The driving force behind the American Dream has always been about silencing the disposable bodies hidden underground, the invisible characters– simply as a result of the refusal of others to see them. The Dream requires one group to stay asleep, while the other stays awake. For too long, oppressed minorities in our country were asleep, segregated from their innate sense of human dignity; they were undervalued, unseen. And our country criminalized their bodies, blamed their social condition on pathological differences, and used state-sanctioned violence to thwart all resistance.
In America, money, power, and greed seems to have, on too many occasions, exceeded our humanity; the dominant culture is generally blinded by this harsh tradition.
When Ralph Ellison, the author of “Invisible Man,” recognized his own invisibility, as he moved through the White dominate gaze and the complex, sophisticated Black culture, he wrote in such a way that made the unique Black American plight applicable to any and every oppressed group.
“I am one of the most irresponsible beings that ever lived. Irresponsibility is part of my invisibility; any way you face it, it is a denial. But to whom can I be responsible, and why should I be, when you refuse to see me?” Prologue, pg. 14
But, finally, everyone is visible now. Black men and women; visible. Native-Americans (Indigenous People); visible. Hispanics; visible. Women; visible. Immigrants; visible. They’ve all cultivated their presence behind that lingering shadow. Their voices are louder than ever before; they are challenging the ways in which society frames their stories, and the characters that they’ve written are no longer disposable, the narrator doesn’t have to hide anymore, because solidarity is the visible tool that is used to mobilize their human spirit.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” Chapter 11, pg.103
It is now extremely difficult to legislate the entrapment of a specific group. Native Americans are loud now, fighting for several causes. BlackLivesMatter have positioned themselves in the political process, women are still challenging their unequal positions in society, and immigrants have proven to be quite beneficial to the U.S.
And even poor Whites, who are ironically rendered invisible now, to some extent, are seeing how the current capitalistic power structure trumps race, even when it benefits the White race the most. The Kent State massacre, 45 years ago, where white students were gunned down by the national guard, is one example of just how far our country will go to silence dissent; it’s usually through the deprivation of liberty.
“We, the people,” like it or not, are inextricably linked in our undying quest to define what it means to be American.
And, finally, everyone is visible. The civic-minded, multicultural millennials on college campuses are keeping the light on. Internet activism is keeping the light on. Counterculture, music and lifestyle is keeping the light on. We, the complex individuals of a downtrodden past, are no longer shoved underground, unseen and unheard.
Ralph Ellison created a narrator that articulated a strong self-awareness and harnessed a space for self-discovery, a space that everyone is utilizing to enact change.
“America is woven of many strands; I would recognize them and let it so remain. It’s ‘winner take nothing’ that is the great truth of our country or of any country. Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat. Our fate is to become one, and yet many — This in not prophecy, but description.” Epilogue, pg. 577
The invisible man and woman exist in every country; oppressed groups see each other trying to be seen. The significance of solidarity between them lies simply in the respect for their respective fight for freedom; they are acknowledging sociopolitical parallels, not comparing their struggles: these groups are not competing in an oppression olympics.
Just two days ago, the Black-Palestinian solidarity video, “When I see them, I see us,” was shared online. It illustrated the natural connection between the Black and Palestinian freedom fighters.
“Mutual expressions of solidarity have helped to generate a vigorous political kinship linking black organizers, scholars, cultural workers and political prisoners in the U.S. with Palestinian activists, academics, political prisoners, and artists” -Angela Davis
“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” -Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison navigated this world of indifference through literature; we unpackaged his profound set of metaphors to better understand our human condition, and we are still using his universal perspective to change the circumstances of the lost, forgotten, and invisible.
Illustration by Michael White.