From Isha-Charlie McNeely, Director of Outreach, Inclusion, and Community Engagement, Trauma Informed Oregon
When I think of collaboration and mutuality in 2021 and what’s needed for the continued dismantling of oppression, an important step of this principle that often times does not get included (yet, essential) is the isolation that needs to happen. I realize this sounds contradictory if the goal is integration and that at some point in this process, removal and separation is required from an ally who is collaborating with me. So I invite you to ponder this concept, with the end goal being for us to have authentic collaboration and mutuality, there must be affinity spaces provided for communities to heal and unify.
Here would be a great opportunity to learn what affinity space is if you do not know. This is a great article that outlines the importance of like identities being allowed to have their own spaces. The message being, not isolation, but to become or feel whole again.
When I think of the work that must be done, I picture a puzzle. Each puzzle piece represents a community or group. Some of those pieces are worn, broken, fading and bent with unsmoothed edges. The work’s focus then becomes on restoring those individual pieces in order for them to fit smoothly into the puzzle, and that’s what affinity spaces provide. As a Black woman, I often feel the negative impacts of oppression, not only on a societal level, but on the communities and identities I belong to as well. The need to heal within those spaces (as well as using the affinity spaces to restore) is great. If affinity work is not part of the process then we are just fragmented pieces trying to fit together and our jagged edges start to cause more friction than not.
Oppression runs deep and the effects of it are not only felt from one group to the next, but also negatively impact groups. Internal damage is allowed to persist due to the lack of safe spaces for affinity. This persistence is still very much a tool used to uphold white supremacy, and maintain spaces that are divisive. We see these consequences on both societal and individual levels, from the community to our peers.
Allowing for affinity to take place, gives me, personally, a space to learn a different narrative (other than slavery being my only history and story) that is empowering, to share in communion with my people and to mend from the inside out. Affinity spaces give a sense of belonging and connection so that I can show up for other groups and society, whole, renewed and to have a real chance at true integration.
As a side note, I would like to make the point that affinity spaces are not nor should they be exclusive to race.