There is no safe space.
When the whole world is gaslighting you there is no safe space.
When your babies sleep and die on the floor of cages, officers shoot your boys in the street, and your girls are run over for daring to walk in a white woman’s neighborhood but still the world insists there is nothing wrong, there is no safe space.
There is no safe space.
I know we, People of Color, carry this truth in our bodies. We have generational memory and firsthand experience, far too much firsthand experience, that has told us the world is unsafe. Still, knowing that and being confronted with what that truth has done to our mind and our body is something else entirely.
Two weeks ago I read about the attempted murder of 14-year-old Natalia Miranda. A 42-year-old white woman made the conscious decision to drive her SUV off the road and onto the sidewalk––aiming for the Latinx teenager she saw walking down the street. She aimed for that little girl because she read her as Mexican and that was reason enough to want her dead.
My mind and body filed this away with the other soul-crushing stories I have been confronted with over the last few years. It landed alongside the Pulse massacre in my hometown of Orlando, the death of 19-month-old Mariee Juarez after not receiving medical care from ICE, the police-shooting of Jesse Romero who looked so much like my brother did as a teenage boy, the acid attack against Mahud Villalaz who was accused of ‘invading’ his white assailant’s country and countless more.
These were the things I carried with me into one of my ‘safe spaces’–– A Latinx-owned hair salon literally called OASIS. It’s a tiny rectangle-shaped room that sits above a laundromat. Very little English is spoken there and it’s a challenge for me with my broken Spanish but it feels so warm. It’s loud and confusing and a bit of a mess and I love every bit of it. I started bringing my white husband there when we first started dating. There’s something special about sharing that space with him and a bit of fun for me watching this six-foot tall Brit stand out like a sore thumb.
He was in the chair getting his hair cut and I was seated across from him when out of the corner of my right eye I saw another white man enter our safe space. Like Matt, he was tall but what really caught the eye was the head-to-toe hunter camo covering his body and the cap on his head emblazoned with an orange deer.
In his hand was a small grey, or was it black, duffel bag. He placed it on the empty folding chair in the corner next to a teenage boy and muttered, “I’m just gonna put this here for 5 minutes. I’ll be right back.” before walking back out the door.
I stopped breathing.
I looked around waiting to see if anyone else had seen him. Heard him. Was worried.
It was as if the room had stilled, he entered, disappeared, and the pace picked up again without ever noting him. It was a Saturday and the small room was packed. The tv was blaring a Latinx news channel reporting about Trump, folks were talking over one another, a teenage boy was running back and forth to try and sweep away the hair that was falling faster than he could catch it. No one seemed to notice the white man except me.
I looked at the clock on my phone, instinctively waiting to see if he would return in the five minutes he promised. Every minute was agonizingly slow. I told myself I was being overreactive and to let it go. I looked at the bag across the room and saw the lock on it, the kind we were all assigned in high school, and wondered what it was keeping people from seeing. What was it hiding.
My brain was screaming, “BOMB” and I couldn’t make it calm down. I couldn’t stop spiraling. Intellectually, I knew that was what was happening but I wasn’t in control.
I looked at the boy seated next to the bag and thought about what being that close to the explosion would do to his body.
I watched a father chasing his little one, maybe 2 years old, as he repeatedly tried to escape to the other side of the room. Towards the bag.
5 minutes turned into ten minutes.
I could feel pressure building in my chest.
My brain screamed at me to say something. Tell someone. Warn people to check the bag.
How could I forgive myself if it was a bomb and I said nothing. If it tore across this room towards that baby and I was silent.
I wondered if anyone could survive something in this small a space.
I was frozen.
Ten minutes became 13 and the man in camo came back through the door. He took off his jacket and sat in a chair.
That was it. It was over.
No bomb. No explosion. No tears or screaming. I felt like a fool.
Nothing had happened and I cried the moment we walked outside. I cried that night. I’ve thought about it every single day since it happened. Since ‘nothing’ happened.
That is a racial trauma response.
That is what being on high alert does to the body and the mind. Everything is a threat. You stop breathing and rooms spin and you prepare for the worst. You prepare for the horrifying thing that may or not happen but that you know is possible.
The safe spaces. The innocuous behavior. Your brain tells you none of it can be trusted because we’re in danger.
We can never really breath, feel safe, or start healing if the threat still exists.
This is what we carry in our mind. Our spirits. Our bodies.