Safe Spaces

A long while ago, Stentor wrote a post about racism and how the standard binary conception of “racism is what racists do” hurts antiracist efforts. But to me, the most interesting point was something Steve said in the comments:

I really wish we could take the “youth advisor” approach that is used with ageism concerns and apply that approach to racism issues.

I’ve been in plenty of mixed age youth-adult workshops where an adult will make an observation about the abundance of adults talking and how we need to step back and allow space for youth voices.

Although he doesn’t invoke the dreaded term, “Safe spaces,” this is apparently what he’s talking about: ageism is a problem of adults not letting young people speak on their own terms and in their own spaces. As such, a reasonable way to undermine it is to let young people have their own voices without adult interference.

The reason I find the comment so compelling is that I’m reasonably certain this is a bad approach to ageism, but before reading it it didn’t occur to me to connect it to similar problems with race and gender.

There already are safe spaces for young people: message boards, mailing lists, party hangouts, IM, LiveJournal, MySpace. Not coincidentally, those that are youth-oriented are also politically irrelevant. I suppose it’s a little like how jobs become undervalued if they become predominantly female: letting young people have their own workshops will just label them as young, and let everyone older than 25 know which voices to ignore.

Part of it is personal. Out of all the people who’ve flamed me in the past, I can think of exactly one who probably knew my age but failed to age-bash me (thanks, Bitch | Lab). And here I include people who thought they knew my age but got it wrong by three years on account of my using an alias created in part in order to stem age-bashing.

It’s not that young people don’t have their own safe spaces, but that these spaces are ignored, then. Whenever someone under a certain age limit steps into the mainstream arena, the only arena that matters, s/he gets castigated as too young to know better, unless s/he mouths off the correct platitudes.

At least on the political blogosphere, ageism isn’t an issue of young people not being encouraged to speak up, but of young people being actively shut up when they say unacceptable things. And judging by the venom I’ve seen piled on Democratic Underground on conservative pundits under 30 (which, I should add, is exactly parallel to the “woman in congress” joke), it’s also the main problem in broader political discourse.

In particular, patronizing to young people – “Here, we’ll let you guys simulate real political discussion” – is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

4 Responses to Safe Spaces

  1. Stentor says:

    I didn’t at all read Steve’s comment as proposing separate spaces for young people; he was proposing allowing metaphorical space within the multi-age discussion for youth voices.

    There already are safe spaces for young people: message boards, mailing lists, party hangouts, IM, LiveJournal, MySpace. Not coincidentally, those that are youth-oriented are also politically irrelevant.
    Nearly all of the message boards, etc. for older people and for mixed groups are politically irrelevant too. Politics — particularly in the narrow sense of electing people and passing laws — is simply not the main goal of most “spaces” in the world.

    Also, I think safe spaces are useful when a group’s views are being actively shouted down in the “everybody” spaces. But it’s not necessarily because those alternate spaces will themselves become political forces. Safe spaces give their users a chance to get away from the harassment to recharge, and to strategize amongst each other, and to build confidence — all of which then strengthen their ability to fight for their voice in the “everyone” spaces.

  2. whig says:

    Eh. This blog is your safe space, Alon. Nothing wrong with it, and I have no idea what your age is, nor does it matter much to me.

    The internet is a wonderful equalizer as long as you are capable of using language well.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Nearly all of the message boards, etc. for older people and for mixed groups are politically irrelevant too.

    Of course they are. It’s analogous to male and female leaders, I suppose. Nearly all men haven’t been political leaders, but still men are overrepresented among political leaders.

    Also, I think safe spaces are useful when a group’s views are being actively shouted down in the “everybody” spaces. But it’s not necessarily because those alternate spaces will themselves become political forces. Safe spaces give their users a chance to get away from the harassment to recharge, and to strategize amongst each other, and to build confidence — all of which then strengthen their ability to fight for their voice in the “everyone” spaces.

    It depends. I haven’t seen it happen for young people; the political safe spaces for young people I’ve seen, like various Young Leaders forums, don’t seem to do that at all. To me they look more like “playing leaders” than like strategizing about how to act or building self-confidence.

    The internet is a wonderful equalizer as long as you are capable of using language well.

    To some extent, it is. But I’ve been attacked for being too young to “get it” even when I used language perfectly well.

  4. whig says:

    Well, I still don’t know how old you are and you’re still on my blogroll so there.😛

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