Handling Conflict in the Safe Space
“for me this place of radical openness is a margin—a profound edge. Locating oneself there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a ‘safe’ place. One is always at risk. One needs a community of resistance.” -bell hooks
This notion of openness and risk may seem at odds with the notion of a ‘safe space’, but there are two different kinds of safety at play here. As hooks points out, the margin – the space where equity work lives – is often a space of conflict. It is a space outside the status quo and residing there requires us to be open to new ideas, to hear things that are uncomfortable, and generally remove ourselves from our comfort zones. A safe space is not necessarily a comfortable space, rather it is a space where everyone can exist authentically and feel able to express themselves and their opinions without fear of reprisal or dehumanization. The safety of the safe space is in the support of the community.
A key part of diversity is a diversity of opinions. This means that different people may have different ideas about what a ‘safe space’ is; but this diversity is, as the programmers say, not a bug but a feature. Exposure to differing opinions, forged in differing backgrounds, allows us to grow and expand our understanding of the world, both as individuals and as a community. Part of being a ‘safe space’ often means getting out of your comfort zone – feeling unsafe. But a safe space allows you to feel safe while being open.
Gaming Safe Space initiative is about fostering community, local discussions. It is a way for gamers to show their support for DEI initiatives. Our goal is not to tell gamers how to ‘do DEI’, but open discussion in local communities about what DEI means in gaming and how to best support the diversity in those communities. The goal is to provide tools to help them do DEI their way. As such, there is not any training or certification process to be a part of the program. Displaying a Gaming Safe Space poster is not a guarantee, but a signal of openness. In this space of openness, it is possible that conflict will arise.
If you observe behavior in a Gaming Safe Space that you think is contrary to your conception of what a safe space is, we encourage you to raise the issue with the local stakeholders – those people invested in the space. Ask them what they believe a ‘safe space’ is. Be open to hearing the opinions of your community member and to discussing your own commitments with them in a spirit of openness.