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The Visible Picture of the Invisible Man

April 11, 2010 | Comments: 0 | Views: 151

Taking another look at Ellison: The Invisible Man

The invisible Man touches on the controversial issue of race relations in America. Ellison's highly acclaimed work also gives evidence of the identity crisis that all men of African descent are forced to face at some point in his life or another. The intellectual faculties of insight and perception the protagonist in the prologue of Ellison's epic tale possesses are not altogether foreign to me. In explaining his "invisibility", Ellison states in the introduction preceding the first chapter of the book that it is due to the "peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom he came in contact". (Ellison - pg 3) When speaking of these inner eyes the unnamed character does not say much about his own self esteem or the self image he holds of himself leading one to believe that his identity crisis, in part, is self imposed. He concludes that being invisible," you often doubt if you really exist." (Ellison-pg3) This area Ellison addresses sheds light on another common phenomenon among black men about self assurance and confidence. In this present society of stereotyping, stigmatizing and labeling black men there is little wonder why the feeling of being, "simply a phantom in other people's minds" is a feeling shared by many men I know. It is one that I have experienced both in academia as well as among my peers at work and family members at home.

This common feeling of non-existence could explain why the over crowded American prison population consists predominately of African American males. Ellison also was probably aware of these types of systems which were designated to administer criminal justice but sadly served only to become part of the problem and not the solution. Today so called "criminal justice" might easily be referred to as "just us criminals" without any exaggeration for the most part when considering sentencing disparity and drug laws which mandate strict sentencing guide lines for crack cocaine which is typically reflective of the minority population of Hispanics and Blacks as opposed to judicial discretion and diversionary programs when it comes to powder cocaine which is typically reflective of the affluent and privileged and usually results in probation, fines, expungement of arrest records and lenient sentencing if any at all.

Mainstream society of this present age just as in Ellison's day has woefully failed to see black men as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his writings indicated he saw them, based on their individual character instead of their skin color. Referring to this peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom he came in contact Ellison states, "Then too, you're constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision." (Ellison-pg.3) the vision here is not so much insight as it is embedded prejudice and learned hatred that attributes to the quality being labeled by Ellison as poor. However, it must be noted here that today men of color are "bumping back" harder than ever. This collective resistance arises out of accumulated resentment to this common tendency which is habitually exercised by the financial, social and even religious institutions of mainstream America. African-American Men all over the nation are shouting as they bump back, "Yes, I am a Negro, but I am also talented. Yes I am Black and I am proud. I do not renounce my African heritage nor do I deny my citizenship of this country. I am also qualified to compete with my fellows and achieve greatness in this land of opportunity and wealth." Such was the case of one, Senator from Illinois.

Like Ellison, who struggled tirelessly throughout his story in his quest to gain visibility, black men are acknowledging the authenticity of their royal African heritage and divorcing the legacy thrust upon them by the cruel and greedy taskmasters who enslaved them, stripped of their identity, religion and culture and gave them the names they bear to this day. Perhaps, one of the most critical statements that serve as the catalyst for the metamorphosis in Elision's saga is found in these words, "I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."(Ellison-pg.3) One must consider the question this underlying message of the text imposes. To what degree have we as a race of people grown more visible in America today? The psychological implications are profound. For instance one prime example is the usage of a word Ellison was confronted with, N-I-G-G-E-R. This very same word once slandered and insulted black people. The "N" word at the time Ellison's book was written and published carried a negative connotation. However, today it is used nonchalantly when referring to oneself or other black men. It is almost as if it had somehow evolved to have intrinsic worth and it's become a term of endearment. If Ellison, as the invisible man, was confronted by this derogatory label which conveyed an insult instead of a compliment what could have possibly occurred since his time to change this negative effect?

Ellison's claim that it took him," a long time and much painful boomeranging of his expectations to achieve a realization everyone else seemed to have been born with; that I am nobody but myself, but first I had to discover that I am an invisible man." - (Ellison pg. 13). I was perplexed at first by this claim until it became apparent that this peculiar dilemma was the underlying thesis upon which Ellison's story was written. If Ellison had not arrived at this conclusion then perhaps he would have never written the book. Upon establishing this fact I can not resist drawing a parallel from my own life in order to empathize with the main character and appreciate Ellison's peculiar situation. For Ellison, growing up in America he was visibly affected by his invisibility. Therefore, in these times which try the very souls of men living life on life's terms is already a difficult challenge without the added, undue duress caused by racism and discrimination. It is a psychological hurdle that I suppose my children and their children also will have to learn to overcome just as Ellison overcame. Just I have learned to overcome. There is a saying that goes; whatever does not destroy you makes you stronger.

Notwithstanding, I suspect the feeling of being invisible goes deeper than how we think others may perceive us. Perhaps, it speaks more importantly to the way in which we see ourselves. In the final analysis it is the issues of self-image and self acceptance that will ultimately determine the way we respond to life and in turn how life responds to us, by success or failure. More than a few courageous individuals of all races and both genders have been guided from a mediocre existence into lives of spectacular prominence, fortune and achievement because they decided that regardless of how others chose to see them, or as in Ellison's case chose not to see them; the mental picture they held of themselves guided them into becoming anything except invisible. Yet from a sober perspective, at some point in my own pilgrimage I have faced the same challenges that Ellison faced. He says, "And my problem was that I always tried to go in everyone way but my own. I have also been called one thing and then another while no one really wished to hear what I called myself. So after years of trying to adopt the opinions of others I finally rebelled. I am an invisible man." - (Ellison-pg.433)

However, I will be SEEN and I will also be HEARD and furthermore CONSIDERED by mainstream America, even the whole world because I see myself. I see my own face in that mirror and I hear my own voice with my own ears. It is the voice of my intellect and I consider the value placed upon me by my Creator. As the late, great Reverend King once remarked, "I AM SOMEBODY." I am not an invisible man.

Source: EzineArticles
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