“It’s all about trying to help somebody cross. While everybody else is fighting for a seat at the table, talking about ‘#OscarsSoWhite, #OscarsSoWhite,’ I said, ‘Y’all go ahead and do that. While you’re fighting for a seat at the table, I’ll be down in Atlanta building my own.’ 

Tyler Perry, BET Awards 2019

On Saturday I was listening to a friend describe the difference she’s been trying to make for women (and other marginalised groups), and her desire -against the odds- to do more. She talked about the challenges, the struggle, the context and culture being a barrier, and some recent advice she’d received that ‘it can’t always be about confronting’. The giver of this advice asserted that the change my friend was after needed to be at the policy level, and that she should consider focusing her efforts there.

As she spoke, I remembered a speech I’d watched by Tyler Perry. The opening quote of this post is from that speech. A -if not the- key message being, build your own table. I remember this resonating deeply with me at the time, and it was exactly that sentiment ‘build your own table‘ that entered my mind as I sat listening to my friend. I shared it with her, not as a counter to the advice she had been given, but as an additional option.

There are definitely times when we need to ‘get a seat at the table’, position ourselves in a place where we have some power to impact and make decisions, change, etc. Accepting that in order to do so -particularly if from or representating a minority or marginalised group/issue- you’ll have to delay (possibly even surrender/sacrifice) some of what you want to get that seat. – Fortifying yourself by being big picture or long-game focussed.

There are also most definitely times when we should consider building our own. As in certain spheres of influence, corridors of power etc. the reality is that you may never -whatever your efforts, concessions and so on- get a seat at that table. Access forever denied, or if granted, surface level only.

This table building doesn’t even have to be in conjunction with you being an activist like my friend. It can be about you creating the space in which to explore your creative endeavours, taking whatever finance you have to make a start on your small buisness idea that has been ruminating for years, getting your neighbours inspired about using your own collective resources to beautify and regenerate your patch of the neighbourhood…

As Tyler Perry said later on in the speech, “own your stuff“. If we have a dream or desire to do or achieve something, let’s own it, let’s not just wait for a spot at the table, let’s consider building our own.

*Link to Youtube video