Finding Rhythm in Safe Spaces

By Caenisha Warren

My rhythm in this last year has included lament, boundaries, retreat, healing, truth spoken at will, and safe spaces to nourish a broken soul. After 12 years in the system, the patterns of academia permeate my rhythm, my thought, and my level of frustration and exhaustion. The system of Christian higher education has contributed to places of reservations, contemplation, realizations, and made necessary the need for protected spaces.

This fall, I reflected on my grandfather’s life of nearly 8 decades and over 60 years in the ministry when preaching for his 50th pastoral anniversary. I saw that even with all the progress of society in over 80 years, there are still seemingly social impossibilities within the areas of humanity and our relationships that continue to root in spaces and places of division.

So when my country came out from under its’ blankets of ‘justice for all’ to show me events such as Charlottesville, should I be surprised? When exclusion policies continue to mark a stain on this nations’ existence within the oppression of patriarchy and white supremacy, should I sustain hope? My experience in Christian higher education is no different from the unleashing of social unrest that we find inciting up around our country again. White male leadership at its top and systems unfit for the experience of marginalized populations.

I would say in the last 5 years, as a woman of color the journey at my institution has finally reached an unsympathetic level of reaction and response in me against the ways in which supremacy culture and male leadership saturate this place. I have made a pledge to unapologetically “be,” and to be me, within this system not designed for my leadership. I have been actually using my voice where my influence allows in order to speak into the systems and structures that dominate this institution. An institution, which by this point is supposed to also be “my” institution—acting much like a place of belonging. However, I do not feel belonging, instead on most days I feel like I am always pushing back.

Even outside of the academia world, the changing culture of this country does not surprise me but may bring up an indistinct fear. Neighborhood posters of white supremacist recruitment have begun to infiltrate places of my daily routine. At a conference, I almost needed to physically, push back an older white male aggressively, advancing forward in defense of his credibility as a white advocate while also invalidating the experience of the black women he stood in dialogue with. The small everyday things I once ignored seem to be more frequent and more damaging to my sense of being.

I find myself, more and more, siding away from crowds and white dominated spaces if I can help it. This stemming from a need for safe and protected space of my own. I pick my battles ever more carefully according to the time, effort and energy I have to give. And painfully, as a black body in a Chinese family, family time is not the place where safe space can be assumed. I don’t know if I would even categorize church as a regular area of safe space.
My fears touch reality with the display of humanity’s inhumane ability and the capacity of hate and evil that continue to thrive in this place, this country, this world. For me there is a loss of hope in humanity. And so my hope can only be in the God of love and reconciliation, who thankfully is also the God of Creation, of which we are a part. I guess there may be some hope for humanity yet. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

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