How often to we apologize? If we’ve yet to reflect on this question, the number of times might be astounding to think about. Perhaps, like me, you have been told that you say “I’m sorry” too much. Plenty of people have threatened the “I’m sorry” jar, or other repercussions for its overuse.
Why do so many of us apologize for taking up space, both in conversation and physically, so often? When we examine this question we may consider a few things. One is a study that was recently conducted which found that cisgender men and women perceive the severity of offenses differently. The study found that women tended to perceive offenses as more severe; while men tended to view similar offenses as less severe.
This leads us to consider that when we apologize for taking up space, we are really pushing the narrative that taking up that space is an offense to someone else.
If we examine why we apologize for taking up space, we can see the connect to white supremacy, especially when we consider Black, Indigenous, Women of Color apologizing for their space and voice.
White supremacy creates our society’s social norms and dictate whose body and voice is worthy and important. Whiteness is dominant, and as the National Museum of African American History and Culture writes, “This white-dominant culture also operates as a social mechanism that grants advantages to white people, since they can navigate society both by feeling normal and being viewed as normal.”
It is a less serious offense to take up space when your body and voice are viewed as normal, acceptable, and worthy of that space.
Systemic racism and systems of oppression are how white supremacy continues. From housing to fashion, racism’s oppressive power is experienced by communities of color and especially the Black community.
Systemic racism is especially felt by Black women at work who report facing more oppression and discrimination in the workplace. In their survey, Lean In reported that in terms of support, “Black women are less likely than white women to say that their managers give them chances to manage people and projects.”
As racism as been entrenched in our system and culture for centuries, it has become an internalized oppression — to the point that our internal narrative becomes the same oppressive force as the system.
What is the narrative when folks apologize for taking up space or using their voice? The narrative is not necessarily ours, but the narrative given to us by white supremacy — the one that says that our bodies and voices are not worthy by default. That we have no right to stand up, speak up, or take this space. The internalization of oppression happens when that narrative becomes our own.
In mindfulness, we seek to recognize our humanity and acknowledge our worth. As a spiritual practice, we may seek a greater and stronger connection to our Higher Self, as we understand it to be. On the mat, we seek truth and connection to our humanness. We no longer fight our human experience, but learn to embrace.
It’s also important to note that our thoughts have the capacity to cause more harmful thoughts and that is up to us to stop the cycle through our breath. Using our breath is the gateway to stopping these thoughts from arising, neutralizing them and eventually over time getting them to a place that empowers and uplifts us.
That’s why practicing mindfulness is so closely connected to dismantling systems of oppression. We are seeking our Higher Selves and connecting back to our True Selves, the self that is human and liberated.
Now that we’ve uncovered that white supremacy is at the core of apologizing for space, and that this has become an internal narrative of oppression, we can take the steps to dismantle it.
First, let’s observe and reflect upon the times we apologize. Where are we? Who are we normally apologizing to? Is there a specific location or role we are in when we apologize?
Second, let’s reflect on some other options. Perhaps we say “Thank you for pointing that out to me” or “Excuse me, I’d like to make a suggestion” rather than apologizing or beginning our request for time or space with “I’m sorry”.
Third, let’s also consider mantras and affirmations to address our self-worth. Ask ourselves, in what areas is our worthiness in question?
If we’re in a position that allows us to be an ally, we can amplify our coworkers or friends voices and give them space.
Let’s say we’re in a meeting and one of our coworkers is trying to make a suggestion, but keeps getting ignored. We can use our body and voice that is viewed as normal or acceptable to give a platform to someone else whose body or voice is not.
We can also advocate for a more equitable environment in our place of work or other spaces in general. Whether we feel strongly about race, body liberation, sexuality, or gender — there’s room to advocate.