“Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with each other. When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
Even though it’s been weeks since I finished this book, I believe it’s one I would continue to see in my reading, interactions and observations, looking at the past and the present. A full gambit of emotions, naivety, confusion, frustration, relief, humor, comfort food, nursery rhymes, ideologies, solutions, disappointments. Recognition, growth, cold, white, black, invisible, acceptance, & in the midst of all of this, gradual understanding.
This book absolutely can’t be rushed, it must be read with thoughtful intention and pauses after every chapter. What Ellison manages to do with our unnamed narrator, and by extension, the reader, is to allow us the opportunity to experience the same growing pains, emotions and experience of being an invisible black man. Conscious and aware of one’s existence in a world of people and situations that make us invisible.
Black people have long been treated as invisible and even still today, the chasm of invisibility exists, the blindness we see in others and ourselves. The ways racism still exerts itself in this “modern” society is still very present. The ideologies, the hidden agendas that are veiled under the cover of progress reveal the motives and intentions that some of us might see as opportunity to have our voices heard, but at what cost? We might be unaware of the invisible strings attached and before we are aware, we learn something else about ourselves and the entities advocating our sameness.
Ellison makes us painfully aware that we don’t have it all figured out, because as soon as we think we see things clearly, there is something from our past that reminds us that something about this new situation for progress is the ONE, this is how we will finally get to where we need to be as black people. And we are striped of our identifies, we are trying to understand how to be ourselves in a world that is cold and still very much black and white. How do we reconcile the fact that what we have been taught continues to baffle us in the face of racism. How can we be a whole person when even among our own race their is division. How do we enlighten ourselves to combating these race problems when so many look right through us, even those of our own race.
Ellison showed me my own naivety, my own shortcomings in the face of the experiences of this narrator. I found comfort in food, just like the narrator, in places that reminded me of home. To embrace who I am, but to remember that hard work and intelligence doesn’t level the playing field, I am still invisible to some.
In the other books I’ve read recently, I could see how black people have been treated as invisible, dispensible in where they live (New Orleans East in The Yellow House), how black owned business, redlining (gentrification), employment, mass incarcerations, police brutality, shows up and feels just like what Ellison wrote about over 50 years ago.
Ellison crafted a masterpiece in American literature that should be studied and contemplated by everyone.