(CNN) — Wait. What? No way.
A black woman attending a Kraftwerk concert with her husband and 11-year-old son was dancing — as most do at music shows — and four white women behind her thought it was OK to pelt her with trash.
Screaming at her was not enough. Simply asking “will you please sit down” would have been too decent, said Solange Knowles, singer and younger sister of Beyonce, who instead of calling security or engaging the offensive women, took to Twitter to call out the foul acts she experienced last week. Smart move, Solange. Keep right on dancing. Some people just aren’t worth our time.
“…you understand that many of your followers will understand and have been through this same type of thing many a times, and if it means them hearing you say it’s ok, you will rise again throughout these moments, then it means something bigger to you,” she wrote this week in a compelling essay questioning whether black people should feel safe in “white spaces.”
“This is why many black people are uncomfortable being in predominantly white spaces,” she wrote of the incident.
She detailed a list of slights, every one of which I, and most other black women, have experienced many times: from having your hair touched by total strangers and being approached as a servant or even a prostitute, to being called the N-word.
But trash thrown? No, can’t claim that one. Although, there was the time I was working a summer job as a cashier while in college and an angry white man spat on me. I stared at him, shook my head, sprayed my arm with Clorox, and kept right on working my way through college. Ignorant trash, I thought then. Let me just get through school, make my money and get as far away from these low-class fools as possible. (I learned later that those fools are not so easily avoided).
For me, the question is not whether I feel safe or comfortable in predominantly white spaces. I do — whether you want me there or not. You see, permission is not required for me to feel justified. History is on my side.
According to the US Census Bureau, by 1860, there were at least close to 4 million slaves in the country. Across the entire New World, there were about 10.5 million. Historians estimate an additional 2 million slaves died on the voyage. For more than 300 years, free African labor and ingenuity built nations across the globe, pulled failed dynasties out of ruin, lifted up countries into becoming superpowers and made cultural contributions that define America.
After slavery, black and brown people continued to be America’s backbone and protect her with their lives as we do to this very day, while simultaneously demanding the full benefits of the democracy we’ve built with our blood.
Standing on this knowledge always makes me hold my head high and step proudly — forever in defiance of any notion that I don’t belong wherever I may choose to be. That is the debt I owe to my ancestors.
It is impossible for me not to smile and be inspired when I see the glorious footprints my people have made across America and around the world: the Moorish kings and conquerors who left their cultural, religious, architectural and academic gifts throughout Europe; the Egyptians who gave the world pyramids, mathematics, medicine; or the early Mayan and native civilizations who grasped the complexities of astronomy, agriculture and the first languages. Certainly, we have earned the right to be in whatever spaces we choose.
The bigger question is, do we want to spend our time in these majority white spaces? I certainly do not. Not because I hate white people. I do not, cannot. My life has been enriched and blessed by too many white people along the way to ever feel that way. Despite that, I do consciously choose not to spend the majority of my life in predominantly white spaces. I choose to live, work, play and worship in environments that are not majority white.
After being the only black person in newsrooms, lecture classes at Penn State, way too many corporate and social settings, I learned that these white spaces, while often filled with interesting, mostly kind people, would nevertheless not challenge my intellect fully or help me grow and understand the world around me. Looking at the world through the narrow lens of white privilege is suffocating and spiritually and intellectually inferior. It’s exhausting trying to pretend otherwise.
The goal is not to live a staid life surrounded only by the familiar. No matter who you are, there is no growth in that, no fun, no true happiness. Sharing our ideas and cultures, respecting one another even in dissent, and learning from one another are the only ways our nation moves forward.
Solange was by all accounts feeling good, joyful in her space — a beautiful black woman, comfortable in her skin, dancing with her family. Life’s complicated. Dancing is easy. Rather than trashing her and making ugly noises, can’t we just stand up and enjoy special moments together?
Dance on sisters, dance on.
Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer and as a reporter at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events, is a co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete,” and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.