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In 2016 when Solange Knowles gifted the world with A Seat At the Table, people of color around the globe triumphed. Her album articulately embodied the frustration, resentment, and rage that many minorities are experiencing today. So many feel silenced by white supremacy, privilege, patriarchy, racism, and sexism. As a result, Solange’s socially conscious music was a breath of fresh air and collective response to the inequity of society.
‘A seat at the table’ implies an opportunity to engage, participate in the political, social, and economic processes that construct the reality in which we live. It does not imply a separate table, a chair in the corner, or any other frivolous euphemism. It states exactly what is being demanded: a position at the table. To sit with everyone else is to level the playing ground, offer an equal amount of opportunity to voice dilemmas, concerns, and resolutions. It is asking of collaboration, a technique well-known to dissolve conflict more easily. While others at the table dispute amongst themselves whether there is conflict at all, the minorities that Solange’s album represents stand in the corner screeching out that there are.
To be a person of privilege is to live in the absence of direct discrimination based on your race, socioeconomic background, religion, or sexuality (Yes, privilege has many facets). A privileged person does not live in a reality that forces them to daily acknowledge their ethnicity, low-income background, homosexuality, or feared religious faith. Oftentimes, those who are most privileged are the primary attesters that privilege is ‘fake’ because it is not a reality they have had to experience. They have been provided the opportunity to live in a social/ethnic/religious/sexual ‘bubble’, if you will. This bubble, or sheltered upbringing has shielded them from the harsh consequences others have faced at the hands of discrimination. They cannot conceive the idea that a young, black man behind the wheel may be targeted because of the car he drives. Or that an openly homosexual or transgender person may be denied employment because of their “lifestyles.” Or that the complaints of hate crimes by Muslim victims go ignored because of their religion. These are all real-life scenarios that occur daily in our world and it is preposterous that any person would argue privilege and discrimination are not real.
For those who find themselves marginalized, disenfranchised, and discriminated against, it is not the aggressive protesters at the front of the line that frighten and frustrate them most. Instead, it’s those at home choosing not to publicly protest against privilege. Those who nestle comfortably in their own bubbles and pretend to ignore the raging social pandemonium of the world. They scoot past their minority counterparts bathed in neutrality and subconsciously pass on their racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/xenophobic beliefs to their children and grandchildren. They have mastered the art of living undetected, promoting themselves as unbiased. These individuals pose the most threat because they can be misconstrued as allies of the oppressed. There are no salient signals to align them with the opposition and those who are marginalized make the mistake of believing these individuals are on their side. To already be denied an opportunity at the table is a detriment in itself. But to then unknowingly invite the oppressor into the small corner we occupy is traumatic. It provides those who avoid discussions of race, sexuality, religion, and economic inequality with additional incentive not to do so. These individuals populate the corner of the oppressed and take a ‘privileged gaze’; they mock the dilemmas of the disenfranchised instead of offering resolution. THIS is the fear and frustration of those who simply want a seat at the table.