Intersectional Safety: A Reflection of Lived Experience

Have you ever been told to “stay safe and healthy” this much?

This newly normalized nicety shows up on the daily now on our regular exchanges at the grocery store, emails, corporate statements, and COVID 19 webpages. Because the notion of safety has been coming up so much this year, it begs the question, what is this constant hyper-awareness of our safety doing to us?

For me, this queues up questions around the intersectionality of safety.

Who feels safe when? What conditions allow me to feel safe but don’t for someone else? When it comes to taking collective action for social good, have we defined who picks up the slack when some of us don’t feel safe enough to act for the collective wellbeing?

The roles of fear and hypervigilance are playing big parts in our collective lives right now.

Oftentimes, we’re having to enforce boundaries and make decisions around our individual vs collective safety, since the current administration isn’t.

Is our long term collective safety really in question? If you’ve been paying close enough attention, you might be thinking “yes” and some might add that it has been for a while now.

When the pandemic started, I was displaced. I left my home and moved with my partner and his brothers. It was a family waiting for me with open arms. I had my own room, a kitchen, a big backyard, and was within walking distance of anything I needed. For 6 months, I lived in quarantine with nothing but a few clothing items, a computer, and could safely shelter in place. I felt safe.

When the Summer protests started, I could attend on my own time with my own vehicle. I knew the routes of the marches and I didn’t have to stay past dark if I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to go where the violence was and I stayed with the crowds. I chose not to attend when it felt unsafe. I knew the guidelines for protest protection, always went with others and knew what to do to feel safe.

During the wildfires in Oregon, I was out on the road. I had (relatively) clean air to breathe. I knew my stuff would be handled by my partner’s brothers and assumed family. I knew my other belongings would be covered by renter’s insurance. I created a small evacuation list and otherwise had what I needed on the road. I was with my family and loved ones, who were all safe. I had good food and comfort available to me. I felt safe.

The times I felt unsafe was when I put myself in certain situations that I could easily navigate.

I had the tools available and the social capabilities to pass as majority culture, wherever I was. The issues for me included possible car troubles, losing belongings that could be replaced, or being in red states, a socially constructed fear on its own. I could handle these things on an individual level. My safety was not dependent on collective safety, or anyone else’s.

This is one story of a privileged person who could access feelings of safety on her own terms.

Because of my race and identity, are there times when I need my safety and protection to be handled by the whole? Am I ever fully dependent on my community? Do I ever find myself thinking, “those are my people and together we are safe”? When I’m without my people, does that do away with my safety and protection? Usually, no.

When does a Black woman feel safe? When does a Black man feel safe? A Trans person? I don’t know. Because they may not know, either.

I can work from home, feel safe in my house, and can safely do my job. The delivery driver feels unsafe approaching my door and doing their job. Those deemed essential workers grapple with feelings of unsafety every day. For remote workers, some of our jobs don’t feel secure, but are we safe? Mostly, yes. In fact, some of us in the business world are still encouraged to take risks.

I know when I will be safe, but others may not. Many must consider dangerous strangers with violent motives, having vulnerable identities, the potential for harm, a lack of dignity, a history of abuse, and systemic oppression with much harsher consequences than the majority culture may know.

Their lived experience is often shaped by the lack of safety, which may even be the core of it.

Feeling safe is a ground-level, human need and it must be intersectional. It must include and encompass the needs of any identity and anyone. Most importantly, we each need our foundational needs in place to continue our abilities to care for the collective. Because, in community, we are safe.

The more people, the safer the community will be. -Octavia E. Butler

Originally published at https://katiezink.co on September 23, 2020.

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Katie Zink

DEI Strategist | Facilitator | Writer | Believes we’re all capable of our own revolution. Learn more about my signature consulting program at katiezink.co