Something I struggle with a lot when it comes to conversations on topics related to diversity and inclusion is the problem of balancing the issue of making space, while also making sure to speak up.
What I mean by that is, it is imperative that you “make space” in a conversation for the people who are experts by virtue of lived experience to speak up on the issues they are affected by. Bluntly put, I’m not going to dominate a conversation on racism on a college campus even though I do have an awful lot of opinions on the matter.
On the other hand, people – especially those of us who greatly benefit from the systemic oppression – must speak up. Silence is complicity, after all.
Sometimes this balance is easy. Like I said earlier, I’m not going to go to the State of the Black Union and tell the crowd what I think of racism at Virginia Tech. That space was explicitly for black students to speak on their lived experiences.
But sometimes it’s less cut and dry. For instance, if I’m in a room full of people and someone says something transphobic, and I know for a fact that there are trans or gender non-conforming people present, should I speak up? My first instinct is yes, obviously I need to speak up. But there have been times where I questioned if in doing so I was in fact speaking over the person or people in question? Was I taking an opportunity that belongs to someone else away?
I think perhaps this apprehension is due to a hyperawareness of allies speaking over community members, in part because it’s something I know I’ve been guilty of in the past – and something I’ve experienced personally. I know how much I hate it when other people do it, and I know how much I regret doing it to others, so I’m perhaps overly cautious to the point of sometimes not speaking against injustices when I see them.
I don’t know that there’s a perfect answer to this. I think the best I can do is speak up and if I mess up, apologize.