Remember when I used to write movie reviews on this blog?…. hahaha, yeah, me neither.
I’ve heard the phrase “venture out of your comfort zone” countless times in my youth. As many of you probably agree, the phrase is used primarily as advice to people around my age, particularly those going into college, in hopes that it will save them from having a reclusive and/or boring college social experience. As an introvert, that is always how I interpreted the phrase at least, and I almost always dismissed it as extrovert propaganda (yeah, that’s right, I’m onto y’all).
It wasn’t until a few years ago amidst the prominence of ludicrous debates about college and internet “safe spaces” that I began to look at the “comfort zone” in a different light and came to the conclusion that, from a conceptual viewpoint, they are, in fact, the same thing.
For those of you that don’t keep up to date on the talking-point driven lunacy that is the right-wing media in the digital age, a “safe space,” according to them, is a place where all negativity is banned for the sake of a few individuals’ egregiously fragile mental health. This talking point is the same one responsible for coining the term “liberal snowflake,” a term which is a lazy attempt at opposition infantilization, but admittedly one that has been effective in garnering support from the uninformed and already-sympathetic. This all culminated in an episode of the often-controversial animated show South Park (Episode 5 of Season 19, “Safe Space”) which featured an entire musical number dedicated to showcasing the mental fragility of those who advocate for “safe spaces” and how these characters were attempting to shut out “Reality,” a cartoonishly evil man. The episode ends with Reality’s death.
As is usually the case with South Park when it tackles political and social issues, right-wingers went crazy for it. The damage had been done, those safe space advocates (which in this context refers to left-leaning people presumably around my age) are still associated as being “anti-reality.”
So let’s examine this association. And I mean really examine it. What exactly is a safe space? What is the difference between a safe space and reality? Are the two mutually exclusive? WHAT EVEN IS REALITY???
We’ve talked about what a safe space is to the people that hate them, but what are they to the people that advocate for them? Oh hey, I can actually answer this one for you because I’m one of those people. Isn’t that convenient? Simply put, a safe space is a created social environment (physical or digital) the foundation upon which lies in the understanding that no individual who enters said space is going to be discriminated against due to some aspect of their identity. Also, it should be clarified that “identity” in this instance refers to a person’s ethnicity, race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. Note that all of these are physical or biological identifiers that are an uncontrollable part of what makes up that person, and not their beliefs, values, or religion, as these are learned behaviors that are often fluid. This clarification is necessary because the crux of the safe space debate is entirely reliant on people I call “disruptors,” those who object to the idea of a safe space because they actually object to the existence of the people that need them in the first place.
Anyone remember that famous Dr. Martin Luther King speech he gave in D.C.? It’s only constantly shoved down our throats by right-wingers and centrists who swear they’re being discriminated against for being white; “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Wait wait wait, are you trying to tell me Dr. King was a safe space advocate? Wow folks, I can’t believe Dr. King was a filthy SJW this whole time. We’ve all been duped. MLK is cancelled.
Quite literally, these “safe spaces” are the future Dr. King envisioned for America. A nation in which racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, etc., would not be the norm. A nation in which a person does not need to retreat to a designated smaller environment to feel comfortable in their own skin.
Okay, so what’s the problem then? Obviously the nation is not its own safe space like Dr. King envisioned. The easy answer is that America is racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, and transphobic, among other things. And it is, I’m not here to change anyone’s mind about that.
(so why are we even having this conversation, Bryce?)
Glad you asked. Remember when I asked “what even is reality?” Yeah… we’re going there, baby. Strap yourselves in, keep both hands and feet inside the blog post at all times.
So the reality… of reality… is that it’s all made up. Just as a “safe space” is a socially constructed environment, so is our society. Our values are not set in stone, they are not something forced upon us by a higher being, they are a product of a highly complex evolutionary cycle that I like to call “societal evolution.” (No, I am not claiming to have made this up on my own… I’m not that full of myself people). Before this gets too up-in-the-clouds, I’d like to backtrack and just give an example of what I mean by reality being constructed just like a safe space.
I grew up in a safe space. Yes, it was a different kind of safe space than the one we’ve been talking about, but it was, in fact, a constructed environment built around something that is universally valued and something sought by safe spaces: comfort.
I was raised in a middle to upper-middle class neighborhood. I don’t recall ever seeing people of color living in or around the neighborhood until very recently. I went to a virtually all-white school (there were maybe three of four people of color in my graduating class and none of them were black) that was also mostly upper-middle class and even upper-class students. My school, my family, my neighborhood, my entire being was strictly Christian, which also meant that it was conservative. I remember being taught in several classes that trickle-down economics work, evolution is a lie, the Trail of Tears was actually peaceful and a good thing for both parties involved, the civil war was about state’s rights, and that black people would still be in Africa if it weren’t for slavery, to name just a few things.
Everything that surrounded me, everything I was taught, everything I believed was a societal construct, built with the sole purpose of making the white American feel comfortable in their own skin. If you wanted to be a disruptor in this environment, all you had to do was be a person of color, have a non-normative sexual orientation or gender, or be a filthy godless commie. Building this safe space for the fragile white Christians makes sense. It’s an understandable response to living in a country whose history is built on so much suffering that is always caused by either the white population, or capitalism, but often both.
I spent most of college hooked up to a communist brainwashing machine, but that’s beside the point. It wasn’t until my college years that I was actually able to “venture outside of that comfort zone” that I had been raised in. Suddenly, I wasn’t surrounded by a sea of white people (well… actually I still was, it was just less white than I was used to). I was hanging out with people that weren’t religious. I was being taught things from a different point of view, through an unbiased lens in many cases. I was building meaningful relationships with the types of people I never had the opportunity to while growing up, and in turn, I was learning more about myself and the world than I had ever had the opportunity to. I was evolving.
Unfortunately it seems that not everyone is given the same opportunities to evolve that I was. Or maybe they are, and they just don’t seize upon these opportunities because they, like most of America, have become too comfortable.
It is more comfortable to be dispassionate about politics than it is to be a source of conflict. It is more comfortable to surround yourself with white people than it is to think about race issues. It is more comfortable to forget about other countries rather than remember that many of them are suffering because of us. It is more comfortable to continue going to church than it is to think about its history as a social oppressor. It is more comfortable to focus on a career and aspire to raising a family just like your parents did than it is to worry about whether or not that will even be viable in the next fifty years because of climate change. It is more comfortable to joke about vegans because meat tastes good than it is to think about how the meat industry is one of the worst contributors to climate change. It is more comfortable to support capitalism because you grew up in a rich family than it is to think about how thousands of poor people are going to die and how millions will be displaced because of climate change brought on by the insatiable greed of the rich. It is more comfortable to ignore climate change than it is to actually do something about it.
Hey, have you guys heard of this climate change thing? Pretty scary stuff.
Climate change is the great disruptor, the foil of the American safe space, and it will destroy us if we don’t take that leap outside of our comfort zone.