On “Table Manners”

Since I was in high school, conversations alluding to who gets to sit at ‘the’ table, in social political vernacular meant who got to be included. High school being Deerfield, being there because of a merit based financial need based scholarship meant ‘the’ table carried loaded weight. Over time, the meaning has not changed much. Those of us who wanted a ‘seat’ at ‘the’ table, are of various political affiliations, professions. Not all of us want it or pursue.

There were norms we had to follow once we (believed/assumed we) were ‘seated.’ Some of those norms were direct, most of them were implied. The goal for the series I am writing on the table is to explain the moments where both the indirect and direct norms appear and what it feels like in those moments. Those moments spark reflection on of the (lack of) opportunity in integration as much as it is a question of anti-accommodationist compassion.In each of them, I ask ‘do I really want to sit here?’ 

In ‘Table Manners’ posts, I meditate on both past and present experiences. The posts that reference my past reread its influence on whether or not I want to sit at ‘the’ table of the moment, make my own or join a more inclusive, intersectional one. Jury resists a binary ethical approach to an answer. Yes or no is not going to cut it because a youth spent following, reading and attempting to participate in long-term movements and struggles shape that separatism, integration, trickle down are not flat, static. Separatism, integration and trickle down, for better or worse, are in constant conversation with each other.

Pulling from Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s ‘racial etiquette‘ definition in Racial Formations, I reflect on different moments during the metaphorical political-professional meal to consider as to whether or not I want to or need to sit ‘there.’

racial etiquette is… a set of interpretative codes and racial meanings which operate in the interactions of daily life. (Omi & Winant 1994)

As a self-identified Queer Afro-Latina femme, I will pull on how gender and sexuality factor into the weight and the time in a seat at ‘the’ table. The table, in this case, is the cultural and political privileged space of higher education. I will reference other side tables like performance and community based advocacy, where I liked the put the admin in organizing, because it speaks to my experiences as an educator and a scholar.

The racial etiquette in academia has coded norms in diverse spaces- in the classroom, at professional meetings, in the office, among other arenas, even in how we market ourselves. The perspectives here are initial observations informed by social awareness stemming from working within political, cultural social Latinx, and white queer communities. In addition to what my brief yet diverse history in advocacy and direct service, what I continue to learn from those rare moments where I am interacting with queer black and/or brown folks all by ourselves. The spaces online and in person I do not have to challenge conceptions as I continue to undo the self-harm of internalizing ‘acting white’ performativity in an effort to build allyship instead of prioritize solidarity.

Resisting to conform to rules that never wanted me or people like me at ‘the table,’ is a day to day process as much about meditating on efforts of self-respect in the intentional discomfort of growing more into my dark queer skin.

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