How do we make safe spaces after the pandemic?

carolynn bain Allies Blog Employment Racism Safespaces

It seems like so long ago that we were approached by the lighthouse charity about opening a shop in the heart of Brighton. It seems like even longer since I sat at my dining room table and thought I am actually going to open this books shop so that my friends and family can find some of those books that they want to get hold of.

So much has happened since then. I have screamed in frustration at the inability of the publishing industry to recognise black authors and the amazing talent that they bring to the  industry that is seriously missing colour.

So here we are in a bookshop, an actual bookshop.

There are so many things that I want to tell you about this month. An amazing journey through crowdfunding, a new bookshop opening in a city that declares it wants to be anti-racist, black fishing, cultural appropriation Oh, I could go on and on. But I will leave all of those for another day because the thing that I think we should talk about is space.

Although the pandemic is still not over more and more people are returning to their offices and places of work. For many people it is the first time they have been required to go back into these places in over a year. For many that will be unwelcomed, they may have enjoyed lunch times walking the dog or zoom meetings in their pyjamas. But for black people and other people of colour the return to work may be more painful.

For many it will be a return to all of the racism, micro-aggressions and the isolation of working in hostile environments. Many would have watched their employees ignore the civil rights movement of the last year or send out insincere messages about their plan to change. For these people my heart breaks.

Of course, in some organisations there has been a real step towards change and new attitudes to being anti racist and implementing change and I hope that this is where you work.

With the Brighton shop fully opening and into rhythm it has made me think a lot about spaces and how important it is to have safe spaces for people. In Brighton there are little to no spaces where black people can gather to just be and still feel safe.

By safe I don’t just mean free from physical violence (although that is of course important) I mean safe to be themselves. No need to code switch, no worries about micro aggressions, not thinking that their gestures or tone may be misconstrued.

You may think this is unimportant or exaggerated as a real need. That would almost definitely be because you have many safe spaces, pubs, shops, libraries, galleries, clubs, bars, parks. In fact, if you feel safe in all of those spaces you are almost definitely a white male.

Safe spaces are a necessary requirement for good mental health, for strong relationships and for building community, these are then good for business, crime and the economy. This is not rocket science it is pretty obvious really. If I can go out and feel safe with my friends, I’ll spend money, I won’t feel isolated. Simple

I can’t change individual workspaces or all of those other public spaces, but I can ensure the one I have control of is safe. Last week a woman walked into the shop and recognised an old friend. They greeted one another and then had a catch up. They laughed, told old stories, spoke about their dreams. During the conversation one of them turned to me and asked about my dreams for the shop space and I said “oh dreams are already coming true” they smiled and asked how? I replied “You have been standing in my shop for over an hour and a half, laughing and talking loudly and you didn’t even notice. And the reason you didn’t notice is because you felt safe to do so. You didn’t tone it down, you were just yourself, two old friends catching up. And that is my dream for this place.”

As long as the book shop is a safe space for everyone who comes through the doors, I will know I am doing something right.

A safe place for those who can’t find those spaces at work or elsewhere in the city and from one safe space I think others will come.

So, have a think about the spaces you occupy this week and ask yourself how do you make them safe. Because we are changing the world and you are a part of that change.



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