Saturday, May 25, 2024

THE BRIDGE: To Be Invisible

September 4, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( *“To be invisible will be my claim to fame. A (man) with no name. That way I won’t have to feel the pain. Indispensable–Just a plain old human being today, don’t mean a thing in a world that’s so mean. A world that seems not for me, so privately, I’ll be invisible. That way, I won’t have to explain a thing.”
Gladys Knight, “To Be Invisible.”

It happens when I walk down the street, when I am at professional events and sometimes even in social settings.

Sometimes, I disappear.

Once, it was early on a Saturday morning and I was in a good mood, fresh from the gym.

I grabbed a few bananas and some orange juice and stepped in line behind a Black woman who was also fresh from the gym in her gym clothing.

When she turned around and looked me straight in the eyes, I spoke.

“Good morning, sister,” I said cheerily. I wasn’t trying to flirt, I was simply happy to see another Black person.

To my sad surprise, she looked me in the eyes for another second or so and turned back around without saying a word or at least nodding her head in reply to my greeting. It’s as if I were invisible.

It’s sad because we were the only two Black people in the store. I was surprised, but I should not have been, because this situation is repeated frequently for me as well as many other Black people across the nation.

It hurts to know that I am invisible to some of my own sisters, because I already know what people of other races think when they see me. At the worst, to quote Public Enemy: “The minute they see me, fear me, the epitome of Public Enemy Number One.” At the very least, females of other races desire me based on the mythical sexual prowess of the Black man.

In many ways, my sisters are also invisible. Their unseen hand rocked the cradle of civilization and here in America, it was Black women who nursed both Black and white babies at their breasts at the birth of the nation. During the ongoing struggle for freedom following slavery, the crucial contribution of Black women went nearly unheralded by mainstream media, leaving even some of today’s Black women with the belief that the contribution was small.

In addition, I already understand that some of my sisters see Black men in the media with white women and assume that the occurrence is more widespread than it is and so feel even more invisible to their brothers.

Because we have changed the way we socialize as well as the places in which we work and live, it is harder for us to find each other, leaving both Black men and women feeling invisible. Sometimes, when we do see each other, it isn’t the best image.

As a Black man, I can be seen clearly as a criminal suspect on the news; as comedy relief where the joke is all about my ethnicity; as a reason for the displacement of white men on the job due to Affirmative Action and as the reason for the problems of the world.

Black men can be seen as the cause of any Black woman’s misery; as the prime suspect of spreading HIV and as the harbinger of divorce and loneliness. We can also be seen as the sole reason for single parent homes and as the owners of lust for white women and disdain for Black women.

We are so much more than that propaganda.

Black women can be seen clearly as ever-ready promiscuous vixens and video hoes; the eye-rolling, neck-twisting ghetto birds with funny names who drag down the race’s decorum with their antics. They can be seen as the consistently negative, cartoonish hoodrats; as man-hating, combat boot-wearing feminists and as mothers of the reasons for the problems of the world.

But they are so much more than that.

To my sisters: I hear you when you say that you, too, feel invisible, but if I can not get you to hear me and to see me, then we will remain inaudible and invisible to each other.

The most ignorant Negroes (most of the rappers and comedians, all of the drug dealers, plus O.J., Kobe and Michael Jackson) who are the living embodiment of all that is blamed on Black men garner more notice than the fathers, husbands, teachers and community activists who are not the loudest, but who are doing the real work.

Even in conversations with some of the Black women who see Black men for perhaps the wrong reasons, we are not seen or really heard. We hear the things being said about us, but when we begin to speak about how we really feel, there comes a rage against us for daring to speak at all. To witness this, go to some of the websites that carry my column and read the mean and ignorant responses to things I never said or feelings I’ve never held.

    I am accused of being misogynistic, but those who hurl such accusations can not deny that situations I speak of actually exist or that the resulting pain for some brothers is real. They just don’t see me or hear me.

    I am invisible to many of my sisters.

    I am invisible to most of America, only showing up as a suspect or a target. But that doesn’t bother me, because I still work hard to represent my people well, and the only eyes I really care about are on the faces of Black women.

For a number of reasons, Black men seem to be invisible to some of our own sisters. This is a perplexing situation, indeed, but particularly frustrating when we hear Black women complain that they can not find us. If I could say it loud enough to be heard across the Diaspora, I would exclaim: “Black woman, I am here and I see you! See me!”

If we can become visible to each other, perhaps we can begin to really see and hear each other and really begin to work things out.

So my part in this is to continue to recognize my sisters. When I see them on the streets or wherever we meet, I will offer a simple greeting to let them know that to me, they are very visible.

    I will continue to do so, even beyond the pain that comes when my greeting is met with a stare, a frown, or even worse–nothing. To quote Marlon Brand “She looked at me as if I was a bug.” Even that would be an improvement over what we sometimes give each other.

    I will accept my role as The Invisible Man–a man with no name, because as the song goes, “that way I won’t have to feel the pain.” I harbor hope that one day we will open our eyes and begin to really see each other.

But until then, I’ll be invisible…invisible…invisible.

By Darryl James

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