How a Seat at the Table Can Lead to You Being on the Menu

While it was exciting that the WVDP finally developed the diversity caucuses, we left the first meeting with the executive committee deflated.

Black Americans have demanded from corporations and our government that we have a seat at decision-making tables. Unfortunately, black people have a long history of being misrepresented, if represented at all. This misrepresentation has tarnished our collective image and created narratives filled with propaganda and lies. In recognizing this, black people have used the internet, social media, and streaming platforms to develop a new narrative. However, even with these alternative channels to control our stories, there is still a need for representation within large corporations and government entities that, exercise control over much of our daily lives. In acquiescing to these demands for seats at the table, many organizations have placed an emphasis on inclusion, even creating positions or departments where the primary focus is on diversity. However, even with these efforts, we find ourselves in a situation where we are at tables with no one listening.

Cody Thompson, a fellow member of the recently formed West Virginia Democratic Party Affirmative Action Committee, stated during a meeting, “…either you are at the table or on the menu”. While I believe this statement to be accurate, I question if it is possible to be both at the table and on the menu? My question may have been answered at a recent West Virginia Democratic Party (WVDP) Executive committee meeting. After 46 long years, the WVDP has finally formed a diversity caucus, and those caucuses make up the Affirmative Action Committee (AAC). The AAC brings forth issues of those traditionally underrepresented, implements plans for inclusion, and is a voting member of the executive committee. Under the WVDP Bylaws Art. 8, Sec. B. states, “The Affirmative Action [Committee] shall draft, and the Executive Committee shall promptly adopt an Affirmative Action Outreach Plan.” However, during the AAC first meeting with the WVDP Executive Committee, AAC was not allowed to draft its plan as stated in the bylaws. Instead, the WDVP Executive Committee took it upon itself to prepare a plan on behalf of the AAC without any input from AAC members. The plan passed despite adamant protests from members of the AAC.

While it was exciting that the WVDP finally developed the diversity caucuses, we left the first meeting with the executive committee deflated. Instead of being heard, we were a box to be checked off the WVDP obligations list. We were not invited to the table as colleagues, but menu items, discarded once we no longer served a purpose. These sorts of neglectful and dismissive actions are not unique AAC. Many black and underrepresented people realize that sometimes seats at a table are inadequate and may do more damage to our community being uplifted and powerless.

Therefore, we cannot be afraid to call out entities that wish to silence our collective voice in exchange for a seat at the table. If we submit to this fabricated elevation, we lose everything that we want to obtain. Also, we must shape the change we hope to see. We cannot afford to have those who do not understand our issue spearhead our change. While it is necessary to cooperate with others, we must never lose our purpose and be satisfied with simply being at the table.

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