Editor's Letter

Balancing Silence + Action and Creating Safe Spaces

by Grace Bonney

It doesn’t feel right to go back to work as normal today. This is a feeling that has become all too familiar over the past few years. I struggle with saying nothing and saying something because I don’t want a lack of speaking up to be perceived as not caring. But sometimes words and hashtags and online sentiment feel empty when it feels like actions are what is needed. But I know both/all are important.

Lately I’ve focused more on talking less and listening more, specifically to POC, fellow members of the LGBTQ community and people who experience oppression on a regular basis every day. No single person represents the entirety of one group of people or identity and so, for me, it’s felt more important to spend more time doing work that connects me to people with different backgrounds and identities and stories that I haven’t yet heard. Not so I can “understand and be done,” but so that I can continue to learn more about different people’s experiences, histories and points of view. This learning will never be done, ever.

And in that learning I’m struggling with finding a balance between speaking up and realizing that my voice and my opinion have occupied more than enough space already. I’m struggling with people in my own community who feel that this weekend’s racism and hatred and bigotry and anti-semitism are new or shocking or “not us.” They’ve always been a part of my state’s history and my culture’s history. I think we might notice these things more now, or these people are being emboldened to show their faces more openly, but they’ve always been here.

I grew up with friends who attended UVA who were assaulted by locals for being black and simply existing among communities of people that don’t value them as equal. And I’ve been spending most of my weekend thinking about one of those attacks and how little I did to support my friend other than express my “shock” and shake my head. I’ve grown up with layers of privilege and unraveling them and examining them (including how I use this platform at DS) has been a necessary part of realizing what my evolving responsibilities are as a business and as a human being. Black lives matter. Jewish lives matter. Stopping racism and anti-semitism matters. Not being silent matters. Getting out of our own safe comfort zones matters.

Getting out of our comfort zones is just that — uncomfortable. But those moments are so crucial in building understanding and connection. For some of us the most uncomfortable thing we have to do is have difficult talks with family and friends or deal with commenters who don’t like us for “being political.” I hope that any and every moment of discomfort that we allies feel, helps us better understand just a fraction of what it feels like to be a POC, Jewish or LGBTQ person in the world.

DS will always be a safe space for those who need it. As the person behind DS, I know I will make mistakes. I know my thoughts and opinions will evolve and change as I learn more, but I am committed, fully, to showing up and doing every bit of the work that I can to support everyone in our community who is persecuted because of the color of their skin, who they choose to love, how they present/identify their gender or because of how/who they choose to worship (or not).

Artwork by @gracedchin and words by Grace Lee Boggs

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Comments

  • Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Grace. As white people, I think it will take conversations with friends and family when they do or say racist things. It’s going to take education, even if it makes us uncomfortable because at this point doing nothing is not an option. And showing up at rallies and protests, just being a number, is important too.

  • I follow very few design blogs, but I’ve enjoyed this one. It’s a relief to just look at pretty pictures instead of the “news.”

    It’s your blog so you may say whatever you wish. I might add that respect for others is a river that flows both ways. I’m been labeled a “conservative” – and yet I don’t judge people by their religion or color of their skin. Yet for the past few years I have also been vilified, called racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and lets not forget “deplorable.” It doesn’t bother me one whit.

    I think it’s about time we quit labeling people, and way past time for people to stop defining who they are by a label they willingly slap on themselves.

    Now … how about some pretty pictures, Grace ;-)

    • Adrienne

      Your comment brought up the most important point here: You get to choose the label people “slap” on you. Whatever your political or social beliefs are, you can walk away from them if you choose- or just not tell people. People of color can’t do that.

      They can’t just walk away and not be a POC because their safety is at risk. And that’s what I’m talking about here- safety. Being called homophobic just isn’t the same as someone who might get beaten to death because of the color of their skin.

      I agree that those of us in positions of privilege (conservatives and progressives and anyone else in between) have to spend less time being upset by terms and spend more time using our actions to support those whose lives are being threatened on a daily basis because of racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, Islamaphobia and any other form of hatred that leads people to violent action.

      Grace

    • Adrienne, I come from a conservative background, and I agree with you that respect flows both ways. I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that not thinking about issues of race and oppression is a luxury — and it’s a luxury that for a long time I didn’t realize I had, because (in my case) my white, middle class life didn’t require me to realize it. I saw that my choice to not think about these issues was not respectful to the human beings around me. Like Grace, I’ve done my best to do a lot of listening over the past several years. I’ve become more and more deeply committed to making sure respect does indeed flow both ways — which includes respecting and listening to minority voices when they remind us that, for instance, a “routine” traffic stop is a life-and-death issue for so many people.

      If you haven’t already read it, I’d recommend an article from The Atlantic called “What I Learned about Stop-and-Frisk from Watching My Black Son”: https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/04/what-i-learned-about-stop-and-frisk-from-watching-my-black-son/359962/ It’s about more than stop-and-frisk; it’s about how day-to-day experience varies widely, and often violently, based on our skin color. It’s from 2014, which seems ages ago now, but the stories it tells are as compelling as when it was published.

      In the face of that reality, I can’t expect a website that focuses on creating a home to post only pretty pictures, or to ignore how often our home streets and cities are physically dangerous for many people just because of the color of their skin.

    • This is probably one of those times when it’s not about you.

      For years a large segment of the American society has felt like they haven’t belonged to this society. Now there’s some pushback (the river that is supposed to flow both ways has been flowing one way for a long time and now it’s trying to even out) and it’s like, well, how can it be that bad for “you” because look at what “I” get called. And “I” don’t let it bother me.

      Well, it’s not about you.

      You may not judge or label others, or care what other people think about you. And if that’s so, great. If you don’t think it’s an issue and can’t recognize that bad things are happening, and that a segment of our society is actually suffering for it, then maybe just scroll past this post.

      What’s the statement I read lately? When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. (And I’m not saying that applies to you, Adrienne, I just think it’s an applicable quote for what’s happening now.)

    • How wonderful to you that white terrorism is just “news” happening to someone else. Thank heaven you have your pretty pictures to fall back on.

    • Just do be clear, as a person of color, I don’t have to “willingly” slap a label on myself. It happens all the time in the way I’m treated and the messages society sends. This weekend was another unfortunate reminder. If you disagreed with the message of today’s post, I wonder why you read it. You could have skipped and circled back when the topic got back to the pretty pictures you crave.

  • I think it’s a very important time to speak up against hatred right now, and I’m very happy you said something here. I’m sure it’s not a pleasant task to address this, but I appreciate you using your platform to console and influence while acknowledging your privilege. I honestly find it so odd and hollow on the days after tragic events like this when people with influence only post the pretty stuff and fail to reflect. If someone doesn’t have any compassion, or want to read “the news” they can go search for cute animal videos on youtube (or you know, scroll on by). That is on them.

  • Thanks for this. Events like Charlottesville and the past few days’ failure of leadership push some people to stay home, zone out, escape. Creating comfortable, welcoming homes is useless if our public spaces are unsafe and filled with armed tiki alt-nazis, or whatever the white supremacists are calling themselves these days.

  • I often look for an escape during these times. As a person of color it can be absolutely exhausting to constantly be inundated with such scary and heartbreaking news.

    However…. especially in online places when truly tragic things happen I find myself wondering, ‘if this person has a voice (online presence) and isn’t using it…. do I trust them? Am I safe in this space?’

    So thank you for speaking up ,and doing so thoughtfully and compassionately. It was very comforting to read.

  • I am a long time reader and a POC (who is privileged in many ways). Like all of you, I was heartbroken and disgusted by the events of Charlottesville, and was so thankful to read your post. Thank you for speaking up, Grace.

  • I appreciate you using your platform to speak on this. I’m disgusted by the commenter above telling you to “post some pretty pictures”. you are doing the right thing when so many others in the blogosphere are not.

  • Grace, I love, love, love this post. I too, have been struggling with how to respond to this weekend – and all the recent horror in our world. Your words, your voice, your opinion matters and helps so many to follow your lead and do the same in our own way. Compassionate and well-spoken as always…thank you for sharing!

  • Grace, that was beautifully written. If we can learn anything from even our most recent history, it’s that public opinion, elected officials, and legislation can turn on a dime. What we find outrageous and appalling one day can become acceptable or even applauded the next. Among the examples are some of the best causes, like gay marriage and desegregation, and also some of the worst, like German Nazism and genocide in Sudan. Outrage alone does not produce change, and it certainly doesn’t ensure democracy and equity, but I do believe that contributing time and money to organizations and causes does. I know where I’ll be spending my time this next election season, and I hope my fellow readers will be motivated to do the same.

  • The bravery of the oppressed—those who have no choice but to continue to show up every single day, despite the outright hatred and violence, despite the subtle, insidious, and constant messages that they are “less than”—that bravery should be acknowledged.

    It should also not be required. It’s far past time to lean into whatever privilege we have and to fight for the rights of our sad, angry, and tired fellow humans who deserve love and respect and safety and who for so long had to go without.

    Thank you, Grace, for using your own platform to visibly stand in solidarity with what’s right.

    D*S has for so long shared with us the “pretty pictures” and the uplifting stories and the beauty in the world. But it would be absolutely irresponsible to pretend that there is not ugliness in our world as well. Let’s all do something a little uncomfortable or scary today to stand up for what matters. And then let’s all do it again tomorrow.

    Friends, this time is a time to protect our values, to fight for love—to design our world for deep, inclusive and true beauty.

  • Thank you, Grace. I fully understand the dilemma about whether to bring political events onto a design page, but when things get this bad, we all need to speak out, privately and publicly. Your business has always had plenty of ‘pretty pictures’, but in a non-preachy way, you have made it evident that your business and your approach to design is also influenced by your ethical values. Expressing distress at the events in Charlottesville, and expressing your commitment to making DS a safe space, should in no way be read as a criticism of people who consider themselves to be conservative – as my Mom always used to say, ‘if the shoe fits, wear it!’ – if you are conservative but not racist, I don’t see how Grace’s statement could be taken as a criticism. Taking a moment to acknowledge events as dangerous and divisive as the events in Charlottesville is important because it avoids the surreal cognitive dissonance of important things happening, but not being acknowledged in many online spaces. There are design precedents for allies to use their voice to stand up against oppression: I’m reminded of Josiah Wedgwood’s abolitionist medallion. So if people want ‘pretty pictures’, maybe a series on anti-racist design could be a feature! <3

  • Grace,
    Thanks for asking white people to consider how they react to this. Thanks for taking a position and supporting people who don’t have your privileges. I honestly believe that is how this all gets better: through supporting the people who have historically and violently been disadvantaged by the structures of racism. It isn’t only about attitudes, or about learning more though, in my opinion. It is about a commitment to dismantling the world which holds itself balanced on the necks of so many of us. I don’t know how to that en todo; but being uncomfortable is only the first step.
    An Indian man was murdered by a raging White Supremacist not too long ago; the Dakota pipeline violates the land and the rights of the First Peoples of America; the Flint water crisis is STILL ONGOING.

    Then what place do pictures of beautiful homes have in this vast reality? Beauty is important; thought and intent are important. Art is important.

    Thank you for DesignSponge, please look to include more posts from more people who are different from you.
    And as a WOC I thank you for your words.

    • Ooodz, “dismantling the world”. Yes, wholeheartedly yes. Our current world and country is built on the platform of oppression. No wonder those who benefit from that oppression are begging to go back to serving them via pretty pictures again. Equality is going to mean they give up their centuries old unfair advantages.

      To my fellow white Americans, when you cry “politics!” Or insist “but I’m not a racist”. Or in any other terms try to portray yourself a victim, your racism is showing. And your stupidity as well, for you to have been hoodwinked by the racists in power.

      • Thanks for your response. I was a little afraid to post what I did, so thank you for listening to me. And thank you for your heart!

  • Thank for this, Grace. I have personally found D*S to be a haven the past few months – I think you once described it at a combo of pretty things and activism. Comments like the “pretty pictures” one above are so hurtful to my existence. For PoC and marginalized groups, we don’t have the option to fully escape. As a WoC & a mother (raising a biracial, interfaith child), my heart is aching so badly. It is an emotional and at times even physical pain. Sadly, I am not shocked by many hateful actions and comments, but for my family, I cannot lose hope, that’s just not on the table. “If it is to be, it is up to me” has become my mantra. Rallying, marching, talking, and reading posts like this give the oomph to keep going. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • For me personally, I feel overwhelmed by the state that our world is in. There are wars, hatred, division, poverty, murders, variance, destruction of the environment – the list is endless. I believe that every human being is suffering (even those that perpetuate suffering) whether that be financial, illness, poverty, homelessness, displacement, abuse, mental anguish, hopelessness because of inability to gain an education or employment – once again the list is endless. Heartbreakingly, I don’t believe we will ever remove suffering.
    I am a person of faith, I believe in God. I am fully aware that my statement may be offensive to many. There is a beautiful scripture in the Bible (Mark 12, verse 31) where Jesus answers the crowd accordingly “the second commandment is this, thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than this.” I can only imagine how much better our lives would be if every single person on our beautiful planet lived their life according to Jesus’ instruction – to treat all human beings in the way that we like to be treated – so many of the world’s problems would be resolved. Some may label me as naive and stupid, but Jesus’ statement is a very moving, powerful and loving one.

  • If it wasn’t for your evolving to better showcase faces, voices and places belonging to people of color (and women, and queer, and not uber rich!) I would have stopped coming here a long time ago. It’s precisely because you’re taking DS along the journey of your own growth that I continue to be engaged in the beauty and creativity that DS delivers. If it was only “pretty pictures” and those pictures being stereotypically white, young, cis-gendered et al I wouldn’t be here. You’re doing the work, Grace, and it’s wonderful to witness.

  • Thank you for this. Your words above are a kind of prerequisite to a design blog: a house is just a building and not a home unless people can feel safe in it. I appreciate your commitment to showing a wide range of homes, people, and lifestyles on this site. Don’t let the negative comments get you down. Even the people asking for “pretty pictures” are coming to *this site* to look at those pictures — a site that highlights diversity in its images. Hopefully some of that message rubs off as they browse.

    I love your “Best of the Web” posts. What about extending that reading list format to a monthly post? An “On My Nightstand” post highlighting different people and what they’re reading (plus photos of their nightstands). This would be one way to keep the conversation going and help people discover new voices.

    Also, I’d love to see a post about buying a home when you don’t meet the bank’s ideal of a Norman Rockwell-esque nuclear family. Tips and experiences from single women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. Also/including creative professionals because securing a mortgage as a freelancer is no cakewalk.

    • Eva

      I’m working on a post right now re: your final paragraph. I’m interviewing a lot of people in person so it will most likely be up the first week of Sept.

      Grace

  • Thanks so much for these thoughtful words, Grace. I too come here and to other design sites to look at the pretty pictures. But there come times, and this is one of them, when we have to go deeper (riffing on Adrienne Rich here a bit) and address important issues in the world around us. I’m so glad I came here looking for pretty pictures and found your beautiful words instead. Thanks again! Keep writing (oh, and posting pretty photos, please).

  • Thank you, Grace and to your whole editorial team for walking this walk all the time. I’m glad you don’t shy away from what some might call “being political” (though I personally call it “being human.”) This blog has always been an inspiration both aesthetically and humanistically. Rock on.

  • I just want to give a shout out to the trifecta of GRACES on this post – Grace Lee Boggs with her words of accountability, Grace Chin with her visual representation in compelling black/white and Grace Bonney with the conversational platform to bring us all together.
    To me this post is itself a representation of the layers we must show up for to create change – whether we write, illustrate, lead, support, legislate, design, archive, research, or otherwise, our work is our activism. In every task, we have an opportunity to choose solidarity or complicity. We should feel lucky to connect with and learn from each other as we develop the diverse skills that support our larger community.
    We will certainly have to admit our limitations, ask for help, lean into collaboration to tell all the stories accurately and organically, but that’s why we’re here – as Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, with a willingness to understand rather than desire for conflict. There are some great resources here for contemplating perception, conflict and personal growth: http://www.orderofinterbeing.org/2013/11/conflict-resolution-guide/
    I’m grateful to this space always for leading by example and giving so many diligent and empathetic humans space to feel inspired and accountable. xo

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