I like re-reading certain books, usually masterpieces, because I get a different perspective as I age and gain more life experience. I have read Invisible Man at least five times, and I learn something new about it and myself in every re-read.
When I re-read it again last month, I began to think about my own invisibility. In the book the narrator is recruited by the Brotherhood, an activist group mostly run by white people that recruits him to give speeches and become the next Booker T. Washington. It was clear that the narrator was being used by this organization and he was expected to not have his own opinions because they knew what was best. This reminds me of my own time working for a particular organization I worked for and felt invisible.
Similar to the Brotherhood, the organization I worked for was run by white people but most of the underlings were people of color like myself. Even though the organization mostly worked on issues that directly impacted people of color, the white leadership thought they knew better than their black, brown and Asian co-workers because of “their history in progressive politics.” Most of the white folks in this organization were 1960s hippies who were involved in the civil right movement.
Needless to say, I didn’t work there for very long…
They were blind, bat blind, moving only by the echoed sounds of their own voices. And because they were blind they would destroy themselves and I’d help them. I laughed. Here I had thought they accepted me because they felt that color made no difference when in reality it made no difference because they didn’t see either color or men . . . For all they were concerned, we were so many names scribbled on fake ballots, to be used at their convenience and when not needed to be filed away. It was a joke, an absurd joke.
“Being invisible and without substance, a disembodied voice, as it were, what else could I do? What else but try to tell you what was really happening when your eyes were looking through? And it is this which frightens me: “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”
Ralph Ellison was a genius and you can listen to more of his thought process on invisibility: