The Voices Blog

Illusion of Safety


As People of Color, we have always been offered the lie that there will be safety in bondage.  This illusion is seen across cultures and contexts where one class or people has a vested interest in the oppression of another. Sometimes it is overt, like “let’s go back to Egypt,” but most of the time it looks more like offering false contentment at the expense of liberative freedom.

We are offered this illusion in many ways. The illusion may come by being offered “a seat at the table” when we know that one seat doesn’t offer culture change. The illusion may come by being celebrated for your story of overcoming in a way that implies you are not equal. The illusion may come by being offered financial security in exchange for white people feeling like they have done something important. These situations are common and I am sure there are many others. These piddly attempts at white interest engaging People of Color is unfortunately the best that most white environments have to offer us.

Our contentment within white spaces will always come with an exchange that benefits the white interests. This is evident and predictable as I have studied People of Color in white organizations. However, we do not need to accept these realities without scrutiny. Let’s be clear, white systems are limited in engaging us for our advancement and benefit. Even if they tell us otherwise.

Think of what you would do in your work if you truly had the freedom to do/create like you know you can. Could your environment even begin to support that? What barriers are thrown in your direction?

  • Corporate policies
  • Lack of access to decision making
  • Stingy financial systems
  • Too many stupid meetings
  • Institutional questions that others do not have to answer
  • Micromanagement
  • Inability of others to change
  • Progressive desires for diversity without the skills for justice
  • On and on, blah blah blah

You have probably found 100 creative workarounds for these things just to do your job.  For most of us, I imagine, thinking of an environment not marked by these things is nearly impossible. Liberative freedom may seem far off.

Liberative freedom means not having to codeswitch for your white coworkers. Liberative freedom means bringing your true cultural selves to the workspace. Liberative freedom means naming and working towards your own selfcare in a US American culture that is pulling you down constantly. Liberative freedom means not being the one who has to flex your professional and personal strengths and attributes in order to keep white power brokers’ feelings safe. Liberative freedom is expecting the environment to hold up and invest in your growth rather than you alone fighting for space to make it happen yourself.

Liberative freedom is the path to your best self, your best work, your happiest way forward.  I know we all are forced to compromise in order to exist in white spaces. I never fault anyone for choosing the economic security in a racist capitalistic US American system built to keep our backs against the wall. But let us be sure, it is compromise that we are forced into, it isn’t safety or security.  We shouldn’t be made to feel grateful, and we will work to create the liberative environments that all of our kindred can exist in fully.

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