By Toi Scott
We’ve all heard of the table that’s sitting and waiting for us people of color to join. It’s had place mats and a glass of water, and maybe even a (culturally irrelevant) salad and appetizer waiting for us for some time some say. Those in lucrative positions and positions of power and privilege keep telling us that they want us to take a load off, break bread with them and let them know what’s on our community’s mind. They are all ears. We NEED to be at this table that they’ve created. This table with the nice linens of conveniently, already-made ideology, the polished silverware of entrenched models and old paradigms, the rolled napkins of (pseudo-) peace talks and (our) compromise.
You see, a lot of the folks I know don’t want a seat at someone else’s table. The very table that is built on assumptions that the marginalized must be taught, can’t organize themselves, and need only buy into pre-made models. Na, no thanks.
We want our own table *and not the kiddie table, thanks.
Maybe some liberals and progressives have missed this in fighting for their own autonomy but yes…we’d like our own autonomy. Our own sovereignty (which Merriam-Webster defines as freedom of external control). We don’t just want to be heard on the fringes of your agendas. We don’t just want to be heard when something we say complements your agenda. We have had our own ideas on how things should be in our communities since the beginning of time…and it wasn’t until our communities were disrupted that we started to have these huge disparities. Being pushed into survival mode, priorities were shifted…but not to the point that we’d like to give up control of what happens to us, our families and communities to outliers who don’t know much about our values or needs.
Envisioning and creating a shift in paradigm
We need a completely new paradigm, not the old, musty models and mentality rooted in wayward assumptions and savior mentality. For those who aren’t sure what savior mentality looks like..it goes a little something like this…
- “Why won’t they just come to the table. They never show up. We’re trying to help them but they don’t want to be helped!”
- “We just want to help you/your people/those people/the at-risk/minorities…”
- “They just don’t want/won’t to do the work…”
- “They just don’t understand. We have to teach them all about how to…x,y,z”
Assumptions make an…
Here’s a big issue: subconsciously some white activists and radicals operate under the same erroneous assumptions that our country was built on: that we’re not quite people. We’re not whole and therefore to be infantalized. We’re folks to be taught the proper way to go about things: health, education, religion,etc. We need their help…but in the ways they want to give it.
If you want to help…help us to make these important decisions that have major impact on our community within our community. Don’t just expect us to come and get cozy in the seat at your table. Odds are we have a different perspective on how we want to go about food and economic justice. And no matter what anyone thinks, it’s not our job to fill that seat at your table. You should come sit at ours. And don’t say there isn’t one; you probably haven’t looked hard enough what with all the projects that are being started assuming that there aren’t others out there like yours. And yes, we know, it makes you feel all kinds of uncomfortable to sit at our table. But we’ve been feeling that way for decades at that rickety, folding chair at your table. That’s why a lot of us refuse to join your dinner party anymore. Trust us, it’s for the best. It’s hard to sit at a table where racist, xenophobic, and patriarchal assumptions aren’t checked. Microaggressions; you really feel those in the morning (and weeks and weeks) after those meetings.
Privilege, Privilege, Privilege
It’s probably no news to many that organizing tactics are affected by class and race privilege. Radicals frequently talk about these but, in my experience, I’ve seen few really, truly addressing them. It’s always easier to talk about things, right? Or maybe to turn the issue around and say that POC should give the solution to solving this problem (which unfortunately is tied to racist assumptions of what POC should be responsible for).
Tables are tokenizing
And few appreciate being tokenized. This looks like:
- Deciding you need a black or brown person on your panel or board or in your collective to represent/speak for the black/brown community.
- Making the black/brown person the go to person for questions about the black/brown community.
- Thinking that having the black/brown person say a few things in a few meetings throughout the year is enough to understand the black/brown community.
- Thinking that sending the black/brown person to meetings with other black/brown folks and having them report back is enough or is “keeping your ear to the ground.”
Meet us at our table
Where we rarely have a token white person but usually respect our allies if they’re willing to put in the work, check their assumptions, and acknowledge that “cultural competence” and “anti-racism” are not skills that can be mastered.
Meet us at our table where we make our own decisions and come up with our own solutions within our communities- because nobody knows what is best for our community but us.
And nobody knows our community needs like we do. Period. I don’t care what school you went to, what kind of degree you’ve received, what kind of organizing you’ve done in the states abroad, or what kind of theory you’ve read…the Community. Knows. Best. So come join us at our table where I can almost for certain say that we’ve been discussing issues of social justice since they were issues- even if we didn’t have fancy labels for these issues. (This is a hint for you “food movement”).
Join us…we’ll share a pot of greens or some arroz con pollo or somethin’ with you…
Yea, we’ll make you a plate…
[to definitely be continued]
This post originally appeared at Genderqueer Street Philosophactivist. Reposted with permission.
Toi is a gender non-conforming playwright, author, journalist, and spoken word artist. They are also a herbalist/ medicine-maker, health and food justice activist, anti-oppression organizer, and a Q/POC community builder.
Toi blogs about the intersections of race and gender and QPOC/POC organizing and movement building at philosophactivist.blogspot.com and can be emailed at: email@example.com.