A seat at the table

Walking into that room is an act of resilience, please remember that. No one looks like you. You can’t see yourself past the acknowledgement of country. You can’t find your experience in the texts, in the countless white men you quote, in your facilitator or your lecturer, you crave the peers that feel familiar but know that this part of you is for after class. That somewhere, right now they’re missing you too.

Leaving home was an act of hope, please remember that. Your nieces are watching, even if no one has the words yet. Even if you come home without a grad job, you will be the Aunty that found the courage and left. Your baby brother is on his way. Perhaps not to this table. There won’t be a seat for him wherever he goes. He doesn’t even know it yet.

A seat at the table is all we’ve ever worked for. The women before you edging closer and closer. Carving space for you. Creating opportunity for you. “Where did you go to high school?” and you mumble. “Oh I’ve never heard of that” as you expected. “I wish uni was free for me too” and your nails are digging into your palms now but why give them the chance to label you as angry?

Imposter Syndrome: Noun

  1. the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.

Definitions from Oxford Languages

It’s months later now and the guy across from you is talking to the class. He sits with his leg extended, in a way that’s forcing him to lean into his seat, stretching it, as if the rigid frame ought to be his couch. As if the classroom ought to be his own lounge room and we are merely guests invited to hear him speak.

You’re not sure if he has read the text. Maybe you’ve read the wrong one again, you do that some times. The weeks get away from you and you tend to do that. The comments he makes are vague, it tells you he’s compensating. The way you do when someone asks you for your opinion when really all they want is an affirming presence. Someone to back them up rather than engage in discourse. He’s “big” that’s the word you use in your mind about these people.

They dress to prove they’re intellectual and able rather than expressing themselves. They will make a joke to prove that they’re funny, talk about the party so we know that they have fun. They will raise their hand to prove that they’re worthy to be here, to assert their presence in case anyone forgot. Not because the text is engaging, or that they found it particularly interesting, they just want to be found interesting. Part of you nods in understanding that it isn’t your approval they seek.

Classism: Noun

  1. The institutional, cultural, and individual set of practices and beliefs that assign differential value to people according to their socio-economic class; and an economic system which creates excessive inequality and causes basic human needs to go unmet.

You find the courage to speak for the first time this term the week after. The text touches on something you’d like to unpack. It’s about the influence of power, how one might change given the intangible presence of power in the room. You talk about the matriarchal culture of your mothers’ people and how that clashes with the patriarchal values your fathers’ culture holds. How you feel different around different people. Depending on whose in the room.

It makes sense to you, that one might hold something outside of themselves in a higher regard then their own sense of self. Respect over say ego or even personality. It comes off archaic in a room full of young academics. You can feel it now. The town you come from, your slow lifestyle, the way you’re taught inadvertently to hold yourself and how that differs from your peers.

Rather than knowing what is familiar to you is for you. Rather than feeling pride or self awareness you feel ashamed. Even when your facilitator agrees and extends on the point you bring up, even when you get your marks back. Rather than pride or affirmation you feel a pang of shame for the girl that sits in the tutorials deciphering what the guy in front of her might mean and wonder why she feels so far away from who you are. Why she feels so small.

You’re flying over your hometown. There’s a patchwork of crops and the veins of the township below. The break in class is welcomed, you miss the red of the dirt and clean air. You will go back. Not for a seat at the table, but rather to figure out how to build your own back home.

Existing in a space built to exclude you is an act of defiance, remember that.

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