This post is part of a series for the National Association of Independent Schools and the People of Color Conference. Liza will be blogging throughout this week related to the conference.
Alright, everyone. Let's talk about affinity spaces.
I could write pages about why affinity spaces are so helpful, affirming and necessary to folks who live, work and learn in isolation of other people of color.
And, unfortunately, I can also write pages about people who keep affinity groups from happening at our schools -- and, all too often, those folks are the very ones who we need to support affinity groups moving forward.
I have had the great fortune of working in spaces in which affinity groups are valued and supported. And, I am well aware of the dynamics that exist that keep affinity groups from even starting -- those actions of distractions are often held in place by folks who insist that affinity groups are "racist, segregating and against the very movement of diversity."
As a critical race scholar-practitioner, it is obvious to me that folks who fight against affinity spaces often do so because of their own fragility -- their fragility of fear, their fragility of leadership, and their fragility in seeing historically marginalized people gain access to the every day privileges that are embedded in the lives of those in power. People of color, LGBTQ folks, children from single parent families, and even single parents themselves have long benefitted from affinity groups -- so I pose this question to those who are operating under an umbrella of fear, "What are you afraid of?"
RADICAL SIDE NOTE: I offer a more radical perspective to that "what are you afraid of?" question. As we know, back when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum, there were intentional political actions that used Asian Americans to divide the movement: the creation of the model minority myth. The MMM was a tool to distance Asian Americans from other people of color, thereby dividing and distorting who would benefit from political access. Whenever I hear that people are against affinity spaces, my critical race side is activated big time. After all, we have a long history in this country of breaking up networks of people of color as a way to decrease power. So.. you know.. I see you.
According to the National Association of Independent Schools, “PoCC hosts affinity group sessions to provide an opportunity for sharing and exploring your life and experiences within safe and supportive spaces defined by membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group. Led by a team of trained facilitators, affinity group participants celebrate identities, share successes and challenges, and engage freely.”
I am tempted to not even indulge those who are super anti-affinity groups, but it seems utterly important (to some) that I provide evidence of what an affinity group is NOT:
It is NOT a gathering of people who spend their time talking about you -- believe me, we’d much rather talk about ourselves when we are together
It is NOT a group of people plotting against YOUR racial group. We pretty much plot how much we love our ethnic food and whether we think there were better choices than Blake Shelton for “Sexiest Man Alive.”
It is NOT a group of people who, forever and ever, will only stay huddled together for as long as we all shall live (though, that would actually sound kinda cute). We DO know how to interact and play nice with other types of folks, too. We do it all the time.
My first PoCC, I went to the Asian and Asian American Affinity Group. And, by god, it felt like I was at a huge family wedding. There were Asian Americans everywhere! There were so many of us that we then decided to get into ethnic identity groups just so that we could see who was around. And, there were some hella Pinxys in that room! I mean, there were about 30 Pilipinxs in our circle! Honestly, prior to PoCC I had never met another Pilipix educator (elementary/middle) so this was incredible for me! I instantly felt less alone and that I had a whole bunch of family to contact if I needed them.
That’s what affinity groups do.
I’m grateful for my Asian and Asian American Affinity group at PoCC. Thank you for letting me know that I belong.
Peace and love,