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What a 'seat at the table' means in the Black Lives Matter era

The latest season of Seat at the Table tackled topics around the power of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reckoning on race in sports, media and beyond.
Season 2 of Seat at the Table focused on the power of the Black Lives Matter movement and how to move forward. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The latest season of Seat at the Table dove deep into intimate and earnest conversations about the ripple effects of George Floyd's death, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the reckoning on race in sports, media, the corporate world and beyond.

Over the course of seven episodes, co-hosts Martine St-Victor and Isabelle Racicot engaged in discussions with influential thinkers advocating for change at the grassroots level and heart-to-heart talks with notable creators leading cultural transformation.

Each interview ended with the apropos question: "What does a seat at the table mean to you?"

Here is a compilation of the guests' answers, edited for length and clarity.

MARTINE ST-VICTOR: Three years ago, having a seat at the table meant to me having a voice, an opinion, a take. There's a generation that knows exactly where they were when Kennedy was shot. Another that remembers when it lost Prince, Bowie and Trayvon. And one, that will never forget the murder of George Floyd. All these generations rallied to not only mourn his death but to act against injustice. And so today, for me, having a seat at the table means to act because I want to be at a table where I will be seated next to people who want changes as much as I do. A table that will make differences, that will fix things. Small ones, big ones... they all matter. Just like Black lives. 

ISABELLE RACICOT: Three years ago, Seat at the Table meant having in-depth conversations with intriguing, interesting and inspiring people we wanted to break bread with. This year, Seat at the Table means using our voices and our position to contribute to social change and the anti-racism movement. It's about listening to diverse voices from street-level activism to corporate boardrooms in order to better grasp the moment we are all witnessing. Maybe together, we can find solutions to better our world. 

Martine St-Victor and Isabelle Racicot return to the table for a heart-to-heart talk about the ripple effects of George Floyd’s death, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the challenges of talking about race in Quebec, Canada and beyond.

ANTHONY DUCLAIR: Just sitting down, talking, listening. I am on social media and I do see a lot of comments and remarks and stuff. And you just want to shake your head in disbelief. You see a lot of love and support, but then you see "stop talking politics" and stuff like that and "all lives matter" and all that. But these people that are saying this stuff are obviously part of the problem and these are the fans that, number one, need to get educated. If they don't want to get educated, these are the type of fans that we want to eliminate from the game to allow the new generation to come in and express themselves how they may feel. 

The NBA, WNBA, Premier League and several other sports leagues have been unequivocal about their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The NHL, however, has been quieter than most. Martine and Isabelle talk to Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair about what it’s like to be a Black hockey player, and they bring journalist Salim Valji to the table to discuss why racism remains one of hockey’s most taboo topics.

SANDY HUDSON: I think that sometimes we need seats at the table, but sometimes we need to destroy the table and create a whole brand new one. So I think for something like policing, for me, I don't want a seat at that table. That table has had revolving chairs for so many years, of people who've just been used and manipulated to justify a system that has ultimately never shown that it has been able to change. But when it comes to something like media, that's where a lot of power lies — power to shape a narrative, power to discuss whether or not something like anti-Blackness is going to be effectively addressed in Canada. 

The very first Black Lives Matter presence outside of the U.S. began with Sandy Hudson in 2014. Martine and Isabelle look at how far the movement has come in Canada with Hudson, and take the time to really understand what defunding the police and abolition mean with Robyn Maynard, author of “Policing Black Lives”.

ROBYN MAYNARD: I think it's one thing to have a seat at the table, but it's really important that we ask: what is that table oriented toward? I'm not going to be sitting at a table depending who's on the menu. If it's a seat at the table to talk about continually putting more and more money into police reforms that we know don't work, then that's not a table that I want to be at. If it's a seat at a table of the really powerful community organizers and people who are leading us in this really important anti-racist struggle at this moment, then that's a table that I will very happily sit at. 

GEORGE THE POET: To me, a seat at the table means showing up as exactly who I am. Exactly who I am. I'm not going to sit at the table if I have to pretend to be someone else. It's a waste of everyone's time. 

Martine and Isabelle reflect on the role of art in social movements with George Mpanga a.k.a. George the Poet, the British spoken word artist behind the critically-acclaimed BBC series "Have You Heard George’s Podcast?" Mpanga waxes poetic about what binds the Black diaspora, the untapped potential of rap music and how rhymes can change the world.

BALARAMA HOLNESS: It's one thing to have a seat at the table, but it's another thing to be heard. So when you are in a boardroom, the minorities at the table, they certainly have a seat at the table. But do they have a safe space to be heard? 

Martine and Isabelle meet Toronto’s Saron Gebresellassi and Montreal’s Balarama Holness, two aspiring mayors using the law and municipal politics to fearlessly create a future free of systemic racism.

SARON GEBRESELLASSI: It's not just having a seat for its own sake. Are we ready to transform the conversation at that table? Are people ready to hear some crazy ideas, that today are crazy and tomorrow are normal? I mean, two years ago, they told me if I declared a vision for defunding the police, that all credibility would be lost, effective immediately. And that's not what has happened. So are we ready to change, to have conversations without fear? Are we ready to be bold and imaginative and unconventional? 

MARCUS SAMUELSSON: To me, creating this moment, creating Seat at the Table, it speaks to the fire in your belly. You could have complained and been angry and talked to each other on the phone. And it starts like that. But then you realize, what can we do? So I think it's important to be challenged constantly.

Renowned Ethiopian-Swedish chef Marcus Samuelsson shares his love and fear of being Black in America and his plans to transform food media, including the embattled Bon Appétit magazine.

ROXANE GAY: A seat at the table means that you are part of a conversation and that you have as much to say as anyone else around the table. 

Martine and Isabelle discuss the defining moment that led to this season and talk to Roxane Gay, best-selling author and New York Times opinion contributing writer, about the burden of being Black in media and the responsibility of the op-ed.

How to listen ​​​

Listen for free on CBC Listen or on your favourite podcast app — including Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify. And if you're new to podcasts entirely, start here

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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