‘But That’s Segregation!’ On Reverse Racism and Why Black Spaces are Radical

By Ella Achola

There is something about creating spaces that cater to discussion amongst Black people that really strikes a nerve with (white) society. Going out with a group of friends, a (white) guy I do not know found out I was my university’s Black Officer elect. Upon this realisation he laughed out loud and then said in an exasperated, somewhat patronising, tone, “You’re the one who wants to create black spaces! But that’s segregation!” in reference to my recent manifesto. I let it slide because I did not immediately realise the implications of his statement and after all we were having oh-so-much-fun so why be that mood killer?

Nonetheless, his words have stuck with me the past few days. ‘Segregation’ is a loaded term and what first springs to mind are US Jim Crow laws or South African Apartheid, not a university setting where Black students can come together to discuss why they feel marginalised in their education. It is slightly uncomfortable for the guy, a white German, to casually throw around the term ‘segregation’ so loosely judging by his country’s history. What he does not realise is that education, and the public sphere in general, is largely a white space but this exclusivity does not bug him because he does not feel excluded or experiences his body as read out of place.

It bothers me that creating spaces for Black people is perceived as something so radical. Organising the event series ‘Ain’t I A Woman? What’s race got to do with it?’ Made me realise that society does not want Black people to take up space, let alone see us carve it out ourselves. The event series was even more radical in a way because it was a space for black women. It seems as if we can only access space allocated to us on society’s terms, never on our own, and if possible as small a space as possible. This is why events such as the recent ‘Black Women’s Conference’ organised by the Black Women’s Forum UK are so revolutionary. It was a conference unapologetically reserved for Women of Colour and it was so refreshing. By taking up space, we become a threat that challenges the carefully crafted status quo so casting us as ‘segregationists’ or accusing us of ‘reverse racism’ (whatever this might be) is a reaction to that process. Black spaces give us a platform to discuss and organise, challenging the white supremacist patriarchy we live in.

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