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Leave Your Problems at the Door

purple's picture

The term slippage can be defined as something we say without thinking, which we should not have said, that is perceived differently than its intention. By saying without thinking I mean something that is said without consideration of the potential for negative interpretation. These things we say are a product of the prejudices, stereotypes and generalities that we have experienced or been presented with in society. While we may not buy into these ideas, or want to agree with them, they are nevertheless present, and in our minds. Slipping is different from controversial. To speak controversially is to know that there is potential for the idea to be taken in a different light. A slippage is to say something and realize its implication to others only after it has been said. The more obvious definition of slipping implies that slipping happens accidentally, an aspect which also holds true in this definition. 

 Based on Mary Louise Pratt’s ideas on the contact zone, she acknowledges the existence of the contact zone. Furthermore, I think she believes slipping is an integral and unavoidable part of the contact zone. In discussing a particular instance of a contact zone, Pratt says: “all the students experienced face-to-face ignorance and incomprehension, and occasionally the hostility, of others. Her words are ones I would use to describe a specific instance of a slippage. Pratt asserts that no one is safe in the contact zone. This implies that slipping will occur, and in a true contact zone, everyone involved will be on both the giving and receiving end. 

In contrast to the lack of safety in contact zones, Pratt makes a comparison to “safe houses.” She defines “safe houses” as “communities with high degrees of trust, shared understandings, temporary protection from the legacies of oppression.” These are places in which slippages do not occur, because of they are homogeneous spaces where people have the same understandings. Pratt believes “safe houses” are where understandings are constructed so that they can be brought into the contact zone. I disagree with Pratt’s assessment of the relationship between homogeneous communities and contact zones. I think these groups are reason slipping carries so much weight and also the reason that contact zones are not entirely feasible.

Pratt defines the contact zone as: “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other.” To me this means the contact zone is a space constructed where people can speak freely and accept the potential for slipping, because the success of the contact zone is worth it because it will lead to more understanding and acceptance. I think it is unrealistic to assume that true contact zones exist. I have participated in seminar classes that have been designed to model contact zones. They are prefaced with disclaimers of a space where people can speak freely and express their thoughts, even at the risk of offending another person. This claim acknowledges slippages and implies that they are allowed. However these intentions are hardly ever successful. I have been in these situations and have refrained from saying something I was thinking because it was a delicate subject to many and I feared that if I slipped, I would look ignorant or offend another person. Maybe part of the issue was that I knew the other participants outside of the classroom. I remember times as a child when two students were arguing before coming into class, and the teacher would tell them to leave their issues at the door and not bring them into the classroom. Here I had the same scenario, but going out of the classroom. I knew that regardless of the intent to not carry the conversation outside the classroom, anything I said would always be associated with me in the mind of others. Instead of an ignorant or offensive statement leading to clarification and new understanding, it would only lead to further conflict outside the contact zone. The “safe houses” we place ourselves into make us comfortable and defensive over the ideals we attach importance to, which they should. However this means that we also carry these defenses inside contact zones, making us afraid of slipping and thus unable to fully experience a contact zone. 

A contact zone cannot exist without slippage, but it also requires that we not be afraid to slip, and accept that other people will slip. The issue is, that none of us want to be caught slipping because of the repercussions it entails. Based on my experiences, I think that true contact zones are not likely to function because we will never be comfortable enough in a contact zone to always say what we are thinking, and as a result will not be able to experience the sort of knowledge that a contact zone can provide.