Coming to Terms With Our Spaces

SPACES

How one reacts to or interacts with their surroundings can be influenced by factors such as how we perceive our surroundings and the sentiments that are held for certain aspects in our surroundings. My living room is a space of comfort to me, when I walk through my home and go through the living room, I am often times awe-struck by the beauty and comfort of my surroundings. The sun light filtering in through the windows of my living room helps to provide a welcoming sense of serenity. The couch located close to the window in my living room quickly became my favorite place to sit and enjoy things like reading or watching the TV. I am able to feel comfort in my space due to how I perceive it and the sentiments I hold for it; this space is one of my havens where I am able to relax and exist without fear and worry. I am able to walk through this space without fear of retribution or judgment from others which is something that can occur in spaces where one has a negative perception and sentiment towards the space. In “Walking While Black” by Garnette Cadogan, he mentions “We long to look, to think, to talk, to get away. But more than anything else, we long to be free. We want the freedom and pleasure of walking without fear—without others’ fear—wherever we choose” (Cadogan). This is a topic of interest as it scratches the surface of how walking becomes a factor in one’s experience with different environments. Not everyone has the opportunity to feel the way I do when I am in my living room; happy, carefree, and content. In fact, when walking in certain spaces apprehension, doubt, and dread take control and leads to another factor that affects how one interacts with their space, that factor being how others perceive us as individuals.

I consider myself to be a very shy yet friendly person. I like connecting with new people, yet I am usually shy when it comes to initiating conversations. Being myself becomes harder in spaces where I feel a sense of fear, especially when I think about how others might perceive me. “When we first learn to walk, the world around us threatens to crash into us. Every step is risky. We train ourselves to walk without crashing by being attentive to our movements, and extra-attentive to the world around us. As adults we walk without thinking, really. But as a black adult I am often returned to that moment in childhood when I’m just learning to walk. I am once again on high alert, vigilant” (Cadogan). I never fully realized how different it was to live in America as a young black woman until I read Cadogan’s essay and began to compare my own experience growing up in Jamaica and how others treated me there with how others might perceive me in the U.S.. In Jamaica where I was born and raised, I never had to worry about being judged based off the color of my skin, as most of the citizens in Jamaica were black just like me, and if you were not black, it didn’t matter to the citizens of Jamaica. Our little island tended to welcome those from different cultures and races and would try to provide a welcoming experience for those who were new or returning to the island. Unlike the comfort I feel in my living room, being in spaces where I feel as if I will be perceived as a threat because of my appearance, race, and quiet nature makes me terrified. I tend to be on high alert and will always to try to present the best version of myself. Sometimes I think, I want to look approachable but not too approachable. I want to look at a sign that caught my eye, but I do not want to make the person standing close to that sign uncomfortable which saddens me. The more I think about this, I realize that when I am in spaces that cause me stress, I am not able to be myself. I don’t feel comfortable observing my surroundings or looking in someone’s direction for too long because I feel as if I may be deemed as a threat. In these moments, I am unable to exist like I do in my living room or when I lived in Jamaica.

My friend, Nada’s Qur’an is a special book to her. This holy book symbolizes her journey with faith and becoming closer to both her religion and culture. When she reads this religious text, she builds a spiritual connection and feels a sense of stability and peace. Reading from this book positively affects the way Nada feels. She learns, grows, and practices her faith by becoming immersed in what she is reading. The Qur’an may not be classified as a “space”, but it can be classified as an “artifact” that brings Nada a sense of strength and peace. Looking at it this way opens up a conversation about how we interact with certain artifacts or objects. If the artifact is special to someone, they will be able to positively interact with that artifact. On the contrary if there is an artifact that is perceived in a negative way or makes someone uncomfortable or afraid it becomes almost impossible to interact with that artifact in a positive way. In “Footwork” by Rebecca Solnit, she briefly talks about the “commonality” in walking (Solnit). She mentioned how often people walk for the same purpose, to make a change or to bring attention to certain issues which can often be a positive experience, realizing that one is not walking for a cause alone. I thought about this and realized that sharing an artifact that you like with someone else can also positively impact how you interact with that object. The Qur’an is not only an important book/artifact for Nada but is also an important book/artifact for many in the Islamic community. The Qur’an provides an access to insight on faith and provides a gateway in becoming closer to God. Sharing such a commonality and being able to talk with other believers about the words of the Qur’an helps love and appreciation for that artifact to grow because it becomes something you can share and talk about with others. When we feel comfortable in our spaces and with our artifacts it becomes easier to maneuver and enjoy that space and artifact, but when we feel uncomfortable in our spaces and with our artifacts it could lead to apprehension and disdain.

I perceive Nada as a dedicated and kindhearted person after having the opportunity to be in a group with her throughout this spring semester. While being in a group with her I was able to read about her experience with spaces and artifacts. She had the opportunity to go to Mansura, Egypt where she was able to delve deeper into both her prayer and spiritual life, this was a comforting and safe space for her. Surrounded by those who shared the same “commonality” as her, it became easier for her to connect with both the religious and cultural aspects that were found in Mansura, Egypt (Solnit). She felt of stability and inclusion in Mansura, much like the feelings she has when she reads the Qur’an. Though this is not always the experience she has when she is in the U.S., Nada wears a hijab in her daily life, and she wrote about the challenges she faced when wearing her hijab in public spaces in America. In schools, people would associate her garb with terrorism and would stereotype her solely based off her appearance and the religion she practiced. “Walking while [having a different appearance from others] restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone” (Cadogan). The religion and culture that brought her joy and stability, was weaponized by others in public spaces, turning a positive aspect of Nada’s life and twisting it to make it appear negative. Having others perceive you as a threat and stereotype you based off appearance and religion is the reason why public spaces can become hard to maneuver and enjoy.

We all have our own experience with spaces and artifacts that bring joy, and the same is true for spaces that bring discomfort and fear. Though Nada and I are two different people, I was able to connect with her experiences. Personal spaces are more of a haven, a shelter away from spaces where people stereotype, or judge based off appearance, culture, or religion; in turn those special places are easier to maneuver.

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