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What is Holding Space?

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

“Holding space” has become a common phrase, and needs to become commonplace. There is the immediate need for people to hold space. Holding space means to be present, to be free of judgment and to be an impeccable listener.

Social justice issues, especially racism, are at the forefront of our lives and these conversations are impossible to ignore. Paired with an international pandemic, no one is exempt.

The act of holding space is one that requires you to be completely selfless. Your Black counterparts are now publicly facing social justice issues and inequality. There is no point at which this has not been a part of being Black in America but now the conversation has come to the forefront.

Holding space is an action that requires empathy and compassion. Holding space challenges you to table your opinions and ego, and listen intently to gain understanding. Holding space is created. It is important to be fully present and put your listening skills to the test.

While holding space you, may come up against anger, loss, grief, hopelessness, frustration, overwhelmness, confusion, and many conversations about being unsafe and unheard. All of these have been a part of the Black American experience.

Racism is also a part of the Black experience in America. Your Black friends are struggling. This conversation just arrived at the forefront but feelings of being unsafe and unheard have been commonplace for decades.

What To Consider

When reaching out to your Black counterparts or loved ones be sure you assess the message you might be sending. If holding space is your objective be sure you assess and consider if the conversation you are looking to have is selfless.

As opposed to a message that says “How are you?,” send a message to say “I am thinking of you and I acknowledge what is happening in our country, and in the world.” Hate and racist violence have been happening. Your Black friends, of course, are feeling and experiencing their emotions and navigating dialogue that has now boiled over.

Be careful not to seek praise. Just keep in mind, intent does not equal impact and letting your Black friends know what you are doing to dismantle racism, or sharing your emotional experience can come off as self-serving.

Anti-racism work does not deserve approval or applause, it is a sentiment only fair to your Black counterparts. Anti-racism work is necessary and the right thing to do. There are no gold stars for what is fair and just in our society.

When you hold space it is important to let people know there is no response needed. Holding space requires leaving the door open for conversation but not seeking conversation for self-serving purposes, or again, for credit.

It is challenging to see worldviews that are not our own. Your opinions can also be masked by love and this is not holding space. Be careful not to impose your opinions or ideas, and understand it is normal to go after your own angles and views. This can close the door and create more feelings of being unsafe for your Black counterparts.

The Angry Therapist writing for offers this--

Holding space means to be with someone without judgment. To donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back. To practice empathy and compassion. To accept someone’s truth, no matter what they are. To allow and accept. Embrace with two hands instead of pointing with one finger. To come in neutral. Open. For them. Not you. Holding space means to put your needs and opinions aside and allow someone to just be. Her. Self.

Listen + Validate

Support requires leading with listening. When you listen, truly listen to learn, not to add or push your own agenda. If there is something you do not understand, ask questions. Sometimes this takes courageous conversation, but you will never understand if you do not ask questions.

Empathy is connecting with someone else’s emotional experience.

Reiterating what a friend, colleague or loved one is saying is usually a sign of being a good listener. Watch out for forced optimism, selfish conversation, blame, and denial.

When discomfort starts to show itself use your breath, move towards compassion, free yourself of judgments and come back to empathy.

Seek Knowledge (List of Resources)

It is normal to feel overwhelm, like learning something new in school takes time to digest.

Below is a list of resources (includes all mediums of knowledge) for you to use. Seeking knowledge outside of conversation is important. You will be better equipped for courageous conversation by reading, listening, and exploring ideas and opinions different than those you already have.

Resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children:

Check out these books for children and young adults from the list of Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners

Listen to the Parenting Forward podcast episode ‘Five Pandemic Parenting Lessons with Cindy Wang Brandt’

Follow The Conscious Kid on Instagram

Articles to read:

“America’s Racial Contract Is Killing Us” by Adam Serwer | Atlantic (May 8, 2020)

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement (Mentoring a New Generation of Activists

”My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” by Jose Antonio Vargas | NYT Mag (June 22, 2011)

The 1619 Project (all the articles) | The New York Times Magazine

“The Intersectionality Wars” by Jane Coaston | Vox (May 28, 2019)

Tips for Creating Effective White Caucus Groups developed by Craig Elliott PhD

”White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Knapsack Peggy McIntosh

“Who Gets to Be Afraid in America?” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi | Atlantic (May 12, 2020)

Videos to watch:

Black Feminism & the Movement for Black Lives: Barbara Smith, Reina Gossett, Charlene Carruthers (50:48)

"How Studying Privilege Systems Can Strengthen Compassion" | Peggy McIntosh at TEDxTimberlaneSchools (18:26)

Podcasts to subscribe to:

1619 (New York Times)

About Race

Code Switch (NPR)

Intersectionality Matters! hosted by Kimberlé Crenshaw

Momentum: A Race Forward Podcast

Pod For The Cause (from The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights)

Pod Save the People (Crooked Media)

The Combahee River Collective Statement

Books to read:

Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins

Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Dr. Brittney Cooper

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

by Michelle Alexander

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century

by Grace Lee Boggs

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Cherríe Moraga

When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America by Ira Katznelson

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, PhD

Films and TV series to watch:

13th (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

American Son (Kenny Leon) — Netflix

Black Power Mixtape: 1967-1975 — Available to rent

Clemency (Chinonye Chukwu) — Available to rent

Dear White People (Justin Simien) — Netflix

Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler) — Available to rent

I Am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin doc) — Available to rent or on Kanopy

If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) — Hulu

Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton) — Available to rent

King In The Wilderness — HBO

See You Yesterday (Stefon Bristol) — Netflix

Selma (Ava DuVernay) — Available to rent

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution — Available to rent

The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.) — Hulu with Cinemax

When They See Us (Ava DuVernay) — Netflix

Organizations to follow on social media:

Antiracism Center: Twitter

Audre Lorde Project: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Black Women’s Blueprint: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Color Of Change: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Colorlines: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

The Conscious Kid: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Equal Justice Initiative (EJI): Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Families Belong Together: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

MPowerChange: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Muslim Girl: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

NAACP: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

National Domestic Workers Alliance: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

RAICES: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ): Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

SisterSong: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

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