Safe Spaces, Self-Care and the Significance of A Seat at the Table

I minored in Women’s Studies in university and made sure to take as many courses as I could that focused on the intersecting identities of women, particularly gender and race. My first few semesters of studying feminism were fantastic. I suddenly had all this new language to describe my experiences and feelings, along with the comforting realization that I was not alone. To say it saved my life in a period of self-doubt, anxiety and depression is not something I reveal easily. The knowledge was empowering. 

In my final year, I took a seminar on anti-racist and anti-colonial feminisms which was simultaneously the best and most exhausting course I have ever taken. Out of the sixteen students in the class, only a few of us were not white and only a couple of us were black. Every Wednesday, having read everyone from Said to Spivak to Fanon to Bhabha, we came prepared to discuss racism, its history and all its ugly manifestations. And every Wednesday, I went home feeling more weary than empowered.

"And do you belong? I do." (2016) by Ojo Agi; Watercolor, ink and pen on paper (23.375 in x 18.75 in)

"And do you belong? I do." (2016) by Ojo Agi; Watercolor, ink and pen on paper (23.375 in x 18.75 in)

I remember one class in particular when the professor spoke about animal rights activists petitioning to get human rights for apes as if it were something to be inspired by. The pain I felt on the bus ride home was inexplicable. It wasn’t too long ago that we had discussed the Chain of Being and how scientific racism had measured black people—and black women, specifically—as only one step above animals. And now, "logically", after black people have just barely gained rights and freedoms, it’s already time to extend them to animals as well. I was so uncomfortable during this discussion but nobody else in the class even seemed to register the irony, so I kept quiet.

I made up for the lack of blackness and belonging in the classroom by attending events outside of class hosted by black student organizations. But I still found that I was continuously addressing painful topics and heading home with the heavy reminder that the world thought so little of me, a black woman. Over the past couple years, I’ve voluntarily withdrawn myself from a lot of these “activist” spaces because they achieve little more than reminding me of black trauma and I have enough research papers that do the same. 

But as I’ve kept quiet, the conversation on racism grows louder. And with every name-turned-hashtag, the reality is harder to ignore. The problem isn’t going away. If anything, I feel like I’m losing the language I developed to discuss and critique these issues, yet still feeling the same exhaustion and weariness.

And so, Solange’s A Seat at the Table could not have come at a more appropriate time for me. As much as it is a social critique on the experiences of black people in America and beyond, it is also a safe space where I, as a black woman, can grieve, heal and celebrate. And most of all, with her album, she reminds me that I shouldn’t run from the feeling of weariness. Creating art that is honest and vulnerable can serve as a mechanism for self-care while also motivating social change and I'm wholly inspired for what comes next in my artistic journey.