Minorities have felt alienated and different in all-white/straight/cisgender spaces since integration first came to the South. Though Pace has been getting much better diversity-wise, there’s still a long way to go before we can call ourselves a truly accepting and diverse community. Until that day, affinity groups are necessary parts of our school.
But what are affinity groups?
Pace launched five affinity groups this year in the Upper School for Jewish, LGBTQ+, LatinX, black and Asian students. Affinity spaces are clubs/societies that are exclusively for a specific minority. For example, the black affinity group is only for black people. Your knee-jerk reaction may be to call this exclusionary, and even contrary to progress.
However, what I’m asking you to do is put yourself in the position of a minority, even for a moment, trying to live their life. Trying to do the same things as the majority – grocery shopping, barbecuing, eating, even just playing video games with their nephew. Things most white people wouldn’t even have to think about.
For black people like me, however, every day holds a component of danger, even when just sitting at home. There are countless examples of black people being murdered and reported to the police, just for doing things that everyone does. Try to put yourself in our position.
You wake up in the morning, and have an email in your inbox that is asking you to have a business meeting. It’s at Starbucks, in about an hour. You get ready and out of the house quickly, meaning that you get there early to make sure you’re on time. You don’t really feel like buying anything, so you just sit there and wait. The cashier calls the police on you.
That’s the story of two black men in Philadelphia, in April of this year.
Now, imagine: you’re sitting at home with your nephew, playing video games. It’s a little hot inside, so you leave the door open to let the cool evening air in. It worries your neighbor, so they call a non-emergency police number for a welfare check.
When the policeman arrives, he yells at you to put your hands up before shooting and killing you through your window two seconds later. That’s the story of Atatiana Jefferson.
You’re a naked, vulnerable, mentally ill veteran outside of your apartment building, and your landlord calls the police for a welfare check. You walk toward him calmly, and he murders you. That’s the story of Anthony Hill.
These are the tales of people who are no longer alive to tell them. This is why black people police themselves, each moment they’re outside of their houses, and sometimes even in the comfort of their own homes.
This is what young black people are bombarded with each day of their lives. Not only must we mourn for those we’ve lost, but also stay wary of how we behave in public and around police officers.
How does this relate to affinity spaces?
As a black person who has to deal with the near constant bombardment of this emotional turmoil while also going to a predominantly white school, it can get hard to find outlets for relief. People who don’t personally deal with the personal pain that each new incident causes are often unable to empathize, which can leave me and others like me feeling almost alone in our grief.
The addition of affinity groups has become a much-needed healing balm to the injury that this loneliness brings. To be able to vent to and be comforted by people who go through the exact same thing that I do makes the sorrow of more deaths within my community a little more bearable.
Don’t misunderstand, however – these are not spaces of grief alone. Rather, they’re often places for celebration. The excitement of sharing a new accomplishment with others who understand just how hard it is to be recognized for your success is a feeling rivaled by no other.
Affinity space meetings are also some of the only times where I can feel totally free to be completely myself. The freedom of being allowed to exist, completely unedited, is not something easily gotten when going to Pace.
A lot of the time, black people also feel the need to “code switch” – a term used to denote the change in behavior that many undergo when going from majority-black spaces to majority-white spaces and vice versa. This could include a change in accent, vocabulary, body language, attire and overall personality.
The constant upkeep of this mask can leave black people feeling tired and worn out after a day in a community such as Pace – a loving environment, but one that is still very much majority white.
Being around people who look like you, in a space specifically for that purpose, can lift a burden that many don’t even realize they’re carrying. This goes for any minority – the welcoming feeling is universal. Affinity spaces boost all communities, especially those that struggle with diversity.