A Seat at the Table Doesn’t Always Come With Permission to Speak

Just because you’re invited to participate doesn’t mean your opinions will be valued

Arah Iloabugichukwu
ZORA
Published in
6 min readSep 13, 2019

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Credit: fizkes/Getty Images

OnOn Friday, February 6, 2004, Jermaine Dupri staged an impromptu press conference at a Hollywood media gathering to announce his immediate resignation from his position as president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). Nominated to the highly sought-after board position just two years prior to his unexpected resignation, Dupri spoke of accepting the job with high expectations:

I consider NARAS a community who protects each other and supports each other. We have programs like MusiCares, [which] provides financial assistance for musicians who have fallen on hard times. But there appears to be a double standard. I cannot stand by and watch a fellow member of the music community be used as a scapegoat. It comes down to the issue of fairness. Despite it all, what is happening is not fair.

The scapegoat in question: Dupri’s then girlfriend, pop icon Janet Jackson. The double standard under discussion: Jackson’s revoked invitation to present a special Grammy to Luther Vandross at the upcoming awards ceremony, hosted by NARAS. In 2014, during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show, Jackson’s onstage accomplice, Justin Timberlake, ripped a piece of the singer’s bodice, causing her breast to be exposed. Despite both performers taking accountability in the public eye, only Jackson appeared to be held accountable behind closed doors, while Timberlake’s invitation to the ceremony went unaffected.

It wasn’t just the personal nature of the issue that stunned the Atlanta producer, which should’ve been enough to sway a table of Dupri’s peers into lenience. It was the irony of being president of the very organization that hosted the Grammy Awards and having no say as to who got to attend, not even your own girlfriend. Dupri wouldn’t be the first or the last Black person to occupy a position of power only to discover the position did nothing to empower them. He learned a lesson all too common for those offered a seat at the table: The invitation doesn’t always come with permission to speak.

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Arah Iloabugichukwu
ZORA
Writer for

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