Safe Space: In Response to Rachelle Cruz 2

Picking up where I left off on yesterday’s post and comments.

Rachelle asks about the notion of “safe space,” and how it is proliferated in creative writing workshop. She asks how I conduct workshop, whether I use the term, which I do not. I do use the term, “professionalism,” in which criticism is not leveled as personal attack, or with mean-spirited intentions, regardless of differing belief systems, life experience, political values, and aesthetic preferences. When I say “professionalism,” on the first day of workshop, I see a lot of assenting nods, nods of recognition. Yes, in practicing becoming professional writers, we acknowledge there are proper codes of conduct.

Out of curiosity, I googled “safe space,” and the results are as follows — shelters for survivors of abuse, or community organizations serving and advocating for LGBT youth, especially those who have suffered and endured bullying. I absolutely agree that these safe spaces, social services, political and public health advocacy are necessary for survival. I understand the value of encouraging writing here, its importance in empowering communities so silenced, folks who must tell their own stories so that they do not disappear, cease to exist, continue to be buried, bullied, ravaged.

It’s true. Everybody can write. Everybody has a voice.

But I am talking about professional writers, and those who aspire to become professional writers — this is a different community, where certainly there are overlaps in its population and value systems. The difference is that in professional writers’ communities, pushing and hard criticism are necessary in order to complete and polish the work in preparation for publication. I believe pushing and asking hard questions do not equal personal attack or mean-spirited negativity.

Of course, personal attack and mean-spirited negativity have always been rampant in e-world. When so many more of us used to blog regularly, “Anonymous,” and other people not using their real names/identities would drop the meanest, most hate-filled, even violent comments in our comment sections. “Anonymous” was really brave, and would fill up our e-spaces with rant, most of which was unfocused nonsense. On my own blog, I deleted these comments. There was no good reason to keep them. This is not censorship. This is my space; no one is preventing anyone from ranting in their own spaces.

But the violence, racism, and misogyny in those comments were truly so alarming that a lot of bloggers retreated, blogged only about benign non-issues, became reticent to state any of their own opinions, changed their settings to “private,” or stopped blogging altogether. Bloggers migrated to Facebook and posted personal content for friends only. Safe space. Any of us who continued being outspoken were policed, not by “Anonymous,” but by our own. Safe space.

The hate-mongering, violence-mongering, racist, misogynist “Anonymous” won.

I think it’s fair to ask, what do we do about this? What is important here?

For me, it’s not to give in to external and internal intimidation and bullying.

My writing would be compromised.

My soul would hate it and hate me.

And it would be a total disrespect to all of our literary forefathers and foremothers (see Audre Lorde, above) who really, truly suffered and fought so that we could go to school, write our own stories and see them published, read, and taught to the next generations, to have a voice.

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My Social Network: In Response to Rachelle Cruz

“If literary culture is a school, serious criticism can be found in the classroom. Social networks are the cafeteria — what you find there will be loud and gossipy, amusing but not very satisfying.” — Roxane Gay at salon.com.

I cite Roxane Gay in response to Rachelle Cruz’s recent blog post “On ‘Liking’ and Being ‘Liked’,” in which Rachelle asks a lot of great questions:

In the effort to build communities online and in-person, especially for writers-of-color, does “niceness” and enthusiasm restrict our ability to give honest feedback or write critical reviews of each other’s work (which is important!)? Amidst the kumbaya-ing, do we begin to care more about “safe spaces” than the writing itself? After fostering a “safe” community (and I put safe in quotes because I think that nowhere is a safe space for writing), where do we go from there? Lastly, if we do practice critical reading and writing of each other’s work, are we afraid of airing our “dirty laundry” for the public to see?

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