their experience trumps yours by nature, or if they are more or just as capable as you are at the subject, lets them know that you can be relied on in situations that are unjust or unfair.
  • When people talk about their experiences of opression: if your friend says she was assaulted, if your disabled friend is upset by people using the r-word or other slurs, if your black friend is pretty sure they were rejected from a job because of their name or race: belive them. Validate their feelings, and take their word that something happened. Friends support and believe in friends; don’t let these instances be the exception to the rule.
  • Talk about these issues (feminism, racism, queerness, transphobia, etc) with friends, with family, online; I promise it’s less awkward than you think.
  • Educate yourself and others about movements like Feminism, trans*gender issues, racial activism. After all, “There is no Ignorance…” Knowledge is what destroys prejudice, and it is unfair to expect the people experiencing the oppression to educate you about how you benefit from that oppression, even accidentally.

What does it mean to use your privilege to interrupt other people’s privilege?

Just as you have this extra ability and power that society has decided you have, based not on your actions and work, but on the mere facts of your existence (such as being white, straight, cisgendered, male, able-bodied or minded, etc), so do other people. Having privilege is not something to be ashamed of, or angry about. For example, I was born cisgendered (my gender matches what people think my gender is visually), and I therefore have cis privilege. I didn’t do anything wrong by existing as cisgendered; the problem lies in society, which values my cisgendered-ness over people who are transgendered. So I’ve been given this random extra power that has been denied to others: what now? The goal here is to use that power to fight against the system that gives it to me. White people trying to dismantle racism by supporting people of color. Able-bodied people speaking out about accessibility of buildings for their disabled friends and acquaintances. Speaking up when you hear someone say ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘that’s ret-rded’, explaining that associating types of people with something bad is unkind and inappropriate. Here are some more examples of using your privilege to interrupt the system of privilege and social inequality:

  • As a man, challenge other men (or women) when they make sexist or rape jokes. Explain that they are not funny, that statistically many of the people who hear them are vicitms. That degrading women or laughing at violent sexual assault is in poor taste and not ok.
  • As a white person take a stand against whitewashing in movies: ask why white characters are cast when the role is, or could be, a person of color? Why is the japanese female lead of ghost in the shell being played by a white woman? Why did Hollywood decide to cast Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger instead of an actual native american? Vote with your pocketbook, and choose your media based on your principles when you can.
  • As a cisgendered person, be a physical presence if you witness harassment or bullying based on gender presentation, online or off. Fight gender stereotypes that hurt men, women, and nonbinary people, both cis and trans.
  • If people organize events that would exclude people who are less able-bodied, point it out and see if changes can be made. When you organize events, if you mess up and it is not an accessible space, acknowledge it, and promise to do better next time.
  • Hold your community to high standards: as Jedi we need to have the courage to listen to others when they point out our flaws, and to have the integrity to ask people to live and act as Jedi. Obviously we should do this kindly, but to let prejudice or unkindness flourish because someone is our friend is not the act of a true friend.

Doing any of these things can be difficult and awkward, but sacrificing your momentary comfort (or, depending on your feelings and abilities, safety) as a Jedi and person of privilege is a fair trade off to support another’s rights and dignity.

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