a space (and place) for us beyond the margins

The language of space is an ambiguous one, yet the notion of space is something we think about endlessly. Space is likely our most used word in conversations externally with clients and internally with ourselves, often juxtaposed in both the presence and absence of a physical place — now also digital. What is it to imagine a space and place that holds community and justice at its core?

If you pay attention to mainstream language about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), you’ll notice that we (the collective we) invoke the notion of space often — safe space, brave space, this space, our space. As DEI and mental health practitioners, we have carried the tensions and duality of how people use the language of space to construct a sense of safety to elicit feelings of vulnerability, trust, and authenticity. The ease in which a safe or brave space exists to hold vulnerability and trust, particularly for those living in the margins, speaks to the growing lack of imagination from the mainstream in truly understanding and validating the trauma imprinted into Black and Brown bodies. Our bones bear exhaustion from the weight of theft and co-optation, leaving no space and place for us beyond the margins. 

Thick with COVID-19 racial disparities and anti-Black violence, Dena and I have been thinking a lot about this lingering question: what exactly do we mean by space in our simultaneously marginalized and liberated selves as women of color living and leading for equity and justice in this current era? 

Wandering through the scientific imagination of constellations and solar systems, of gravitational waves and black holes, of the light-years distance from here to there, the ambiguity of space feels like dark matter unfolding itself. Meaning: how do we even begin to close the distance between unrealistic imaginations (of the mainstream) and unrealized necessities (of the marginalized) to reconstruct a space that is possible; that is safe, brave, mine, yours, ours. A space that blooms inside the margins but roots into the center, pulling each of us into an entirely new orbit with us — Black, Indigenous, People of Color — as the center. This question is a demand for liberation, a different kind of gravity that anchors us in a new vision for the future. Now that is space holding us together. Which is to say, inclusive in space is also, us. 

To be more concrete, a basic Google search defines space as “a continuous area or expanse that is free, available, or unoccupied” — meaning: open to be. 

Space is expansive.

And what we’ve come to understand about these “spaces” in our lives and our work in social equity and racial justice is that they are, in fact, containers. Containers we continue to build and rebuild. Containers as arms wrapped around us, holding us up to the light despite our shadows, holding us together on days when the gravity of oppression becomes unbearable, indistinguishable from our own bodies. To heal, push, and radiate outwards, our arms contain the dark matter of our pain and the cosmos of our joy, hugging us back tightly, safely. These spaces, then, hold our fullness and expansiveness without fail.

Space is history. It is generations breathing and dancing beyond the margins. It is taking flight, being scared and lifting anyway. It is fierceness and gentleness calling us in, constantly and persistently. It is the kind of dignity that is unqualified and unquestioned. It is not radical or revolutionary. It is instead normal, today, ordinary. It is generous and generative, knowing that space gives. A gift. A curiosity. An intimacy. And instead of White tears, fragility, and violence pretending otherwise, it is Black women’s lives, it is Southeast Asian refugees’ lives. It is our lives, not as imagination and possibilities, but as freedom bursting to be.

If we do this right, space is a place we can build a home in.

and, now