Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Safety Seat

A few days ago I went, for the first time, to the new incarnation of The Lyric, a funky, artsy, local movie theatre. The new building features an industrial-looking lobby where you can buy food and drink along with your movie tickets. You can eat at stand-up tables or take your goodies to enjoy in one of three small theatres. Once inside, you can relax on a comfy couch or choose a more traditional seat to watch the movie.

As it happened, the small theatre that was showing The Darkest Hour, was quickly filling up at noon (!) on a day between Christmas and New Years. A theatre employee encouraged people entering the theatre to forget about “the safety seat” and fill in each row.

I’d never heard the seat that so many of us often leave vacant when it is possible to do so when we enter a movie, concert, or church service referred to as a “safety seat.” It’s the one we subconsciously perhaps, protect ourselves by, leaving the seat adjacent to an occupied one vacant. We choose instead to sit down leaving a vacancy next to us.

Safety seat, I thought, interesting term.  I gave it no more thought. But it must have been in the back of my mind when I went to a Martin Luther King-inspired church service this morning.  Ordinarily I  would have chosen to create a “safety seat” next to me, but today I plunked down in the first empty seat I came across.

The service included several powerful readings by people of color, giving the basically all-white congregation an uncomfortable glimpse into the reality of another world. 

Perhaps it wasn’t logical, but it dawned on me that eliminating “safety seats” and sitting down--or standing up--close to people in one way or another different from us, might be a small gesture toward achieving racial justice. 

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