The park at the end of my street has printed rules on signs about dogs on leashes and no smoking. There are arrows painted on the asphalt trail to remind folks to stay on the right side while walking or biking, while the playground area sports a sign that states the appropriate ages of children who can safely play on the equipment.
I walk through this park every morning with my trusty canine companion, and when my grandsons visit, we head over so they can run, play, or rollerblade, while I follow along with my pup. While it’s a nice little park, I am acutely aware that it occupies white space. While there are a few Black families in the area, the surrounding neighborhoods are predominantly white. So, while my three Black grandsons joyously run along the trail, I observe the other park visitors. I’m not ready to let my grandsons navigate this white space independently.
White people unconsciously perceive space that we occupy to be white space, and we have been acculturated to behave accordingly. Because of this racist acculturation, we have come to believe that we have some god-given right to not only occupy a given space, but to question the presence of non white people who also occupy the space.
The park at the end of my street is no exception. On a single visit I witnessed three young girls move their parked bikes away from the proximity of my grandsons, while the boys played on the swings. Additionally, an older man went well out of his way to strike up a conversation with them. Was I being hyper vigilant? I sure was. Did I need to be? I sure did. I sure do. I understand white space from the inside out.
To the girls who moved their bikes: Do you move your bikes, parked next to the swings, when kids – who don’t have brown skin – are playing on those swings?
To the older man: Do you go well out of your way to strike up a conversation with all the children in the park, or just the kids with brown skin?
To the rest of us: Do we perpetuate or dismantle white space acculturation?
For the young girls: As you grow into young women, I hope you gain insight and awareness of your role in dismantling white spaces. My grandsons future will benefit from neutral spaces.
For the older man: I wish you could treat my grandsons the same as you treat the other children in the park, by leaving them to their childhood joy.
Oh, and a new sign suggestion for the park, “Dismantle white space. This park is a neutral space.”