This comic has appeared in my newsfeed several times in the last week. It captures what many of us feel when we are the minority in any given situation. It captures the overwhelming feeling of loneliness when faced with the contrast of your difference. It captures why I don’t want a seat at the table.
So how does this relate to democracy? And why should my vote count for more? As an underrepresented person in society, my perspective and experiences are usually overlooked and completely ignored as not representative, just like the woman in the comic. With my measly one vote, I am unable to even really successfully start a conversation about an issue specific to my group identity without willingness and support from the larger group. Does the woman in the comic really have a shot at having her opinion taken seriously when there is such a huge difference in experience and worldview? No, not without first establishing a common starting point and unified goals that encourages this sort of conversation and understanding.
When organizations, groups, and companies start to diversify by adding a token few representatives to their inner circles, those token few are unable to substantially disrupt and agitate the pre-existing power structure. Instead of being able to fully examine the mechanisms of oppression within the group, these individuals become a tool used to assist in furthering the new directive. They are left with the option to conform or to get out. One diversity candidate or token person is not given enough power to propel their voice through the thick sea of gelatinous homogeneity and really be heard.
It is important to realize that the few included in the upper echelons of these groups are never enough to shift a democratic vote on experience alone. We are still heavily outnumbered. The pressure to go along to get along for many seems like the only option to maintaining their seat. This makes the inclusion of these minority groups nothing more than a gesture, since their inclusion ignores intra-group differences and only superficially extends a seat at the table.
For any real change to occur, the power structure needs to be disrupted and maybe even dismantled. We have to realize that without a voting body reflective of equality, the corresponding vote will not be an adequate representative of marginalized groups.
So, what does this look like? First, you have to recognize that the initial structure, goals, or ideas are probably part of the problem and not part of the solution. If you want to create a system of inclusion, then stop using the old models of oppression. Don’t assume that your group goals can simply be added to in order to fulfill your social justice responsibilities. Don’t assume that the framework was always there and is strong enough to adequately sustain the expansion of newly realized concepts. Sometimes you must tear down and start over. Sometimes you have to be willing to build from the bottom in order to truly and honestly incorporate anti-oppression into the very foundation, heart, and soul of your group, organization, or company.
It is easy to see the inequality in this comic, but before you congratulate yourself for your own efforts and try to audaciously wave a banner touting your anti-oppressionist feminist values, ask yourself and your group: Have you incorporated your intersectional goals and values into the very fabric of your organizations, or was it simply added as an afterthought? Have you really done the work or are you simply satisfied with the superficial appearance of equality?