Written by Suzan Ahmed
A question has been simmering in my mind for a bit:
What does it mean to create sovereign spaces?
Moreover, what does that even look like for Black folx, who have historically been unsupported in taking up space?
With the recent release of Beyoncé's Black Is King film, the idea of sovereignty + power in Blackness feels especially relevant for us to reflect upon as we envision a new world.
We often think of "sovereignty" as a type of authority or power that a select few leaders, or a god, carries—something outside of ourselves.
We may associate "sovereign" spaces with the spaces in which kings and queens reside, or the temples, churches, and mosques where religious texts and practices exist.
From that perspective, we easily give up our power to a force we believe to be higher or even more worthy than ourselves.
I want to be clear: spaces, where we hold reverence for respectful leaders, our ancestors, and our communities, are essential to our wellbeing.
"Sovereignty," however, is also defined as a "self-governing state."
This is the definition I want to amplify here.
Many of us have had to honestly look at what it means to take care of and govern ourselves and our loved ones, particularly amidst current crises.
The ongoing process of dismantling of systems within ourselves and out in the world inevitably creates space for us to envision and birth new, sustainable, cooperative ways of being and leading.
While most of my formal education and training has been in psychology, the design training I've obtained—and arguably pretty much all professional and academic training—has come from a Eurocentric, White lens.
As a design psychologist and mixed Black woman adapting to our evolving world, my passion is to teach and guide other womxn of color to take up more space in the world, in their bodies, hearts, spirits, and in their built environment.
But in a world where systems were put in place to counteract people of color taking up rightful space, what must we unlearn to create spaces that genuinely support us?
My own process of becoming a first-time homeowner has forced me to reflect on the act of taking up space, figuratively, and literally, especially in a predominantly white neighborhood.
Moving between feelings of liberation, gratitude around the privilege of having a space where I can be me, and anxiety around whether I am genuinely safe or seen with respect in my neighborhood is a frequent experience.
Thus, I have become pretty attuned to what about my environment supports a sense of security in me; what about my spaces can create a feeling of empowerment and sovereignty.
Embodying these experiences allows me to understand and support others on their path to feeling whole and able to be authentically themselves, despite their ancestry and sociocultural conditioning that might suggest this is impossible.
Tending to the land that I occupy and seeing it as a dynamic relationship is one way to move away from my conditioning and towards grounded, trusting feeling states.
In my process of unlearning and learning what authentically supports and reflects me, I have also found that garnering strength from my own ancestry has helped establish a sense of deep, sovereign power.
While we each have our own unique, complex relationship to our ancestors, drawing upon the African diaspora's rich ancestry may be another place to redefine Black people's sovereign spaces.
Connecting to, learning about, reigniting our history. Integrating rituals, traditions, and ways of life into how we relate to each other. Redefining how we see abundance, co-creating sacred spaces, and understanding what it means to deeply trust in ourselves and our communities.
These are only some of the steps I envision needing to happen at individual and collective levels.
The "rub," so to speak, is that this process of creating sovereign spaces for Black people to truly feel safe, empowered, seen, and heard, requires ongoing destruction of old definitions of power.
Meaning the destruction of systems that have historically given White people the upper hand and benefits they've enjoyed at the expense of Black lives.
Meaning this process will create discomfort for people.
Not just White people, but probably White people. People like me probably also have learned to operate within and internalize the systems that did not truly support us, to begin with.
For all of us, this entails a process of unlearning.
It entails acknowledging and releasing shame, disappointment, and betrayal.
If you're reading this, you probably agree with the concepts that "the only way out is through," and "discomfort is a necessary part of growth."
As someone who considers themselves a spiritual person striving for higher consciousness for myself and the collective, I continuously challenge the ways I resist discomfort and try to "spiritually bypass" (a term worth Googling if you are unclear on what that is) an uncomfortable moment.
You probably know people who do this, and you've probably done this yourself.
True sovereignty on a spiritual path means governing yourself, which also means holding yourself accountable so that you can show up for the people and movements that matter most to you.
Part of the discomfort that will inevitably arise in the collective as Black, brown, indigenous people and other marginalized folx take up more space because we don't yet know what our new world will look like and what it will feel like.
We do know that it needs to be significantly different from what it looks like now.
Many Black people have never had the privilege of feeling safe in their environments, let alone feeling valued as a source of power and leadership.
Many Black people do not have the security of a home or a space that nourishes them, let alone a space that honors and respects them as sovereign beings.
So, how do we create spaces in which Black people can feel safe, powerful, respected, seen, heard, and valued?
How do we design spaces that uphold the belief that sovereignty is a birthright, rather than a privilege, for Black people?
When the "American Dream" we have been taught to value is rooted in an oppressive system and ultimately disintegrates, what becomes the new dream?
What vision of Black authentic power + sacredness do you hold for the future?
What belief or comfort or conditioning would you have to give up for that future to happen?
Are you willing to feel uncomfortable temporarily so that Black people can truly feel empowered and take up more space? So that balance and harmony can actually be achieved in our collective consciousness?
Are you ready to make space for Black sovereignty?
About the author: Suzan (sounds like Suzanne) Ahmed (she/her), Ph.D., CIHC, is a clinical + design psychologist, intuitive healer, and integrative wellness coach. Suzan identifies as a cis-het woman with Sudanese, Egyptian, Ethiopian, and Filipino heritage. She specializes in conscious wellbeing and design, supporting others, especially WOC, to make space inside + out, so they can be their authentic, highest selves. To learn more about her coaching + design consulting work, visit www.makingspacetobe.com or @makingspacetobe
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