Room for Spatial Injustice | Teen Ink

Room for Spatial Injustice

August 22, 2019
By Elise_Siregar_Chen BRONZE, Pasadena, California
Elise_Siregar_Chen BRONZE, Pasadena, California
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

A black car speeds through the winding roads of Jinan, China until it reaches its destination, an orphanage in the suburbs of the city, and screeches to a halt. A woman carrying a small bundle hops out of the car, runs inside, and returns empty-handed. This is just one of the “child hatches” in China that is meant to be a safe haven, a way of reducing harm to unwanted children. Why have these babies been given up? Unfortunately, babies with disabilities or abnormalities, from cleft palates to weak hearts, can easily and legitimately be abandoned in China. People give babies up for adoption all over the world, but in China this practice seems to have run rampant, challenging fundamental ethical considerations. For instance, in China it is socially acceptable to choose one baby over another based on a poor Apgar score or even, to a lesser degree nowadays, its gender. To Americans, this probably feels like a personal assault. As a girl myself, I wonder what would have happened had my parents not wanted me. Would I have ended up in a child hatch?

I have long been interested in global injustices that plague societies and how different cultures contribute to those injustices by excusing them, or, in some cases, flat out exalting them. Recently, I attended a social justice summer program and started to think about a common thread that stitches together many of these unjust practices. Whether it’s a seat on the back of a bus in 1950s America or a “cage” at US border control for migrant children in 2019, small spaces seem to be a breeding ground for dehumanization.  

With this in mind, I have been studying instances of spatial injustice. Rosa Parks refused to give up her small space on a segregated bus when the “white only” section filled up. This one act of defiance spearheaded an entire human rights movement. When I think about a seat on a bus, a space of approximately 1.8 ft length x 1.2 ft width, it amazes me that such a small area could have such a big impact. It’s often the smallest of spaces that highlight the worst humanitarian crises. Look no further than the horrifying phrase “concentration camp.” From slave ships to Nazi Germany, spatial injustice has long been a blight on vulnerable populations.  

As I write this, there are children being jammed into cramped cells at the United States border with nothing more than an aluminum blanket and a bag of chips. Without toothbrushes or sanitary resources, these children are treated worse than animals. As a teenage girl, I am particularly worried about the girls and young women being held in detention centers. Abby Vesoulis, a reporter for Time, details how these conditions put women at risk for sexual assault and psychological trauma. It also puts undue stress on pregnant women, who might suffer a miscarriage or premature birth as a result. Clearly, I am not the only person who recognizes the damage these insidious policies inflict on people. Congressional representatives and civic organizations have rallied for more humane approaches to dealing with the influx of refugees. 

But these are only cosmetic fixes. To make a true difference, I believe that we must address the social inequities that lead to these atrocities in the first place. Take Japan, for example. There, small spaces in the subway car have created the conditions for sexual harassment. I recall a recent trip on one of these trains. A pink sign that matches the blooming sakura blossoms stated that this train is reserved for women on the weekdays. Other “improvements” involve installing a physical barrier between men and women to prevent inappropriate behavior. But this fails to address the root of the problem. Though I recognize that barriers and women-only cars attempt to create a safe environment for women, it’s only a temporary solution. Men feel entitled to touch women as though they are merely impersonal objects. This objectification is rooted in centuries old misogyny based on a male dominated paradigm. 

In the end, I’m all for efforts that try to make women and children safer, but I do think there is so much more to be unpacked and remade. Quick fixes are rarely long-lasting. While small spaces might reflect the current social problems, it’s in the bigger spaces where change really happens. 

The author's comments:

This essay stems from a realization I had this summer during a social justice program. I sadly noticed that there are innumerable dehumanizing practices all over the world and they all seem to have a common denominator: small spaces. Spatial injustice was tangible in the 1950s when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus when the "white only" section filled up; a simple and yet revolutionary act. To a greater extent, Nazi Germany perpetrated spatial injustice with its atrocious concentration camps. Another common practice comes to my mind; one that is particularly frequent in the country of my ancestors, China. Children are abandoned for disparate reasons, as if they were defective objects, and placed in baby hatches. Lastly, how can we not think of the "cages" at the US border control for migrant children in 2019? The smallest of spaces symbolize the worst humanitarian crises, but, it's in the bigger spaces where change really happens.

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