I’ve heard “if you’re not at the table you’re on the table” – well, let’s make a new kind of table. I’ve spent too much time trying to get to someone else’s table. When finally seated, I look around and too often still see I am part of a select demographic Fill-in-the-Blank: person of color, woman, refugee, Asian, etc. I think I am supposed to be honored to have made it to the table, and I do count my blessings for the privileges I have enjoyed. While doing so, I can’t help but wonder if again I am in the minority – a lesser-established category of those who recognize their white or near-white privilege.
What happens at these tables? In my experience, not much. It’s a slow process, this decision-making we call democracy. But like art, sometimes it’s the negative space that we need to pay attention to – the things that are not happening, but need to be. So yes, not much is happening – all the more reason to leap into this with gusto!
The first myth I’d like to bust is: you have to get the right people to be at the table. Ok, the whole assumption that the table is where decisions are made is only one part of the equation. Yes, we
need more representation, equality, and champions at the table, but we also need them in our businesses, on the airwaves, in our classrooms and living rooms.
Equality isn’t about the right mix of people taking turns to sit at the table, but having everyone’s seat respected where ever they sit.
I was at a summit recently where someone said she was tired of being the only Fill-in-the-Blank at the
table. Sounds familiar, I thought. Understandably, she was frustrated at being continually invited to be the almighty Voice of Her People. This is the curse of the over-achieving, underrepresented; the cycle is perpetuated by that myth that “the right people have to be at the table.” Being modest, she probably
understands that she isn’t the only member of this underrepresented demographic qualified to be there. Being egalitarian, she might even believe everyone should be at the table. However, maybe having a flood of invitations herself, she didn’t seem to realize that perhaps not everyone was invited.
Inevitably, the seat at one table opens doors to other tables, which creates and perpetuates a long list of invitations bottlenecking to the same set of attendees. Too often, tables are convened by invitation only; and more often than not, these opportunities are closed to the rest of us. Sister, if you got in, please open the door for the rest of us, because our absence isn’t about us not wanting a seat at the table.
This brings me to the second myth I must take issue with, which is: the demand for more representation, equality, and champions from Fill-in-the-Blank community must give those of us from these communities some advantage, platform, or priority. Ah, this is just teeming with assumptions about a righteous, if not patronizing, sense of equity and justice at the head of the table. Where is this so-called demand for more representation, equality, and champions? In short, just because we know we should be enlightened, doesn’t mean we are. Just what about disparity statistics makes people think that somehow their actions and choices aren’t part of what creates or sustains these numbers? Yes, it’s easier to tackle the problem when you know what the problem is, but that doesn’t mean you are part of the solution, yet. Not enough of us are actually crossing that bridge from knowledge to action.
I want to close this first entry with a couple thoughts: 1) don’t wait for an invitation to the next big thing, be your own Can’t-Miss-Event, and 2) It’s not enough to know better, we must do better.