Her chicken chunks and cheese were on her favorite pink plate, her juice in her sippy cup. She’d set up an alternative dining experience for one, using a bar stool in my kitchen as her table.
My two-year-old granddaughter was happy at her new dining area. It was a perfect fit for her.
Until she noticed me, just a few feet away. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my plate. Alone.
“Are you lonely, Granna? Do you need a friend at your table?“
Even at the age of two, we are capable of noticing when someone is eating alone.
And by adulthood, we should be asking ourselves: Is someone avoiding my table?
Maybe you remember what it was like in the high school cafeteria at lunchtime. If you were like me, you looked for your friends, your crowd, your people. You wanted to relax and enjoy a mental break at your table. Wanting to be with our friends is not a bad thing.
At the same time, there were other tables you wanted to avoid. You didn’t want to put down your tray beside someone who would make you uncomfortable the whole meal.
Have you noticed these tables are often divided by color?
Beverly Daniel Tatum asks this question in her book by the same title: Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?
One answer may be this: They need a break from the white kids. And as Tatum says, “Even mature adults sometimes need to connect with someone who looks like them and who shares the same experiences.”
It’s stressful to try to get along all day with people who don’t understand you.
Or who don’t understand themselves.
Which Table Are We?
We don’t like to think about it, but sometimes we are the table that makes others uncomfortable.
And we make others so uncomfortable that when they see us, they walk the other way, to find their own crowd, their own people who will listen and understand and be a real friend.
As a White person, we may not intend for it to be this way. We think we treat everyone the same.
But like it or not, we swim in a culture that does NOT treat everyone the same. And because of that, we all have blind spots—hurtful beliefs or words or behaviors that we replicate without even realizing it.
When we refuse to believe that possibility—that there are things we do or say that make others uncomfortable—we aren’t listening to what our Black neighbors have been trying to tell us.
If All White, Why?
If you’ve ever been one of the only Whites in a room with mostly Blacks, did you notice? I notice. I become self-conscious.
- I wonder if I don’t belong.
- I wonder if I’ll be excluded.
- I wonder if they wonder what I’m doing here.
The converse is almost something I notice: Am I in a space that is all White? And if so, why is that?
Frankly, it makes me question if something is wrong when there are no people of color…in a church I visit, or an event I attend, or a party I’m invited to. What is it saying?
The solution? I wish I had the answers. I’m grappling with my own blind spots. I’m trying to learn and change. There is much I don’t know.
But I do know this: We can pay attention when others intentionally avoid our table.
And we can ask ourselves why. If we’re doing something that makes us an unsafe place, we need to work on that.
Especially if we’re believers in Christ. His mission, and ours, is to make room at the table for everyone. For everyone to be invited. To feel welcomed. To feel at home.
Sit at Their Table, Too
Sometimes that means making ourselves uncomfortable by also doing this: Sit at someone else’s table.
See what that feels like. Don’t expect everyone to come to you. Go to them, too.
That’s what my granddaughter did.
She wanted me to have a friend at the table. So she picked up her plate, moved her cup and napkin and fork, to my table. To sit by Granna.
“Now you have a friend. Are you happy, Granna?”
I posted a short version of this on Instagram. Anita left an insightful response that it’s intimidating to be different, but “intimidation is not an excuse.” Let’s not be intimidated by the hard things.
Who did you sit with at lunch? Share your thoughts in the comments.
- Recommended Reading on Racial Justice
- How Will Your 2020 Thanksgiving Look?