In 1952, Ralph Ellison published the acclaimed novel, “Invisible Man.” It delved into the issues facing African-Americans of the time, especially Black identity and his disillusionment with Political Parties in general and Socialism in particular. It focused on the “social invisibility” of the Black man. Looked at without being seen.
The 1950’s was not a unique time in American history in that the Black man was always invisible in terms of rights, self-determination and even viability without some form of interdependence in the greater white society. The Black man in America was regulated first by the slave codes, then Jim Crow, and even now in a general sense by all the ways he is still rendered invisible by those who classify him in a manner so that doesn’t count.
There was a moment in time in America when a Black man wasn’t invisible. The eight years that Barack Obama was President of the United States of America brought a visibility to that Black man that in some ways tore apart this country. It wasn’t his words or deeds, he behaved much in the manner of many American Presidents, doing so with exceeding grace. It was his existence that divided the nation as his omnipresence on the American landscape was more than some could endure.
Every attempt was made to send him back to invisibility, whether it be questioning his birth and eligibility to be President, or obstructing everything he did and denying him a legacy. The election of the current President can be traced to the desire of many to obliterate the memory of Obama and make him invisible again.
Once Trump became President, he set out to destroy every accomplishment of the previous Administration. While failing to accomplish anything legislatively. He’s used Executive Power and agency rule changes to bring back mass incarceration, suppress votes and turn the Federal Government’s back on oppressive police tactics. His perfect world brings back “Stop & Frisk” and would have a policeman on every inner-city block using unrestrained force in a world where only Blue Lives Matter. The Black man would be rendered not quite invisible, but labeled in a manner easily discounted. Thug, animal, criminal…one whose mere presence elicits fear which allows he be shot dead with no recourse while strangely reaching into an empty waistband or sometimes with hands up.
White America offers limited visibility to those who excel at sports, entertain, or publicly toe the line. Until such time as they forget their role and their status is revoked. Athletes are revered until they develop a social conscience and then must be taken down. They can represent the best of Blackness unless of course, they get too Black. Entertainers can sing about making it rain in the strip club without fear of backlash but there’s a short leash if they try to exercise political power. Clarence Thomas is a silent overseer, Ben Carson is #Sad. Both perform their respective tasks on cue and go back to the lives compliance affords them.
There is a need to label Black organizations and make them dismissible, and therefore invisible. They fear Black Lives Matter and its potential for upsetting the apple cart. They call them racist and violent and want them seen as a hate group. They fail to recognize that Black Lives Matter, IS the non-violent response. These are the voices they wish silenced while First Amendment Rights for Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists are validated. The President is a White Supremacist, surrounded by the same, like Jemele Hill, I won’t take back saying so.
The Black woman uniquely suffers from invisibility. Attempts at solidarity with her allies in the fight for Women’s Rights often find them tossed aside as the goal nears. She watches her one-time sisters reap the benefits while she gets table scraps. The Women’s Suffrage movement needed Ida B Wells on their side, when it came time for her allies to support her causes, the call went unanswered. Another uneasy alliance is with Black men. Lacking control in most aspects of their own lives, Black men sometimes seek to control that which they could, their women.
In the Age of Trump, racism isn’t really racism as long as it’s justified. Black on Black crime, a high illegitimate birth rate, saggy pants… these and more are the excuses they give to not be concerned with wrongful police shootings, voter suppression and the racist occupants in the White House. I’m engaging in a long-running, wide-ranging conversation online with several that have tried to render me invisible. Their anonymity gives them strength as they attempt to dismiss what I say by discounting the messenger. Amazingly, a turn came when they discovered how much we have in common. We’ve read the same books, and have some similar interests. They tell me of the struggles of their people and for a moment see similarities. Yet when the topic switches back to race I’ll once again be a “self-pitying victim” dwelling on something relegated to the past. I’ll be invisible once again.
We must recognize that making Black people invisible is a strategy, a means to an end. One that ultimately requires our participation to be successful. Invisibility can be defeated by shining a light on it. Ellison said in his novel, “the truth is the light, and light is the truth,” Don’t allow your message to be discounted but insist the actual merits be discussed. Support the organizations that work on your behalf with your time, energy and money. Continue to fight injustice even when the Government temporarily turns its back for that too will change. There is an arc that bends toward justice and making yourself visible despite all the attempts to ignore you will bring that day sooner!
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