About That Black Table in The Cafeteria

Sam McKenzie Jr.
4 min readNov 9, 2017
Which one is the Black table? Photo credit

In my junior high and high school, the cafeteria had about three to four rows of long rectangular tables. The ‘Black table’ was actually two tables. It was the first two tables of the last row located on the right-hand side when entering the cafeteria.

I know it’s hard to picture. But to sit at the ‘Black table’ was a choice. To sit there, one had to pass all the other tables to save a seat with your bag and books, prior to sliding your tray through the serving line.

When I walked into the cafeteria, for a place to eat lunch, I usually looked for my friends and they happened to be white.

Occasionally, I would sit at the ‘Black table’ sometimes out of guilt and sometimes out of genuine friendships. But I generally hated doing things like sitting at the ‘Black table’ out of obligation.

Maybe the only kids that had a similar dilemma in my 1990’s cafeteria would be the white kids considered “wiggers.” That term was reserved for white people who “acted Black” and therefore sat at the ‘Black table.’

I was more inclined to do things my way.

Some argue there shouldn’t be a ‘Black table’ and maybe as a teenager, I was in that camp. It would seem like an integrated cafeteria would be more like Martin Luther King Jr.

There are others who suggest the ‘Black table’ exists as a supportive response to the racist and white supremacist environment.

But in my cafeteria, ‘the Black table’ wasn’t exactly the most supportive and accepting spot in the cafeteria. Unless of course, one thinks Blackness alone is always supportive. The ‘Black table,’ was all about fresh haircuts, clothes, and cracking jokes on people usually at the table.

I suppose the teasing of the ‘Black table’ could be considered family-like behavior. But to me, the familiarity and meanness were off-putting for people who were not my family.

Before you call me oversensitive, let me tell you, I was no saint. I inflicted my own pot-shots on other Black kids too. I joined in on the jokes about dark-skin.

I too made fun of the kids who didn’t have what was considered ‘good hair.’ I too made fun of the kids who showed up to school without lotion.