Redefining Safety

As a Black woman, I feel that the idea of safety as it stands now is merely that, an idea—some abstract concept that we know to be true but is somehow just beyond our tangible reach.

It is something we struggle to obtain all the while knowing that within our current paradigm of racial oppression it is unachievable.

I remember being younger and living under the illusion of safety: living in a two parent household in the suburbs was as safe as I could possibly feel because I had security in my parents, in their finances, and in my community. I remember this as a time when I thought of my Black skin as impenetrable and of my Black body as free.

I also remember each moment that contributed to the shattering of this illusion—each life that was reduced to a hashtag, each piece of literature that exposed me to the injustices of a system designed to oppress me, each image of a Black body, no different than my own, beaten, displaced, or slain as a result of the state-sanctioned violence against it. Each comment at the hands of teachers, colleagues, friends or bystanders that oversexualized my body, undermined my intelligence, or ridiculed my very being.

I remember the very day the illusion completely shattered, the day my mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and told me that she knew she couldn’t protect me. From that moment on I’ve often thought about the shift it would take to exist in a paradigm where safety is achievable. I’ve considered what could allow us to exist in a space where a Black mother doesn’t have to look at her child and know that no matter what she does she can not protect them from the violence and the pain that is inextricably bound to their Black body.

As it stands, we as a society are told what is supposed to make us feel safe. We are groomed from a young age with certain language and certain ideals that teach us to think that safety is defined through policing and prisons. We are taught to demonize certain people and consider them as a threat to our “safety” so that when they are slain at the hands of a police officer or thrown in a cage we will feel no remorse, but rather a sense of relief that the world is a little bit “safer”.

It is only through community empowerment and conversations that push the boundaries of what we’ve been told safety is that we will be able to exist in a space where safety is more than just an idea, which is why I’m helping to organize Night Out for Safety and Liberation. NOSL is a national event where people across the country redefine and reimagine what public safety really means for our communities: decarceration, community protection in lieu of police officers, having a living wage job, access to healthy food, free healthcare, affordable housing, access to equitable education, decriminalization, and more.

I would like to believe that safety will one day be achievable and I’m proud to participate in a space where others are not afraid to give life to a new meaning of safety. What does safety mean to you? Join me in West Oakland on August 1st from 5 - 8 PM at Little Bobby Hutton (DeFremery) Park to redefine what safety looks like in our communities.

Check out NOSL.us to join the conversation either online or in person at a Night Out for Safety and Liberation event.