The legendary Ralph Ellison famously defined the Black experience in, of, and through America in his 1952 novel, Invisible Man.
Ellison called out America’s obsessive desire to not see Black people and substitute our existence with their own prejudices, intellectual malpractice, and projection that incorrectly and purposely misidentified our identities in the service of their continued reliance on white supremacy to self-define themselves.
Read his work to dive into the mind of a genius sociologist and author.
The issue of invisibility of Black people — and of Latin, Native, and other people of color that white America similarly attack when it conveniences them and/or when a Black person isn’t available, remains with us today in its evolved form that now encommpasses social media in ways Ellison never dreamed of but which his writing can still inform and illuminate.
To speak literally, Black people are seen but only when it is at the convenience of whiteness. And most often that spotlight is negative and with the usual hate directed to a people who wish mostly to be left alone in a state of equality and equity long promised and denied by our nation.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is only seem in the context of one famous speech which is once a year — and in countless online smug yet lame attacks by incels and racists — used as a bludgeon to remind Black people to dream but don’t dare attempt to make those dreams real.
President Obama is now only see by whites as the mythical and lovely man who rose above the hatred and racism that caused white democratic voters to take away most of his power after two years in office because he dared to call out the stupidity of a police officer arresting a professor for breaking into his, the professor’s, own home.
Both President Obama and Rev. Dr. King’s work and words that speak to the truth of what this country has been, is, and continues to be, remain as foreign to white Americans as systemic racism it seems.
Too many white people cannot see past VP Harris’ laugh, her past career as a prosecutor, her marriage to a Jewish white man, her embrace of being a step-parent, and her choice not to have children. They cannot see her smarts, her success at every job she has held, or her ability to connect with all ages, demographics, and foreign leaders.
The same people cannot see her joy, her humbleness, and enthusiasm for helping all Americans.
It is the same way they cannot see the true strength of Michelle Obama. Her ability to cut through the fog of politics and speak truth to power and of power in a way no first lady has ever done. They cannot see that Michelle Obama was significantly important to the success of President Obama and to the improvement of their own lives.
Our national blindness refuses to see the power of all of our words — from our grandparents, their grandparents even, and our parents — that white supremacy is alive, thriving, and spreading.
White supremacy fuels social media and provides clicks, likes, followers, and money to single purpose hate accounts that specifically target Black people. The accounts target Meghan Markle, VP. Kamala Harris, and Michelle Obama so much that they are the most attacked people online — not presidents, politicians, athletes, or entertainers.
And it is not just them, all Black people on every social media platform are the most attacked, targetted, stolen from, and harrassed users across the globe. We see ourselves and we see how every social media company — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok allow the attacks, ignore Black users complaints, and suspends Black users for speaking out, all the while rewarding hate accounts and creator thieves to monetize their hate-fueled actions.
You may not see us, but we see you.
We have spoken these truths before and after Lincoln, during reconstruction, during Jim Crow, during the each Civil Rights movement, during the man-made crack epidemic, CointelPro, during Reaganomics, during Bush I and II, and the days of the tea party.
But we and our words were invisible.
We said it when white people refused to allow us to vote, when they attempted to hang the Vice President Pence, and kill the Speaker of the House Pelosi, destroy the Capitol, and bomb the building where Vice President Harris was inside.
Our words and emotions remained out of sight to those who refuse to see or hear us. The dangers Trump helped unleash, the white supremacy infiltration of law enforcement, military, secret service, FBI, and election officials flittered by major media who refused to see the obvious.
But we are not invisible.
We are on the Supreme Court, in the Oval Office, and we are leading the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
We are authors, writers, scholars, business owners, teachers, dreamers and yes, we are mermaids, dwarves, elves, Jedi and Stormtroopers, fairy godmothers, and superheroes. And we are students, creators, salon owners, customer service agents, front line workers, supervisors, agents, scouts, and babysitters.
We are married, legbtqi, single, parents, short, tall, differently abled, thick, thin, and in case you haven’t notice, we come in all shades of black and brown. And we speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, Swahili, Chinese, Japanese, and New York, Atlanta, Mississippi, East Oakland, Texas because our dialects, like yours, are real.
We are not here because white people allow us to be, no, they do not have that power, we are here by right, by evolution, and by the power and the grace of our ancestors who saw a future folk tried to keep them blind to.
We are here and we see ourselves even when you choose to remain blind. We see Meghan Markle and Halle Bailey, we see VP Kamala Harris and Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson. We see Senator Warnock, and Secretary Haaland. We see Serena, Beyonce, J. Balvin, and Russell Wilson.
We see our children’s eyes alight seeing themselves represented as creatures of mythology. And we see our parents eyes alight as they see their children graduate from Howard and Spelman, NYC, and University of Alabama.
We do not see ourselves as derivatives of whiteness. We see ourselves as our ancestors hoped and as our parents planned.
Our achievements aren’t made greater by the acknowledgement of whites nor are we made whole by white approval and acceptance. Whiteness though needs the comparative to exist in order to propagate the lie of superiority throughout society and history.
We see you straining to latch on to something, anything, that girds your teetering white supremacy boat. It is why you stormed the Capitol, why you ignore and downplay our achievements from Hollywood to the office, and why so many of you long for re-admittance to the British Empire that your and ancestors fought like hell to escape. You will notice our ancestors and our diaspora sisters and brothers are doing no such thing, yes? Right, because we see the facade of that regime like we continue to see the truth of America’s longing for a white Christian ethnostate.
There is a sadness to understanding willful blindness but it is tempered by the targeted hate caused by such lackadaisical attitudes far too many Americans display.
With the nation on the verge of collapse too many whites excused, explained, and rationalized the behavior of those who tried to destroy the nation. We see you, we see the news, and we see the online presence of all the racist groups who thrive mostly unchecked because the watcher’s are too often in agreement.
We will never be invisible again. We are present and will remain so.
It is in the interest of all Americans to see us because this nation can only succeed if all doors are open, if all people are seen and equal, and if we can finally see the same America at the same time.
The brightness of seeing the sun on a sunny day will pale to the overwhelming feeling of wonder when all of America decides to see who we are, what we are accomplishing, and where we can go. Deciding to continue forward while not looking where we are going is a prescription for a crash unlike the nation has ever experienced.
Open your eyes and see what is right there before you. I am certain with a little training, some coaching, and maybe a gentle explanation or two, you’ll like and love what you see.