‘Claiming Space’

The ‘Claiming Space’ Unit

Green Chinese takeaway boxTakeaways

  • Analyse the diverse experiences of oppression and exclusion that exist for mad people across race, gender, class, culture and sexuality.
  • Understand the importance of equitable political and community engagement and representation. 
  • Explore how power affects racialized youth’s experiences of mental distress in a range of contexts and the importance of young people claiming space across these contexts.
  • Understand the significance of equitable representation of diverse voices to making substantive and sustained social change.

Three green gears working togetherComponent

The components for this unit are a text and audio version of a poem composed by Namitha, a racialized queer woman. These are accompanied by the artist’s reflections drawn from excerpts from interviews, focus group discussions and additional text written by the author.

In the poem, O.C.D., Namitha explores the interconnection of madness, race, queerness, relationships, and community. In the following excerpt, the author weaves together movement, tradition, triviality, and ritual:

My pocket sized saviour, born from my very movement,
I have been chastised for my childness.

Been told this movement can never actually save me,
“Don’t you know it is nothing but your own warped reality?”
But what is triviality but tradition to another?
How can something that brings me so much peace be considered a distress signal?
How can I be saved from my own hands when they are just hands?
Ritual is nothing but a promise I make to myself everyday,
and still, you believe it unholy.

Green kitchen weigh scaleEvaluating the Components

Green hand-held magnifying glassLearning Lens

Mental health and mad activism and advocacy in Canada, has been critiqued for traditionally centring voices and concerns of white, cisgendered, heteronormative perspectives. Many from racialized communities whose experiences do not reflect these perspectives have found themselves on the margins of these critically important political conversations and interventions. As such, the stories and voices of those who are otherwise marginalised at intersections of race, gender, sexuality, culture and class; the articulations of madness at these intersections; and the conditions under which they are experienced have not been foregrounded in mobilizing for change. Understanding, for instance, how racism and madness manifest for individuals who are navigating the criminal justice system, the immigration system and even the architecture of the mental health system raises specific concerns and points of action in activist and advocacy spaces.

At the same time, the stigma and oppression that can accompany madness across communities can place racialized people in precarious positions.  Facing exclusions in the context of mad communities, racialized people living with mental distress can also be situated at the margins of their racialized and cultural communities as they contend with madness and the stigma and oppression that accompany it. 

These exclusions inflect how madness is experienced and are also indicative of how important claiming space is for those who have been consistently relegated to the margins of the various communities to which they belong. ‘Claiming space’ speaks to taking back space across these communities in ways that attend to individuals’ intersectional experiences and to forging political engagement that equitably represents narratives from divergent communities.

To support safe and effective learning, educators new to this material need to study and implement Mad School’s Anti-Oppression Statement.