During the course of a recent work conversation, a Mexican coworker and myself had a conversation centered around what poor people of color valued and why we are seemingly always out of the loop.
So much of our time is spent nickeling and diming on absolutely everything causing us to miss out on some pretty amazing shit.
We don’t get access to certain job and education possibilities because we refuse to see the “value” in certain investments or we are too frightened to push ourselves to create solutions.
Not being in the room means we are constantly at the mercy of those who are.
We miss out because of what my father has termed “Old Black Living”.
Old Black Living often takes the form of adult parental units who won’t complete paperwork for college financial aid (I don’t want nobody all up in my business) but will eagerly and shamelessly cosign a loan for an overpriced car that will enslave their children for life.
So many of us (people of color and I’m speaking specifically of black and brown people) are never in the decision-making room for a number of reasons.
Primarily, we are not in the room because we don’t know that it exists and that we are living in response to it.
If you don’t know it exists, it is hard to figure out how to get in it.
We have no idea that so much of what we consider normal, everyday goings on are nothing but a group of decisions that have been made and then handed to us because of our zip code, color, sexuality or gender.
It is imperative that we get in the room anyway possible.
Sometimes our false pride prevents us from allowing a seasoned, insider pro to walk us in.
Why aren’t we in the room?
Why don’t we understand the importance of this?
Getting into the room is more than a cute catchphrase.
In our world of constant and relentless change, it is imperative that we create opportunities to get in on all that life has to offer.
Black folks, Mexicans, gays and any group outside the white male construct often find themselves at the effect of decisions that they did not create.
By not being in the room, we are forced to build limited lives with limited resources.
Part of this troubling fact is that we live and breathe disappointment, frustration and more than our share of continuous upset stemming from the inability or refusal to find our way into the “room”.
By not being in the room, we severely limit the possibility to create meaningful change in our personal and professional lives.
All the pivotal and life changing events occur in the room.
Both of my sisters are infinitely more intelligent than I am.
What I lack in intelligence I more than make up for in drive.
While my younger sister is far more social than I or my other sister, she doesn’t realize how important it is to be in the room because she has always been in the room.
Baby sister is truly getting her life- trips to South Africa, Cairo, Italy. She seeks and takes advantage of each opportunity that comes her way.
My other sister, like our mother, doesn’t understand why the world is not beating a path to her door and feels that doing anything to make this happen is evil, wrong and a sin punishable by God.
As a result, my sister has missed out on several opportunities that would have allowed her a less stressful and financially strapped existence.
When I moved to NYC 22 years ago, I begged her to pack up my nephew and move to the East Coast.
Promising to assist with childcare and the insider’s view regarding people’s inability to follow through, my ongoing suggestions about the assistance I could offer regarding a move to NYC frustrated both of us.
She flat out refused to get off the dime and make a major move that would have single-handedly changed the course of her life, my nephew’s life, and oddly enough several generations.
She never saw the need to get into the room and instead is living a life assigned to her based on her gender, color and socioeconomic standing.
What’s the difference between us? Ability? Resources? Advantages?
We all have a different approach and relationship with getting into the room.
Most black folks don’t know that most of the decisions that impact their lives occur without any representation by folks that look anything like them.
Then we are shocked when policies and procedures that are clearly not in our or anyone’s best interest get trotted out and at some point made into laws.
As black folks continue to walk around clueless and uninvited to join the ranks of the “them”, several important events must be addressed and then discarded if they no longer serve a purpose.
Often times we hold on to things (beliefs) that make our lives infinitely more difficult and drama filled.
Part of being in the room means we have access to all kinds of thinking, reasoning,etc. Being in the room means at some point, we will learn to see and hear things very differently.
Getting in the room and staying there are two very different things.
Staying there and figuring out how to consistently be invited to play in the sandbox is something else all together.
As an individual given the opportunity to assist people with getting better and better jobs along with helping them figure out strategies to make their lives work, I get offers to attend and support all sorts of things- invites to enter the room.
I have had to learn that some of those rooms are pointless no matter the spectacle and sweet talk they offer. Other rooms start off lovely and go south often with one high point.
Yesterday I attended a star studded event and was able to make a new group of contacts. Excitement came from the possibility that perhaps a new relationship could yield phenomenal results.
And the name of the game in business and the world is results no matter what the touchy feely folks try and get us to believe.
Results come through and with other people and until people understand this they will always be left wondering what happened and why.
Being in the room means there is probably someone in the space who has figured out something you haven’t.
It also means that with a bit of digging and inquiry, you can find what it is you need to take you to the next level in terms of thinking, behavior and overall personal and professional success.
Four years ago, I was being menaced by the same entity(monster) that comes for all of those invested in social service mayhem.
No matter what I did I was always chasing paperwork- this document was missing; that one was old; this one needed updating.
Sitting at an all staff meeting one afternoon, my coworker made a marvelous suggestion. I implemented it that day and have not been menaced since.
As black, gay men and lesbians continue to make strides to create lives of joy and fulfillment, we must also remember to invite others in for a seat at the always interesting and frequently dismissive table
We must caution ourselves against feeling “special” or “chosen”.
Like most humans, I tend to gravitate towards like minded people.
Rather than seek out movers and shakers simple for their ability to move and or shake, I encourage folks to group together because these folks are generous with their time, energy, insight or expertise.
What can we create that is larger and more beneficial to someone other than us?
People rarely discuss collaboration in that sense instead we trot out the tried and true and easily played out- I want to give back (insert eye roll).
Don’t give back – give out.
Find ways you can join forces with others who are doing work in the world. Not talking about the work but actually grinding it out.
Getting your ass in the room is an excellent way to find out whose actually doing the work and who is simply flapping their gums and holding space in an effort to say I’m giving back and saving all the unfortunate ones (little dark children, poor people).
Get in the room and you will quickly surmise whose working and who isn’t.
I’ve done it for years not knowing that it had a name.
Networking is what the working stiffs call it.
And this always leaves people with an icky feeling in their gut.
Just the the other day I was speaking with my dad about the whole “getting into the room” business and discovered he is in on this little gem. Apparently, he has mastered this unknown secret and used it to his and our advantage more than we know.
He mentioned several key items that are simple and extremely easy to implement.
For one, he mentioned when at all possible fly first class and dress well.
Then he went on to explain that in first class you get treated differently and get exposed to all kinds of things you might otherwise miss out on.
And you never know who you might be sitting next to.
He learned it from his mentors and other folks who invited him into the room.
It is applicable to any arena especially if you enter the room with the lion’s share of the two G’s : graciousness and generosity.
Give before you take; offer before you ask and approach things from the standpoint of we’re in this together not what can I get.
Black folks and people of color are leery of “getting into the room”.
We have been duped into thinking that it is dangerous to not know certain things(which is true but not for the obvious reasons) and that it is a sign of weakness to ask anybody for anything and finally, the original chestnut of foolishness- we don’t want to put our business in the street.
For years, I have struggled and watched the people I love struggle simply because they refused to ask the right person to help them get into the right room.
Today in class I taught the example of what happens when you’re in the room or what happens when you’re not in the room.
My young charges and I began examining the ways that being in the room makes your life go in a particular direction.
While they had no vocabulary for what it looks like to be in or out of the room, they all knew what it feels like to be in the position to not be able to make your own choices.
When it came time to decide where they will put their energies, it was strange to watch them make decisions based on always being the ones on the outside – never in the room.
Being on the outside of the decision making room means their ability to dream and think and most importantly to imagine is incredulously limited.
It took a bit of struggle for us to agree that our thinking could be changed and challenged.
It took even longer to think of ways to generate money that didn’t involve drugs, sex or exploiting others.