Safe Spaces and Echo Chambers – Finding The Middle Ground

Today the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. Right now my Facebook feed is blowing up, with the vast majority of my online acquaintances rejoicing that a ruling that’s been a long time coming has finally passed. To sum it up in only eight short words:

abouttime

On the other side of things, though very few and far between, there is a sentiment in direct opposition. There weren’t many for me, but I think most people will find at least one status that falls roughly along these same lines:

turneditsback

The internet is never silent on the most innocuous of issues, and when it comes to an event as groundbreaking as this one there isn’t a person who can keep from putting in their two cents. As Kat observed last year the words we post online are made subject to scrutiny, with one of the tamest consequences being that someone will voice their disagreement. As another Facebook very wisely tacked on to the end of their status: “*If you do not support gay marriage, please do not respond to this post. This is a genuinely wonderful occasion for many that I love.”

This all connects back to a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for a while, which is the idea of “safe spaces”. It goes beyond simply wanting others to leave a Facebook status as a forum for positivity instead of debate to having a place where we can rest assured we won’t be outright attacked. 

Two weeks ago I attended a Generous Space group here in Toronto, one of a number across the country created for LGBTQ+ Christians. The time and date were the only pieces of information listen on the website, and I had to email Beth Carlson-Malena, the Director of Community for New Direction, in order to find out any more. Before she surrendered any more details she posed three questions to me:

  1. Are you coming to explore or strengthen your faith in Christ?
  2. 2. Do you agree to listen and share honestly without trying to convince people to think like you?
  3. Will you do your best to do no harm within the community?

To all of which I could answer a resounding “yes”. Later that evening before things really got started we were reminded once again that this was meant to be a safe space. Everyone present was to feel secure not simply from the verbal abuse of homophobes but from the impassioned arguments of the well-meaning. This wasn’t a time or place to debate the morality of homosexuality through a Judeo-Christian world view.

I think it’s obvious that groups like Generous Space are needed for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for those who do and do not profess the Christian faith. What’s been on my mind lately has been whether there are other people who require the same sort of thing, and if it’s even possible.

Most of my time online, as you may know, has to do directly comic books. While a lot of that is spent reading comic book news outlets like Comic Book Resources, the vast majority of my conversations take place over at /r/comicbooks. Lately a lot of conversations about increased diversity in the areas of race and sexual orientation have really worn me out, and caused me to wonder where else I could be having these discussions-

By and large the internet spaces I’ve chosen to be a part of appear to be predominantly populated by the same demographic: straight White males. This isn’t to slam people who fit this category [most of my friends fit the description], but it also means that debates tend to be overwhelmingly one-sided. Overwhelmingly absent are the female, the Black, the gay, and the multicultural experiences. On forums like reddit especially the upvote and downvote system raises the majority opinions to the very top, burying dissenting views. In imgur comments sections any image featuring an Asian will undoubtedly feature some sort of deeply offensive “Engrish”, which elicits laughs from most and the following gif from yours truly-

While you can choose the subreddits you want to appear on your front page, the broader and more popular they are the more you can expect the comments to conform to the aforementioned voice. Other sites rely more heavily on curation, however. On both Tumblr and Twitter you choose who you want to follow, and both have healthy Black online communities. If you decided to become a part of either I can guarantee that would you never have to read the soul-crushingly ignorant words “All Lives Matter”.

Sites like The Mary Sue cover geeky or nerdy news while being “an inclusive, feminist community of people who not only love what they love but care about others who love it”. Through being feminist-friendly their community is predominantly women, though there are male users as well.

The idea of having these internet havens extends to social networks as well. While discussing this with a friend last night he brought up Asian Avenue, a networking site that targets Asian Americans specifically. The idea may seem incredulous, but how refreshing is it to know that there exists a place online where off-colour jokes about hiding your dogs from your Korean neighbours don’t exist?

My issue with these alternatives is that I don’t want to create an echo chamber. What I so often see on Facebook are people who, say, equate Caitlyn Jenner’s being transgender with Rachel Dolezal being “transracial”, and then let the “Amens” pour in. They’re not open to discussion, what they’re really looking for is people to affirm their opinions. I try to keep this blog fairly SFW, and I like to think the next gif illustrates their actions while also not getting you in trouble at your place of employment-

Again, what I don’t want is to pour my opinions out there on the internet and have people race up to congratulate me. Don’t get me wrong, I would appreciate some support every now and then, but that’s not all I want. If there are people who strongly believe that Emma Stone was the right choice to portray a half-Hawaiian half-Vietnamese character then please, I want to know where they’re coming from. I’m not saying it will be easy to convince me [it would be easier for a rich man to get into heaven], but I want to be open to that, I want to have a conversation.

Yes, I want a space that’s free from attack; I enjoy being verbally abused just as much as the next person. At the same time I don’t want to engage with only Asian Americans or Christians or LGBTQ+ people. Yes, I want to discuss comic book issues with people who love comic books, but not with a hive mind that champions the same opinions ad nauseam. As with most things I’m not sure what the solution is, but I’m actively trying to find the answer.

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