When discussing the concept and implementation of brave spaces, a lot of the conversation revolves around the idea that these spaces are inherently physical. We speak of transforming places into brave spaces, designating that certain locations at certain times are deemed an acceptable place to problematize and challenge the dominant power structures in society and the influence that they bear on our opinions and beliefs in conversation with others. What we never speak of is when we create these brave spaces within our own minds, grappling with these same concepts in a way that is more self-reflexive than would be in dialogue. Even though the majority of the time, these mental brave spaces do not come tethered to a specific time or location, they are still important to recognize as a valid form of creating brave spaces. The creation of these mental brave spaces are critical in that they allow people to take their individual connection to dominant power structures and problematize those relationships on their own terms. This is not to say that physical brave spaces don’t allow for the same sort of agency in choosing when to challenge oneself, but to argue that creating mental brave spaces allots for a more personal reflection on these dominant power structures at the pacing of the individual.
Before the rally and march for Justice for Eric Garner last Thursday, I was terrified. Not only for my life, but that I would not have the mental capacity to deal with facing the reality of racial injustice and police brutality. The conversation was everywhere, and I was actively engaged in it, but I did not know to what extent I was mentally and emotionally prepared to be a part of the activism in action. I was aware of the issues of police brutality and racial injustice, but I hadn’t ever been a part of something that had the potential to bring harm to me like the rally and march did. After deep and critical thought on the issue, and almost deciding that I could not bring myself to attend the rally and march, I decided to go. This was my mental brave space: challenging the conditioning that I’d had that caused me to fear the police as a black male-passing individual. The rally itself wasn’t designated a brave space, and there were no guidelines set up or enforced that would make it into one, but my complication of the effects of police brutality and racial injustice on me personally were what made me feel as though I was enacting a mental brave space.
Attending the protest is something that I will never regret, but I know that if I had chosen to stay home, if I had chosen to continue to exist in the fictional safety that society has constructed for those who remain complicit within a system, I would have always wondered. I can’t say that I would have regretted not attending, as I will never know, but I can say that I count myself lucky for having the tools to problematize my own fear and uneasiness and view them within the constructs of racial injustice and police brutality. Knowing how to operate within a physical brave space, and thus having the ability to create a mental brave space for myself, I believe that I was well-equipped to see why it was important in that moment for me to overcome my fear and attend the rally and march. Many of those present at the protest, without the knowledge and language of theory, were able to eloquently express the very same ideals that I’d been taught in my classes while seeming to have created mental brave spaces for themselves. Learning to navigate brave spaces, whether physical or mental, and whether taught through theory or self-learned, is a skill that I believe is becoming critical in this transformative time in our lives.