What is a clean space? I am borrowing from psychotherapy’s understanding of clean pain and dirty pain here. The idea for clean space is a transmutation from Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and a conversation with a friend. In the book Resmaa defines ‘clean pain as choosing integrity over fear and standing in that fear with integrity and moving towards the unknown. The alternative path is responding from dirty pain. Dirty pain is when we respond to fear and conflict from our most wounded parts. Responding from dirty pain only creates more pain, both for ourselves and for other people.’ Kevin Reese.
For the past few months I have been engaged in conversations with Joshua Isaac Smith. ‘Clean space’ is a new concept for us to consider. We wondered what ‘clean space’ would mean? A room devoid of clutter, debris from the past, smoke, mirrors, egos, distraction and expectation. A ‘clean space’ would be filled with windows. Allowing safe passage of the used and damaged out, and on the new breeze, fresh exciting ideas and plans.
‘Clean Space’ existing as a hopeful tentative NOW.
Recently I was amongst 20 Black men at McMaster’s Black Student Success Centre for an Empowered conversation. Being with groups of Black and Brown men, has been part of my psychotherapeutic experience since joining BAATN in 2010. Forming The Black Men’s Therapy Group, collaborating to start The Diversity Space at NHS Oxleas, being a counsellor of Kwanda’s Mens Groups, attending and co-facilitating the True Roots Check-In and Chat gatherings and now the Empowered experience at McMaster’s University have all been ‘clean spaces’. Every experience supports an understanding of how rare meeting in an unencumbered way can be.
I wrote last year, about when Black people gather in numbers larger than 2, in spaces that are considered White, often that group is interrupted or stopped from happening. Noise, disruption, a perceived harmony considered out of alignment the cause. A closer examination could be that witnessing Black people together laughing, discussing, enjoying time peaceably can cause suspicion, disharmony, an old yet fully present order – disrupted. The observer offset by a preconceived notion that a group of Black men are planning something. Leading to revolt. In solidarity groups arrive at causes that determine outcomes and act accordingly to achieve necessary change.
The Empowered event at Mac’ was the first of it’s kind at the University. Members of staff (2 sports coaches, a lecturer/PhD student) students from different years and areas of study and me came together to watch Black Boys. A film about the Black Male experience in America, and then discuss our understanding of being a Black man in Canada. The skill of withholding rather than exploding, being assertive versus aggressive, non reactive when encountering micro and major aggressions, the exhaustion of constantly being on guard. Like being in an invisible straightjacket against one’s will…
Speaking with Joshua, who wondered about an organisms tendency to shrink, retreat, respond in fear when new stimuli are introduced. Prompted me to write this short blog. Our conversation helped me to think about synapses and encountering difference. Does the brain re-wire initially encountering challenge? Do synapses retreat breaking connection momentarily? Only to reach out and form a link later and then re-enforce that link with others. Or once a synaptic link drops, is the link permanently severed? Being in safe spaces, ‘clean spaces’, do synaptic links regrow? Do we regrow once danger and perceived threat disappear?
I believe we do in ‘clean spaces’. If the human has a tendency to self actualise, to improve continually, Black men witnessing another (others) in a space being vulnerable, can identify that the masculine can be compassionate and however that male wishes to recongise and express themselves. That was what I witnessed. A willingness to step outside of a pre-set mold. Tentatively we began to unfurl and live in space without filters. We became hushed, listening intently, focused. We found time to articulate our ideas and experiences like a testimony for the gathered to know ‘You are not alone.’ ‘I see you.’ ‘I have felt that way too.’
You, Me, Us
Being in service to another, is being in service to self, to one’s family and community. ∞ (infinity) is an act of Ubuntu. When as a species (human) we can accept that no person is more important than anyone else on the planet. Death then can be an equalising concept. This final experience has us all in repose, be you a queen, a member of a Junta, or a salesperson. Having access to ‘clean space’ for Black men I imagine contributes to a sense of being seen, heard, valued and fulfilled. I am fortunate to have been a part of the inaugural Empowered event and look forward to many others at McMasters, and beyond. The request from ourselves to humanity is less to seek permission, but taking the necessary steps to live well as Black men.
Experiencing ‘clean spaces’ more than once, leaves me questioning about how members of the Empower group found their time? I am also interested to know how to increase a sense of security and ‘clean space’ beyond designated times and places. As a psychotherapist I am interested to know what the bite point is. When do ideas of connection bloom towards collaboration, action and then implementation? Having access to ‘clean space’ could be the catalyst.
Moving energy collectively forward.
Little is achieved without community around.
The first ‘clean space’ may well have been the family unit…
Black Boys hyperlinks to the site of the film. The link below is a Blog discussing the film in some detail by The Curvy Critic Sonia Lowman.
With I stand Alone, the outro of this piece of music bites down on the kernel I have been mulling on throughout this blog. Patrick Stump presents an idea on repetition. Without ingenuity nothing new can be introduced. Amongst community – everything is out for reinvention.
Black Folk introduces a wonderful love song to Black People about the Black experience. As insightful as the music is wistful. Poetry filled with pointed observation. Again we observe community.
Clean Pain links to a short piece by Kevin Reese who looks at his life following release from prison and integrating with community.
Jason Reynolds has a 4-part podcast where he in his smooth baritone, observes life post CoVid19 alongside his mother’s influence. Community for me is more than 1.
QLS Classic with Common, highlights Common’s rise from Chicago to being a global figure. Note how he observes community, influence and movement that helps to shape his career.
Black Boys by Sonia Lowman a review
Robert Glasper, Common, Patrick Stump I Stand Alone
Tank and The Bangas Black Folk
Clean Pain and the necessity of healing – MSR
Radiotopia Presents My Mother Made Me – Jason Reynolds
Quest Love Supreme – QLS Classic: Common
Image Theme: Clean
Cover photo Hands Clean Eats by Wasa Crispbread on Unsplash
Living Room photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash
A Waiting Page photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Window Clean photo by Victor on Unsplash
Bubble Balcony photo by Salman Hossain Saif on Unsplash
Adapt Faster – Joshua Isaac Smith
Canada links to the Blog Encounters of the 3rd Kind
Black Student Success Centre or BSSC at McMasters Uni
BAATN The Black African and Asian Therapist Network
The Black Men’s Therapy Group Blog
The Diversity Space Blog
Kwanda’s Mens Group Blog
True Roots Blog
Ubuntu: Recovery – White Supremacy Blog
**Whilst I find backlinks useful in the main body of text. They can be distracting for you the reader. I would be interested to know if you find links at the end of the writing helpful.