The Power of Affinity Space

Most of my life in this country has been lived in predominantly white spaces: my personal space, my workspaces, my social spaces. Navigating the sea of whiteness became my norm without even realizing it. It was difficult for me to see the waters that surrounded me, even as I did social justice work.

I had been doing social justice/anti-racist work for a long time before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However at that moment, I witnessed the mass confusion, as white liberal/progressive Americans got a glimpse of what Indigenous, Black, Brown, and Immigrant communities have been saying continuously, even as a Black president was on his way out: racism was, and still is, alive and well.

I started facilitating affinity space (with people of color only) within a month of the elections and then on a regular basis. I realized what I needed more than anything was not having to “explain” my experience of being a person of color. Being validated for who I am, not censoring my communication, and sharing the traumatic impact that everyday micro-aggressions and systematic oppression have on my life with other people of color became my medicine.

For me, the result of the election brought an unfamiliar wave of feeling unsafe in predominantly white spaces. What I felt in those moments, and many moments after, was rage and frustration like never before as I witnessed the white liberal/progressive folks in my life recognizing that racism had led to the outcome of the elections. They grappled to let me know how non-racist they were (and still are), how much I should trust them, how much they cared for me. There were white women, who I had been trying to connect with in relation to my work and who would not return my calls, now reaching out to me to find out what they could do to make a difference. An overwhelming feeling of too little too late fueled my frustration and pain.

My adapting came to a screeching halt. My accommodating language and self-sacrifice so that white people could feel comfortable was dissolving before my eyes. Identifying and calling out how white dominance was at play in my workplace, cost me my job. Many relationships changed: they either disappeared or became distant. I realized that I needed to be with people who shared similar identities, skin color, and had lived experience of what it means to be a person of color in this country.

And while it is also true that we, as people of color, share similar experiences of being marginalized and oppressed, we don’t all share the same ethnic backgrounds and cultural norms. I learned stereotypes about other ethnic groups in the same ways white people learned them because that is the role of white dominance — to teach us to “other” each other, in order to keep us divided and dilute our power.

In affinity spaces no one is expected to trust anyone: slowly and tenderly we gain trust by sharing who we are without our walls of protection. Doing the tender and incredible work of building relationships in which we can see each other, and get to know each other, and love each other is medicine for the heart and soul.

As bell hooks writes in her book, all about love:

“To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients—care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.”

I see these ingredients as making up the recipe that feeds radical self-love and a deeper understanding of how to love each other.

Using Theater of the Oppressed as a tool to facilitate deepening our conversation together is an invaluable gift. Being together using theatricalized games that lead to insights into ourselves and to see ourselves in each other while we laugh and cry together is so fulfilling.

The gift of holding space for fellow people of color is one that I am deeply grateful for in my life. I cherish the tenderness of witnessing us open our hearts and build connection and community across ethnic and cultural lines as it supports us in unpacking our internalized stereotypes about ourselves and about each other. The negative messages we learned from white supremacy and our families keep us separated and in pain and lacking community because it leads to us feeling isolated. Sharing those messages in affinity space allows us to gain multiple perspectives on any given painful moments. Having multiple perspectives is like gaining a superpower.

My belief is that Equity is at the heart of a just society. My mission is to create the conditions in which to maximize learning in affinity space. Through a collaborative effort, I seek equitable soluions. I approach my connections with joy, laughter, and self-preserving awareness to facilitate and advance equity.

Spaces still open. Register to attend…

JULY 8-9, 2019

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