You know the scenario, the new kid walks into the lunch room looking for a familiar face or a place to sit only to choose a table and hear the words, “You can’t sit with us.” It’s the mean girls slogan for newcomers and it’s transferred over in so many cultures and into the work place. Why? Because mean people and childish adults exist in every culture, race, and they exist in institutions and corporations. EVEN CHURCHES!
In my race and culture I have found the same exclusivity in almost every situation imagined. I’ve been in churches where it wasn’t said but dutifully noted, “You can’t sit with us.” I have been on a job, walked into the breakroom, looking for my people and got the eyes of, “Un uh. Who are you? You can’t sit with us.” I was in my 20’s working at a well known corporate office and into the cafeteria walks the new black girl with her tray. She looks around nervously for a place to sit and I wave my hand like , “Here, over here!” She didn’t work in my department but, I saw her as she was given the tour. She came to the table and said, “Oh, thank you so much!” Eventually, she found her people in her department but, we kept friendly the entire time I was there. I’ve done this, make room and space, numerous times in settings where black men or women find themselves in a room full of us or not, with no idea how to navigate that socially awkward moment. I’ve done it for ANYONE.
I’ve been asked, “Why did you invite “HER” to our table?” or “Do you know them?” I invited her because she was black, a woman, a minority. I invited them because I have been them not because I know them and it wouldn’t hurt to get to know them. It’s okay to hold space until people find their place. It’s the nice, polite, kind thing to do.
Sunday, I attended the wedding of a friend. He was the groom. When I walked into the backyard of his cousin’s home, decorated beautifully, I didn’t know anyone that was there. I navigated towards a table that had a couple sitting at it. I spoke and sat down. I did the unthinkable and started with “small talk”. Before you knew it, we were talking and laughing. We were joined by two more of their family members and just as easily as the conversation started with the couple, so it was with the two additional family members. The people I was sitting with actually ended up being family of the bride. The conversation and laughs blossomed into the things we had in common, life, food, travel, an on the spot order of my chocolate covered strawberries, a remedy for bad knees (lol) and I now have “new” cousins and an additional auntie.
It doesn’t hurt us to be friendly, warm, and inviting to that unfamiliar yet familiar face. In society, we are often considered the outsider. The unequal. The not good enough. We should always, always welcome our own when given the opportunity. Especially, in our own social circles and environments.