If you are a devotee of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton” or have paid attention to the recent release of former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, you have heard the phrase, “in the room where it happened.” It refers to the rooms where the most powerful decisions are made. These are the seats of power and what happens in these rooms ultimately impacts us all. Black people are rarely in the rooms where it happens.
In the days before emancipation and then, before state sanctioned apartheid (i.e. legal segregation) ended, we sometimes were in those rooms as part of the servant class. As cooks, maids, butlers, and valets we were sometimes in rooms where it happens because the privileged and powerful needed someone to serve them. God forbid they should be required to pour themselves a glass of water or clear their own plates! And, in their arrogance they refused to acknowledge our humanity, our intellect, and our interests as citizens. Thus, although we were sometimes there they acted as if we weren’t. But, those folks in the room where it happened helped Black folks to plan and execute slave revolts. They helped Black folks plan their Civil Rights strategies. When we are in the rooms where it happens, we can respond in ways that serve our own best interests.
Today, under the guise of representative democracy we are regularly excluded from the rooms where it happens. We are not in corporate board rooms. We are not in legislative caucus rooms. We are not in executive offices of mayors, governors, or presidents. And when we are not in the room, or at the table, we are often “on the menu!” Decision makers are determining how to slice up our schools, our neighborhoods, our communities, and our rights and serve them up to the rich and powerful.
The civil uprisings happening today are a demand to be in the room where it happens. We want to be in the room where police contracts are negotiated. We want to be in the room where school superintendents are selected. We want to be in the room where housing development is discussed. We want to be in the room where tenure and promotion decisions are made. Indeed, instead of just being in the room we want the room to be open and available to stakeholders regardless of their social stature.
The rooms where it happens are rooms where people may refer to us using the N-word, like the police in Wilmington, NC who declared they want to slaughter us. The rooms where it happens are grand juries that fail to indict police for shooting unarmed Black and Brown people. The rooms where it happens issue no-knock orders that result in the death of innocent people like Breonna Taylor.
On May 25, 2020 17-year-old Darnella Frazier put us all in the room where it happened when she filmed Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. I cannot imagine how that murder would have been spun if we had not been able to be “in the room where it happened!”
The Black community is tired of being kept out of the conversations where people make life and death decisions about us. We, like “Hamilton’s” Aaron Burr want to be “in the room where it happens… the room where it happens… the room where it happens!”
Stay Black & Smart!