It’s the first quarter of New Year, and you’ve decided with the ongoing division between groups, you will extend an invitation to invite me—a woman of color—to your table. The invitation reads, “You have been cordially invited to join us at the table.” This warm, gracious, and heartfelt invitation appears to be sincere until the brown face enters the room, eager to join in collective participation. Excited about the mission and vision, I pull my chair up to the table and raise my voice to speak. Immediately all heads turn toward me. The atmosphere shifts. The room chills. Without words, it is evident I am to be seen, not heard. Once again I realize that I am there for appearance purposes only.
I raise my voice to speak. Immediately all heads turn toward me. The atmosphere shifts. The room chills.
Other invitations are extended inviting me to join certain social media groups. As I begin to participate, I witness a pattern of my posts being ignored or gaining very few likes and comments. When I go to insert myself into a thread, I am soon shut down or shut out. I cannot help but think I was only invited to create the illusion that there’s diversity taking place.
My social media newsfeed fills up after certain situations have hit the fan, such as calling the #MeToo Movement the brainchild of someone other than Tarana Burke, an African-American woman. I see my name, @GailDudley, appear with individuals showing their support, but as soon as I make a suggestion or offer my services to my Caucasian friends, everyone becomes silent. Did I miss something? You were just calling me out as a woman of color for everyone to contact. Oh that’s it. “For everyone else to contact,” and not you. Now that I assert myself, my invitation has been revoked.
Seat At The Table—Or Shown The Door?
All of these experiences have taught me that although I have been invited to the table, what is really being asked of me is to leave “me” outside. As I often share while facilitating diversity workshops or give a keynote talk on diversity, we claim to want to learn from one another, but when we actually gather and embrace our differences, the body language and sometimes the words of others state, “Come…but come and be like me.” The moment this thought is communicated, individuals shut down, stop talking, and become defensive, and privilege mentality takes over.
Sometimes, we are told we are being overly sensitive when our point of view highlights a discrepancy between cultures.
Is this a “feel good” sentiment for you to extend me the invitation? Allow that to sit for a moment as you reflect your true motives.
It is impossible for a person to remove their background, experiences, demographics, heritage, race, ethnicity, age, etc. and adopt the characteristics of the dominant cultural group at the table. One can only pretend to walk in the shoes of another before becoming frustrated with themselves. People say openly how they want to be inclusive and develop multicultural relationships, groups, platforms, programs, and businesses. However, very often as a minority sits at the table to share thoughts from their background, heritage, demographics, race, and ethnicity they are usually ignored, dismissed, and/or discounted. Sometimes, they are even told they are being overly sensitive when their point of view highlights a discrepancy between cultures. Perhaps the invitation wasn’t what it seemed to be.
Looking Through Another Lens
We are the same. To some degree this is true. Yet there is another thought that rings even louder: We are different. Maybe this is the struggle
Many of us live for the day when we can come to the table as unique and different individuals without judgment. Instead of creating a new narrative, many repeat the one that has been repeated time and time again: we are the same. To some degree this is true. Yet there is another thought that rings even louder: We are different. Maybe this is the struggle—individuals extending the invitation may not fully grasp the uniqueness of differences. At times the entire experience feels like a riddle that reads something like this
Same, but different.
Brown eyes, grey eyes, green eyes, blue eyes: different colors but all eyes.
English language, Spanish language: different languages, all spoken words.
Inner city, rural community: a region of people, places, and things.
You are you I am me, which makes us we. Same, but different. First name, last name, age, race, nationality, or status—skin red, yellow, pink, brown, or cream—still equals a person uniquely and wonderfully made. Rich, poor, illiterate, educated—same but different.
Label or fact: Black woman, strong and angry. White woman, passionate and committed. Same, but different.
One Woman’s Wish List
If I may become vulnerable for a moment, I would like to share my personal wish list with you. Allow me to begin my list by asking you
- to invite me to the table only if you expect the real me to show up.
- to understand my lens come from the seat of an African-American woman, wife, and mother.
- to know I do not shy away from difficult subjects.
- to acknowledge that if I hear something or see something, I will say something.
If you are going to invite me or people who look like me to the table, here’s what we expect:
- for you to set your privilege aside.
- for you to lay down your false narrative.
- for you to listen to what we are saying.
- for you to respect our position.
- For you to treat us as your equal and not as your project.
Bring yourself to the table ready to engage in what may be messy in the beginning. Plan to be challenged.
Bring yourself to the table ready to engage in what may be messy in the beginning. Plan to be challenged. Plan to check your motives. Plan to experience true transformation as you build an authentic relationship with someone who is completely different than you and to embrace your differences along with your similarities. Then take the next step by introducing your new friend to people in your circle of influence. This is critical.
When you listen to someone from another cultural group, affirm their voice, and implement some of their suggestions, change happens.
When you develop a business-to-business relationship and share their business with your base, change happens.
We have work to do. And before you say that I, too, must change, make sure you are not thinking that I too must conform. There’s a difference. Let’s talk.