Black feminists at UMD shame classmates for violating their safe space
The University of Maryland hosted a “safe space” event for black women Monday night featuring discussions on topics such as how to “create a space of healing and rejuvenation" and "I feel like I have been treated differently because of the shade of my skin."
The event, called “You Alright Sis?’ Black Woman Revitalization in the Face of Patriarchy,” was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as part of its “Face(t)s of Black” celebration in honor of Black History Month.
Near the beginning of the conversation, two females by the names of Eliza and Carrie shared with the group that they often feel uncomfortable around other black women because of assumptions that life is easier for immigrant blacks than native-born blacks, saying they “have experienced, and still experience, having cultures with African American women who say to us as African or Caribbean women that ‘you guys think you’re better than us’.”
The conversation then progressed from classification to racism as they discussed how having a different skin tone can change perception. “People gender a black woman’s race,” Executive Administrative Assistant Timea Webster asserted, explaining, “if you are darker skinned you are more masculine; if you are more lighter skinned you are feminine.”
Webster attempted to illustrate the point by referring to a controversial tweet showing Serena Williams next to race horse American Pharaoh, complaining, “she is literally being compared to an animal.” The tweet was intended merely to call attention to the fact that the horse beat Williams in a Sports Illustrated poll to determine sportsperson of the year, but inspired an outpouring of mean-spirited comments about Williams’ looks on social media.
Webster then contrasted Williams with Ayesha Curry, wife of NBA star Stephen Curry (who happens to be light skinned), complaining about a tweet in which Curry stated that she “like[s] to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters.”
A woman by the name of Tatiyana took offense to the basketball wife’s comment, retorting, “What’s classy? What does that look like? That’s clearly race, that’s clearly class.”
Later, one student told the assembly that her feelings get hurt while watching TV because “the love interest always has to be lighter than the man, and if she is darker, she has to have a weave; there has to be a European characteristic to make her okay.”
Throughout the event, men and women, regardless of their race or sexual orientation, were periodically pressured to leave if they do not identify as a black woman, though Webster conceded that she lacked the authority to compel their eviction, lamenting that “we are the University of Maryland, which is a state university, tax funded, and I cannot put anyone out of the room.”
“If we say that that’s something that we need, to be free, is that something that the black men in this room can respect?” an audience member chimed in. The question was not rhetorical, however, as the audience waited expectantly for the black males in attendance to answer individually.
“As a facilitator, I have heard Angel say that if enough black women in this space do not feel comfortable with black men in this space, the black women in this space would like the black men—on their own terms—to leave,” Webster interpreted, failing to note the ironic juxtaposition between that request and the assurance given by a facilitator at the beginning of the event that “we will be mindful of and openly embrace the diversity in this room.”
Despite the absence of coercion, two students, an African American male and an Asian American female, ultimately followed Webster’s suggestion in order to escape the ostracism and accusatory stares of other students. The female student felt so guilty for infringing upon a black women’s safe space that she actually cried as she removed herself out of the facilities.