Conditions for Relationship and The Need for Safe Spaces
Relationships are tricky. They need certain poorly-understood conditions to thrive. Without these conditions, there can be no relationship. If one is forced despite their absence, it quickly becomes toxic, unequal, exploitative: and without acknowledgement of this dynamic, it cannot be saved. This is true for every kind of relationship, even the ones we have with acquaintances, colleagues and family.
Simply put, it appears we don’t really know how to interact with each other a lot of the time.
This is my attempt to outline the four basic conditions needed for a relationship to exist.
Everyone talks about them and no one knows seems to know what they are. It’s easiest to know where one’s own boundaries lie, and much harder to discern where others’ are. They are often communicated non-verbally, through body language, awkwardness and discomfort, and even silence. When they are verbalised at last, it means that the discomfort has reached a tipping point and become unbearable. When someone says, “This thing you’re doing/saying is making me very uncomfortable,” the obvious, empathetic response is to stop.
Boundaries are violated when the discomfort is not acknowledged. When boundaries are ignored, and the problematic behaviour continues, violence has occurred.
Plain language is needed because this remains a misunderstood concept. A relationship cannot exist without basic respect for the other person. This includes full acknowledgement of their identity and experience — without reservation.
For BIPoC, this remains the most problematic issue. We are rarely seen as equals, let alone treated as such. The issues we face are seen as insignificant, our voices considered unimportant, at best.
Deception and manipulation have no place in a relationship. Harmful intent dressed up in niceties is still harmful. Pretence, superficiality, politeness for the sake of it: there are endless ways lying manifests. It is always destructive.
A case in point from the Sydney is Cancelled/Nick Cave event: saying, “We are here to support you,” while at the same time disrupting a space not meant for you, is speaking blatant untruth.
A precious and delicate thing, once broken, trust is very difficult to rebuild. The harm can be done in an instant, with a single word — or the lack of one.
Trust thrives in the existence of the previous conditions; and shrivels up in the absence of any one.
Sydney is Cancelled/Nick Cave
We held a craft-in-public event on Saturday at Nick Cave’s exhibition ‘Until’ at Carriageworks, making a statement against racism in the fibre community. Crafters from all backgrounds were invited to attend in solidarity with our cause. The turnout was excellent and we had a great chat with the curator, Beatrice Gralton. She shared insights about Nick Cave’s “Beaded Cliff Wall” installation and expressed how pleased he would be to hear about the space being used in this way.
Then, two owners of a Sydney LYS decided to disrupt the event through a public confrontation. They spotted me standing away from the group and saw an opportunity to corner me. They demanded that I let them have their say. Through gritted teeth, I explained why I was upset with them, but received no acknowledgement of my feelings. I told them how intimidated I felt by their behaviour (I was shaking) and asked them to consider how they were behaving. They took this as a personal affront — manipulating the narrative so they appeared to be the victims.
There was a violation of all four pre-conditions to relationship. I was not aware that the individuals in question would be attending. It was a public event, open to all, but it was understood to be a space specifically for BIPoC, where we could feel safe. One of the individuals had earlier attempted to hijack the conversation by steering it towards environmental issues. The other tried to seek the sympathy of a white attendee, saying she didn’t want to be “attacked by strangers online” and that “it’s just craft.”
My confrontation left me needing to seek support. I sat down with the group again, and Radhika was there to support me, continuing to point out the behaviour that was playing out. We were told, “You know us, we’ve been nothing but welcoming to you” — only for one of them to turn to Radhika later and say, “What’s your name again?”
I couldn’t stand it anymore and walked off. I am ashamed that Radhika was left there on her own to deal with the aftermath. One of the women left; the other continued to impinge on Radhika’s time and energy, to the extent that there was no question of her being able to spend time with her family or explore the exhibition space. She kept being asked over and over to serve as an educator, to do the labour for the white woman.
There is no question about how shameful and traumatising this incident was. The only saving grace was that it occurred in public view. This is not to say that amends might not be made if the store owners truly wished; but the gravity of the harm done cannot be overemphasised.
Sydney is Cancelled will continue to create spaces where BIPoC can meet, away from the white gaze, without having to justify our existence at every step. Our meetings will not be open to the public. The need for safe spaces has never been more urgent, and we are proud to be able to fill this void for the Sydney community.