Why all the ___ are sitting together

By Kevin Williams

During this past weekend—Diversity Weekend—I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion, the topic of which was “Why Are All the Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” During the discussion, we were able to touch on many points and concerns of multiculturalism in the Macalester community as it relates to the crossing of racial, ethnic, and cultural boundaries based on the seating in Café Mac.
While the discussion was very enlightening, one of the things that disturbed me greatly was the lack of people in attendance to represent the Macalester community. This made one thing abundantly clear to me—multiculturalism isn’t as important to the Macalester community as we would want those outside to believe. The attendance, or lack thereof, at this event was a direct display of the importance of multiculturalism at Macalester, and it seems that the college is more concerned with putting forth the appearance of multiculturalism than actually becoming a multiculturalist school. What are we as a community really promoting, learning about others, or teaching others about us? While I feel that it is important for the minority to have interaction and an understanding of the dominant culture, let’s not confuse this idea with multiculturalism.
Then again, why is there a problem with all the members of a particular cultural group sitting together in the cafeteria? I understand that this may sound like a contradiction, but before general assumptions are made about my point, let me elaborate. Where a group of people sit does not necessarily suggest strained relationships between the groups. You sit next to those with whom you have previously had the most interaction and with whom you feel the most connected. It makes perfect sense that people of the same cultural identity will feel more of a connection to each other. This does not mean that they have issues with people of other cultural identities. Also, seating in the cafeteria is not always based on cultural differences, but also can be based on major, extra-curricular activities, music, etc. Why is there an automatic assumption that the separation is due to culture?
Furthermore, I am tired of hearing that a) all the internationals always sit together and b) all the “Jamaicans” sit together at the “Jamaican table.” These statements are prime examples of the ignorance and stereotypical mindsets of our community in regards to the multicultural community. Let us not forget that the international students are not all from the same country. At the “international table,” there are representatives from India, Argentina, Hungary, Bulgaria, Japan, Italy, and Spain, just to name a few. They have not allowed culture, color, or even language to inhibit or prohibit communication and the building of stable relationships. In response to the “Jamaican table” myth—yes, as one who is an active member at the table, I can say it IS a myth—I am appalled that those who do not even attempt to sit at the table but rather look on from afar would make such comments. ANYONE and everyone who wants is invited to sit at such a table. Anyone who does not does so based on their own personal choice. Secondly, the table is not a “Jamaican table” and people need to stop assuming that everyone from the Caribbean is Jamaican. As a matter of fact, the people that sit at the table represent many different countries, including ones that are not part of the Caribbean: Taiwan, Kenya, Tanzania, U.S.A., Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Vietnam, just to name a few.
So, as it would seem, the problem with multiculturalism doesn’t lie in the hands of the international students, but rather in the hands of the domestic students (by “domestic”, I am referring to anyone who is a United States citizen). It is not the problem of the “international” or “Jamaican” student. Although they are affected by it, it is not their issue to resolve. They do not have a problem with multiculturalism—rather, it is us domestic students who have shown that we are not ready to take the steps necessary to build a truly multicultural community. No, black people, you don’t get away either. While the degree to which you separate yourselves is vastly smaller, and although this isn’t true of most of you, it still exists.
We claim to want a multicultural community. But day after day, I fail to see us working toward that goal. Actions speak louder than words. Stop hiding behind cultural, racial, and ethnic differences. Stop hiding behind excuses and “fearfulness.” Stop saying that you are worried about saying the wrong thing so that you are not forced to come out of your comfort zone and face the facts that the stereotypes and prejudices that you hold about others are not true. There is no reason for you, for us, not to engage in multiculturalism except for US.