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by Lenka Murova
The phrase ‘liberal snowflakes’ has been thrown around a lot recently, assigned to those who are pushing their ‘extreme liberal agenda’ and are easily offended and unable to face reality. It appears that by asking for equal rights, these ‘snowflakes’ are overreacting and infringing on the rights of others. There are loud opinions voiced from each side every day and many have strong views on the topic and refuse to budge.
More often than not, ‘liberal snowflake’ gets thrown in with ‘safe spaces’. There are those who mock the entire idea and deem it as ‘pussyfying’ the nation, claiming that the liberal agenda is going too far and trying to create a bubble that does not mesh with reality.
By definition, a safe space is “a place or environment in which a person or category of people can feel confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, harassment, or any other emotional or physical harm.” I don’t know about you, but nothing in this definition sounds like something we shouldn’t strive towards in our society. So why do people get so angry when someone claims they want a safe space?
University campuses are often brought up in the debate concerning the need for safe spaces. As universities are places for debate and learning, many argue that safe spaces go against that very idea, infringing on the right for free speech. Their claim is, how can you freely express your opinions if you have to act according to the rules of safe spaces? However, these same people are often unaware of how skewed their perception of free speech is. If someone wants to play the ‘devil’s advocate’ and argue that many women lie about being assaulted and thus should not be taken seriously when they report it, they’re simply perpetuating wrongful ‘facts’. Rehashing the same argument over and over in academic debates and perpetuating this viewpoint only validates people outside these academic circles to use it as ‘alternative facts’ to win arguments. Narratives like these cause real damage to victims of such crimes by spreading false information. This has nothing to do with protecting free speech, it only excuses abusive behaviour.
What many do not understand is that safe spaces are meant to provide reassurance and a sense of belonging for those who are still not widely accepted in society. Rudo Ellen Kazembe lists all the ways that these safe spaces help people work towards improving their lives. LGBTQIA+ people are one of the main groups who are criticised for needing safe spaces. However, Katie Dupere points out the harsh reality that there is no real safe space for queer people. The danger of physical or verbal assault is still an everyday reality for many. That is why we continuously seek others who are a part of our community, so that we can be surrounded by people who understand what we might be going through. The pursuit of safe spaces is based on this idea, wanting to be around others who understand and accept you for who you are. It’s about knowing that you have a place that you can turn to, a place where you don’t feel threatened.
But all of this is just the ideal, perfect version of what a safe space should be. More often than not, though, reality doesn’t match up. Undeniably, there are many marginalised groups which have to struggle in their everyday life in a way that privileged people are not even aware of. It is those who have to fight for equal rights that deserve to have somewhere they can turn to when the outside world is too hostile. The LGBTQIA+ community is a minority that has been constantly fighting for equal rights and their place in society. However, even the LGBTQIA+ community is guilty of overlooking certain issues and allowing stereotypes to fester. There are reports about trans women of colour being physically assaulted and killed on a daily basis in the US, yet there is not enough activism devoted to this issue. The recent UK election made trans people who were registering to vote jump through multiple hoops, which many found discouraging. Recently, black and brown colours were added to the original pride flag during this month’s Pride events in Philadelphia. While they did this to show support for people of colour in the community, they received an immense amount of backlash.
Safe spaces lose their meaning if we exclude certain minorities from our communities. Safe spaces only make sense when they are safe for everyone in the community, not just the select few. There is more than one colour of the rainbow on the flag for a reason, the reason being that the community is immensely diverse. It is hard to argue for the need of safe spaces for marginalised groups in view of the harassment they are subjected to, especially when it happens within our very own community. Being hypocritical does not provide much legitimacy, not to mention that it also hurts the common cause.
That is why we have to work harder on improving our own community, why we have to uplift and highlight the voices that have been silenced for so long. Equality means equality for all. It is necessary to create safe spaces where everyone can express their thoughts and share their experiences without fear. These spaces should provide an opportunity to recharge after a constant battle against discrimination. Spaces that give people within the community strength to venture outside and create a safer world. This requires constant work, discussion, improvement, listening to each other and working towards making change and being critical of our own community and ourselves.
It is necessary to focus on providing a platform for those who are continuously denied their representation in the mainstream. The publishing industry has this opportunity to amplify voices that many in the commercial media view as too risky and unmarketable (with particular emphasis on profitability). Through publishing work that reflects the personal truth of the marginalised, it is possible to create safe spaces where people can affirm that they are not alone in their experiences. A publisher can be seen as a ‘gatekeeper’ – someone who makes the crucial decision of who and what can and cannot be published. That is why it is necessary to have a publishing house dedicated to giving a voice to underrepresented sections of the public. By publishing the work of writers whose stories reflect diverse communities, it is possible to bridge gaps in people’s understanding of others and their experience of life.
Written and researched by Lenka Murova