It can be relatively easy to see oppression in macro ways, violence, exclusion from institutions, damage to property, or people leafletting about how they don’t think you belong in this country. Those are visible things that people who have privilege can see and perhaps begin to understand the harm that results from marginalisation. While these sorts of oppression are certainly damaging they are spikes out of the ordinary low level sort of things that many of us experience on daily level that reinforce the message that we are other.
It is about the quiet everyday things that people expect you to swallow as normal, the things that will never really make it to the media. It is in the the exhaustion I feel when someone once again asks me where I am from, and does not take Auckland for an answer. The annoyance that pricks me every time someone lets their hand linger on my body without my consent, or winks at me in a professional setting, or shouts at me from a car. It is in the tiny piece of sadness I feel when I realise that the ‘share a coke’ marketing campaign will never ever have my name in it.
It is small acts like asking someone where their husband is when they actually have a wife, or making a joke about how someone is disgusting because they do not perform gender in a socially sanctioned way. Casual racism, sexism, abelism, transphobia, heterosexism etc.. remind us that we don’t belong, this hurts us because if you don’t belong then violence that happens to you doesn’t matter. Those things that when they occur we look around at each other in surprise asking “how did that happen? It’s the 21st century for goodness sake.” Those of us who experience these little stabs every day know how it happens.
The kyriarchy impacts upon my life every single day. It tells me that I am other and because I am other I deserve bad things happening to me. Many days I don’t have the energy to confront people who talk about fat people as if they are not full human beings, or challenge people’s stereotypes about members of my race, because if I fought every battle that came my way I would have time for nothing else. When you have to explain why you have the right to be considered a human being the world is not a safe space for you.
This is why safe space is important. This is why it can be impossible to explain its necessity to people who don’t need it. When the world is your safe space, when no one challenges your right to be here on some level every single day, it can be impossible to understand how that would be true for other people. If the world is a safe space for you then it is easy to assume that separate safe spaces are exclusionary and discriminatory. It is easy to forget that the world is exclusionary and discriminatory for many of us. We do not have space in the world to simply exist as we are, without having to battle for autonomy, for legitimacy, and freedom.