Professor Joseph Lewis
17th April 2013
How to Avoid African Americans’ Invisibility in Literature
Ralph Ellison’s story of The Invisible Man (1952) explains the life of a man who lives underground. He is living underground because he cannot live like the dominant ruling class, the (DRC) members of society, which results in his invisibility.
This paper will analyze African Americans’ invisibility in literature by applying ideas from four books and one essay. The four books are,
The Invisible Man, already mentioned;
The Real Negro: (2004), by Shelly Eversley;
Black Feminist Thought (1990) by Patricia Collins, and
Black Writers of America, (1997) by Richard Barksdale and Keneth Kinnamon;
The essay is titled, “On the Criticism of Black American Literature” (1976) by Houston Baker Jr.
These writings all echo the sentiment of invisibility experienced by the nameless narrator in Ellison’s novel. They also speak to the importance that oppression and knowledge play in empowering oppressed people.
Racial Invisibility and Epistemological Blindness
Racial invisibility by the dominant ruling class (the DRC) members of society, is the act of not seeing a race for what they really are. This means that the DRC and others are not giving full humanity advantages to the socially invisible Blacks. This lack, results in epistemological blindness of full humanity which stems from a logic that positions Black people as subhuman, as out of sight.
Epistemological blindness is willful incompetence by researchers, when they omit or leave out any information that will make their opposition appear to have a better built research paper, by giving equal weight to both sides of an issue. Or when researchers arrive at biased conclusions to data analysis.
The nameless narrator in Ellison’s book also reveals: “That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact” (Invisible Man 1).
The pain experienced by the first person narrator in The Invisible Man gives credence to the story because as the narrator explains “you ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out…” (Ellison 1).
Racial Invisibility as Epistemological Blindness Let’s see what Ms. Shelly Eversley has to say in her book, The Real Negro, and I quote: "The metaphor of racial invisibility spotlights the power and consequences of... the racializing gaze.... Through the act of non-recognition toward the socially invisible, the White American imagined his own autonomy and superiority" (85). Ms. Eversley also “interrogates the relationship between vision, gender, and race, equating invisibility with disempowerment” (Eversley 176).
The Invisible Man’s reconceptualization process of creating a character that would search for both individual identity and racial meaning lifted the African-American spirit as never before. In this book, The Real Negro…, Ms. Eversley argues, that “in the 20th century United States, Black people—now ‘human’—could participate in human interactions” (Eversley xiv). So all the other times they were invisible. And we’re back at the Nameless Narrator’s situation: he too is invisible.
But How Far Would a Writer Go to Explore this Invisibility? to concern himself with finding out about his identity, so as to create a character to do so in a piece of fiction writing, because in real life people consider him as invisible?
Barksdale and Kinnamon say of The Invisible Man, “The search of the meaning of the unnamed protagonist, for both individual identity and racial meaning, in his passage from innocence to experience in a chaotic American society, struck a deeply responsive chord in readers of all races” (Barksdale & Kinnamon 684~33). Now what about African American women? As my history teacher