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Courageous Space Guidelines

On Tuesday, July 3, the plenary session at our 2018 Summer Conference will be “The Center and The Borderlands,” a Racial Justice Training with Jessica Vazquez Torres from Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training. We encourage all conference attendees to read the following information on courageous space in preparation for that training and to use as a guide for the entire week.

What is courageous space and why are we seeking to cultivate it?

A few years back, Crossroads Anti-Racism Organizing & Training was challenged by participants of color in our workshops to reconsider the ways we talked about safe space. They argued any conversation about racism, especially those which sought to identify and name institutional and individual complicity in the ideology of white supremacy and in systemic racism, was by its very nature unsafe because white institutions are inherently hostile for people of color. Furthermore, they argued, the framing of “safety” required people of color to take increasing risks to identity patterns of racial inequity while allowing white people to hide behind claims of un-safeness whenever people of color identified individual and institutional behaviors that perpetuated racism. They encouraged us to invest our energy in thinking and cultivating courageous spaces where effective conversation about institutional racism could take place.

Courageous space is one in which people of color and white people…

  • are sharing in the risks that come with telling the truth about individual and institutional perpetuation of racism
  • are sharing in the emotional work of facing and dealing with our complicity in systemic racism
  • are showing up open and willing to live in dissonant tension
  • are committing to stay engaged when discomfort settles in. For people of color this means not giving up on the conversation the first time a white person or a white institution behaves in stereotypical ways: denial, defensiveness, distancing from the issues, and exceptionalizing themselves. For white people it means resisting the urge to deny complicity, defend their ways of engaging, distance themselves from the problem – be it an “ism” or other white people, and needing to prove they are not like the other white people.
  • are staying fully engaged in the conversation which means remaining morally, emotionally, and intellectually involved in the conversation.
  • are committing to speak truthfully and honestly resisting the urge to just say what others want to hear or to self-censoring to avoid naming the dynamics at play in an organization that perpetuate oppression.

At Crossroads we would suggest that six agreements are essential in creating the conditions that sustains courageous space.

  1. RESPECT grounded in the recognition that every person has inherent worth and value because they are made in the image of the Creator. While we may have profound disagreement with one another, these cannot justify engaging in behaviors that diminish or invalidate the sacredness of the other.
  2. LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND not to argue or to win. The invitation to all participants is to still the mind and the heart enough to listen beyond words being spoken for the hopes, fears, concerns, and insights being offered by others. This requires assuming a posture of curiosity toward the other, allowing us to open ourselves up to the fullness of the other’s experience.
  3. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for one’s impact, not just one’s intent. While many of us do not intend to behave in ways that harm people of color and other minoritized communities, all evidence shows that our social conditioning will result in patterns of behavior, ideas, and practices that have harmful impacts. The invitation to all participants is to fight the urge to deny their impact and to instead and try to heal the harm caused by it.
  4. MAKE ROOM FOR DIVERSE VOICES which requires recognizing not just the need to ensure representation in terms of gender, class, race, sexuality, ability, and age but also the recognition of the variety of ways in which people communicate and have been socialized to take up space, share their thoughts, advocate for their ideas, etc.
  5. EMBRACE AMBIGUITY demands, as educator Glenn Singleton argues, the need to expect and accept nonclosure, to “hang out in uncertainty,” and not rush to quick solutions, especially in relation to issues of equity.
  6. PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY OF STORIES is the last condition we Crossroads feel is crucial to have courageous space. It means becoming a responsible steward of the stories that will be shared in conversation by not repeating them without permission, seeking guidance in how to share them if permission is granted, and never forgetting that these stories, particularly the ones shared by minoritized persons, must change the way we see the world.

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