To the skeptics and the willingly blind,
Recently, a friend and I was talking about politics and current events and this phrase was uttered:
“I think people are exaggerating. Well, it’s not like the world is going to end.”Or something to that effect; I don’t remember it word-by-word.
And immediately, it had a gut-clenching effect of hopelessness and frustration on me. The phrase contains a world of privilege that some would sacrifice everything to have.
That simple phrase opened up a chasm of experience between suffering and a TV screen, death and the even voice of a newscaster. The individuals and the statistics used to represent them. The eye-watering emotion of a well-written book and the inert words that you could stop reading at any time… except not everyone is able to “go back to the real world”.
If you’re tired of seeing the news, you turn it off and ignore it and keep on with your days. You don’t want to see suffering, you close the door so you don’t have to hear your parents watching the news. When you walk past people demonstrating or petitioning and you’re irritated they’re wasting your time.
No, these issues aren’t your fault as a common citizen but to numb your awareness is to walk around intentionally blind. To live in a black-and-white world because you couldn’t handle the sensation of colors. Besides, you wouldn’t want others to turn away in your time of need so why would you towards others?
Feel the anger. Feel the sadness. Feel everything when you see broken little bodies coming out of elementary schools, feel everything when you see the bodies of mothers cold over their infants, feel for the village of children where everyone else has been eaten up by War. Feel when you see men treated worse than animals, when women become faceless and when the profit of one trump the good of many.
Of course, the world wouldn’t end. Society and people would carry on but remember: society, laws and rules don’t protect people, rather, it is the people who protect society, the status quo, the law.
When a middle schooler came home to find her mother deported, don’t you think her world ended just a little?
When a man was short $50 on his GoFundMe to pay for life-saving insulin, he literally died. He left behind an ailing mother who also passed away.
When a teenager is forced to give birth to a malformed infant after a rape or a rape survivor has to see her rapist granted custody of her child, feeling less than a worm on the sidewalk, don’t you think their worlds have ended then?
When a parent travels thousands of miles because even the threat of death isn’t enough to make them stay only to see their child die at the doorstep to freedom when they needed to be treated like people but were instead deemed worse than vermin, don’t you think their worlds ended?
These millions of little deaths individually should be worth more than the comfort and ignorant bliss you get from closing your eyes and ears.
It’s not about you, okay? IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! Your discomfort, unease, whatever it is, does not compare to this monumental suffering. It’s doesn’t mean that one has to be consumed with it but the worst one can do is turn their back and become tired. Because, that’s when hope is lost. This devil of fatigue, of mental sleep is so alluring because it feels unfair to feel the burden of suffering you didn’t cause and feel too little to alleviate but even if one in one hundred can bear it and cry out and say “I hear you”, then just in the US, that would be three million voices strong.
So, don’t turn away. Feel every one of these little deaths like pricks on your skin. Let them tattoo you and empower you to act and change a world that isn’t nice.
Merriam-Webster defines identity politics as politics in which groups of people having a racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group.
Identity politics are a persistent part of the American narrative, as they would be for any non-homogeneous society. A homogenous society tends to assume a singular culture which would include the same beliefs and identity. This means that everyone will easily agree on how to use resources and what should be prioritized. This is an idealized benefit of homogenous society, but it also means the members of said community would have more difficulty interacting with people from other communities. It could even mean a more difficult time thinking outside of the proverbial box, stifling innovation. These would be the strengths of a heterogeneous society. . . if such a society could manage to cooperate but of course that’s if they could settle on an agenda. America elected to have a democratic republic and that means America should evaluate the weak points of such a system and make them less vulnerable.
I commend the fundamentalists for trying to stick especially close to what they believe is the exact vision of the Founding Fathers but as with most fundamentalists: they never consider that the context has changed since then. It’s always struck me as odd but of course, that would mean that they would find them to be self-evident truths. As these are the core values that they refuse to have compromised. That isn’t to say that federalists constantly make ethical concessions but that they’re constantly illustrated as being “less sane” due to their progressive agenda. Of course, this is just a tactic to win arguments in policy by targeting the public’s insecurity with change as well as the expenses that come with adjusting. Quite frankly, I’m of the opinion that the whole constitution of the American government is a social experiment with ideas borrowed from the Native Americans, the Magna Carta and The Enlightenment; therefore, the government would follow to have a progressive agenda on most matters. Of course, many things tend to be rather ambiguous when it comes to the more theoretical cases; that’s exactly why we elect presumed experts to oversee such things so that the everyday man can go about his personal affairs.
A democratic republic in and of itself is to appoint experts to oversee the operations of the government. Identity politics have a negative connotation whenever it’s mentioned in any commentary. It’s become the go-to for “I can’t empathize or remotely understand your mindset because I feel that it doesn’t affect me but I will acknowledge that a minority of the population is concerned with the same thing as the issue you have just presented.” Or even more demeaning, “The issue you have presented affects a small minority and for that reason, it is not a major concern that needs to be addressed. I dare say it is a waste of resources.” This is the polite way of putting it. I would advise readers to continue the discussion in the comments but the United States of America was founded on salutary neglect and identity politics. No one was advocating for the British colonists “across the pond”. So they advocated for themselves but there was an issue of the Loyalists, Tories, and “Patriots”. Ultimately, America did get its independence despite the reluctance and opposition of others. I’d like to know why this differs from minority groups that have been systematically persecuted from doing the same thing. However, bear in mind that these minorities would like to be treated as equal and NOT superior to others by enforcing a hierarchy that means stripping others of their rights.
Liberals have started to advocate for intersectionalism (that the overlap of various social identities, like race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual) to better unite the party with an identity. Largely because they unfairly characterised and branded the Republican party for years and for free without determining where they themselves truly stand. I assume it was to avoid limiting the scope of their audience by saying, “if you aren’t these things, we will warmly accept you” given the two-party system America has always had going on.
In the time that it took me to complete this article, Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally testified before Congress. In the time that it took me to write this article, 55 people were fatally shot in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas and there was an attempt in Springfield, Missouri. In the time it took me to complete this article, I was indignant than the devil’s advocate, before taking to the dreaded fence. The United States has internalized the bipolarism of the Cold War to an excessive degree. As it stands, Republican is now synonymous with racist and Democrat with contradictory cradle cullers. Things have grains of truth but humans are such that we try to establish generalizations as to the regular standard by which “all of them” operate. It lends to the whole Us vs Them dynamic.
There’s always this nebulous cloud of unease whenever I get invited to a discussion of race and privilege with a white person. At best, they could listen to what’s being said and try to understand but at worst, it will devolve into a he said she said where everything is taken as a personal attack or a joke. This article puts that feeling into more definite terms.
Within the past several decades, as people take an increasingly nuanced look at their identity, many more identities have risen to the public awareness. These different identities aren’t new to the human race. There have been many representations of people identifying as queer and transgender etc. since people have existed. Whereas before, Western and specifically American culture has shunned and punished those who wore these identities proudly, there are more consequences to acting out hate and prejudice against queer and non-cis people. (I won’t talk about the rest of the world.)
However, as with all other types of prejudice, it can manifest in very subtle ways. Besides the sign-wielding, megaphone type of prejudice, the far more insidious half-suggestions and denials is more damaging in the long-term and harder to snuff out.
The refusal of people to use one’s chosen pronouns and name.
The refusal of others to recognise your partner, rather labeling your relationship as “good friends”.
The “it’s just a phase” from your parents
It’s the implication that you as a person is “ok” just as long as you’re not “too gay” or as long as you’re “reasonably passing”. Basically, what it means is that as long as people are able to assume that you’re cishet, then you’re good. This was the idea behind Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
People keep saying, “I’m okay with gay people, as long as…” To me, there are two points wrong with this. Besides what I said in the previous paragraph about performing “normality”, they’re identifying people first as gay and using that label to decide what they think about them before anything else. Not being cishet shouldn’t be a person’s identifying characteristics just as being cisgendered or heterosexual isn’t. Because having a particular sexual identity or sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily tell them any information about that person other than how they identify within/out the gender binary and who they find sexually attractive. That’s it. Second, just the fact that they have to say “you’re okay” with a person’s existence. You and I exist independently of what others think of us. It shouldn’t be within the ability of a person to judge another’s existence.
That is tolerating. Tolerating is you don’t get in my way, I won’t get in yours. There is still a sense of separation, an uneasy truce. Tolerating is my mother knowing my friend is bisexual and letting her stay the night but would disown me if she knew I was bisexual. Tolerating is the “equal but separate” treatment which everyone knows isn’t equal. It’s “you can exist as long as you don’t think you’re equal to me”.
That is why true acceptance is important. The response to “I’m gay.” should be “Cool.” and move on. It should be as easy as telling people your favorite color or pasta sauce. You don’t say, “It’s okay that your favorite color is yellow,” because it doesn’t need to be said; it’s not controversial, the other person wasn’t really expecting anything otherwise and it doesn’t say anything about you as a person besides the fact that you like yellow. This is what needs to happen not only for LGBTQ but also for things like mental conditions, disabilities etc. These are normal parts of being human and they need to be normalised.
That’s it for this time. I have a link for a 2016 essay on the intersection of race and sexual orientation that I couldn’t fit up there so if you wanna read it, check it out. This is Lieutenant and we’ll talk to you next time!
I recently finished Pure, a book about the purity movement in evangelical Christianity (and beyond)and the psychological effects it has left on the generation of girls that grew up under it. It’s a really good read and offered me a lot of insight into the minds of a community that I have always had a hard time understanding. (I don’t have firsthand experience being immersed in this sort of culture so please read the book if you’re interested in learning more.) In it, there was one idea that really struck a chord with me — a lightbulb went off:
Othering (n.) – The process of perceiving or portraying someone or something as fundamentally different or alien.
So today, we’re going to explore a little part of the purity culture with the concept of othering as well as some other topics to explore a little more about the human condition. **To be clear, in relation to our discussion about purity culture, I will be focusing on the effects on women; for some sources exploring how it has affected people more broadly, check out the bottom of the article for additional resources.**
In the book, the concept was introduced when the author pointed out that many within the communities that adopted the purity movement saw how it was affecting their children negatively with none of the benefits that it was supposed to guarantee (lower sexual activity, delayed sexual “debut”, lower teen pregnancy rates, etc.) and yet did nothing about it. The leaders of the communities often also refused to acknowledge the damage done to the members of their community. Even those close to victims could often found to be unsympathetic or worse, judgmental. Why?
There is a prevalent sense of shame associated with any deviation from this culture. Those who deviate aren’t worthy, unsaved, dirty, used, and somehow less. To further enforce these ideas, some communities associate the deviations with biases and prejudices the community may hold, subconscious or otherwise. These biases/prejudices may be based on race, class, ethnicity or religiosity (and obviously, being a gendered issue and also affecting women disproportionately, gender). This, then, introduces a strong divide in what people perceive that those that are like and those that are unlike themselves. Since much of the US’s, and indeed, the world’s Christian communities are heavily influenced and dominated by those considering themselves Caucasians and evangelical, the out-group will be made of those who are decidedly not those things. Subconsciously or not, people who are sexually active, sexually expressive, sex positive, have been r*ped/assaulted etc. will be thought of being black/brown, poor, uneducated, atheistic, etc. and therefore, not the image of a good, white Christian so these sort of things will never happen to them. This obviously will play out in the many ways these beliefs can manifest in racist acts etc. but we won’t talk about that now.
There is a prevalent sense of shame associated with any deviation from this culture. Those who deviate aren’t worthy, they’re unsaved, dirty, used, and somehow less. To further enforce these ideas, some communities associate those who deviate with biases and prejudices the community may hold, subconscious or otherwise. These biases/prejudices may be based on race, class, ethnicity or religiosity (and obviously, being a gendered issue and also affecting women disproportionately, gender). This, then, introduces a strong divide in what people perceive that those that are like and those that are unlike themselves.
Since much of the US’s, and indeed, the world’s Christian communities are heavily influenced and dominated by those who identify as Caucasians and evangelical, the out-group will be made of those who are decidedly not those things. When being a virgin and untouched is synonymous with being a good Christian girl while those used as an example of a sexual sinner is someone who is homeless, a minority, an immigrant or someone who dresses “immodestly”, then when confronted with a Christian girl who isn’t sexually “pure”, many would try to ignore it in hopes of denying the fact that it could happen within a good Christian community. This is especially troubling when faced with issues like pedophilia, r*pe and other forms of sexual abuse.
Failing to conform to the standards of sexuality makes one as other as someone who is not accepted within the community. Such guidelines create room for other implicit interpretations which leads to ostracizing the “others” instead of addressing whether their inability to conform is their fault or if the guidelines themselves too unforgiving. Someone who is sexually assaulted is at fault for “not fighting back hard enough” or for being a “tease”. Nonconformity immediately places one outside the umbrella of protection offered by the Christian community. No longer are you a child of God being tested by the devil but someone who must be avoided so that the unacceptable behavior does not become acceptable by mere exposure or “infect” the rest of the pious community. The book goes into more detail with personal accounts of how this culture has created an atmosphere of almost constant shame and anxiety even when individuals hadn’t done anything to be ashamed or anxious about.
And the thing is, this doesn’t even touch on the fact that this seems to leave some Christian minorities perpetually with two bad options. If you fit the stereotype, then it enforces their beliefs and is used as justification for ill treatment. If you don’t, there is still a sense of shame and fear moreso because you’re seen as more likely to “succumb” to it. For example, black girls are often seen as more sexually mature and more capable of adult-like thought than their white counterparts and are punished more severely as a result. This happens despite the fact that black girls cannot control the rate at which their bodies mature and are often sexualised at a young age (starting as young as five). This intersection of both race and gender under this religious context creates a doubly toxic environment for those growing up with it.
The effects of interracial dynamics whether positive or negative are well-documented especially between groups that have in contact for thousands of years but those within a race are less obvious and less understood. There is othering within racial groups as well that cause significant social issues. Race has been simplified in large part to skin color in the history of the US and it plays a huge role in how the in-groups are formed within a racial minority. In Asia, colorism is highly prevalent and can be seen in everyday media, marketing and in the popularity of whitening creams. This exists to a large extent in most of the world touched by Western influences. White was beautiful, dark was not. This creates the lighter-skinned in-groups and the darker-skinned out-groups.
This not only impacts people’s opportunities for social and economic mobility but also exposes them to discrimination from their own racial group in an effort to distinguish more markedly the difference between the two groups, though oftentimes the differences were non-existent and based on stereotype. Think of Dr. Bledsoe‘s character in Invisible Man.
Because of these divides within the communities, it undermines any effort to progress the group’s rights or status as some within the group are content to cater to the majority by stepping on others within their group.
I didn’t go into a lot of detail in this second part so I’ll leave some supplementary material below if you would like to learn more.
Let us know what you think in the comments or the contact form, follow us or leave us some appreciation on our Patreon if you would like to support future articles.
In any case, hope you’ve learned something new and we’ll talk to you next time,
- Rape Culture
- Internalised Racism
- A deep analysis into intra-racial othering and racial self-loathing with a focus on Asians
- Crash Course: Racial/Ethnic Prejudice & Discrimination
- Intersection of Feminism and White Supremacy
- Impurity Culture: Surviving Virginity
Written by LtDemonLord
Edited by Nemoulysseus
Originally written for my AP Lit class
IM stands for the main character, the titular Invisible Man
Each part of this series will cover material on approximately every 100 pages of the book, although there will be some overlap.
[Battle Royal scene]
The blacks in this society are treated as little more than circus monkeys, there to mock and as entertainment. What praise they get are for performance measured in standards humiliating their individuality and intelligence. It’s like how a raven is judged to be smart because it knows how to use a stick to get at a morsel of food. The IM is similarly being judged to be smart based on the presumption of his inherent stupidity and the reward he gets (the scholarship) is something that is not worth anything to the people he gets it from. When he performs a seemingly unlikely feat for his race (being intelligent and articulate), the so-called patrons of the advancement of black youth congratulate themselves, crediting themselves with the work he did. They were the ones responsible for pulling up his race’s dignity and intelligence because they were the ones that allowed him the opportunity of education. They see the rise of black people from a “lower” society as a sign of their own generosity, never thinking that the right to life, liberty and prosperity is truly unalienable to any man. The discrimination and microaggressions in IM is subtle and often hard to grasp because it’s layered in honeysweet words and actions. Everything is done in insinuations and the threat of ingratitude and a return to poverty hangs over the black people who are gifted this taste of a white man’s “superiority”. It is similar to a government cruelly taxing its citizens to the point of famine and then demanding gratitude when they decide to redistribute a little of the food stores. This way, there is no way for people to address this attitude because they would be seen as a troublemaker and ungrateful. The patrons speak of the black race through their own perspective which is why Mr. Norton was fascinated with both Trueblood and what happened at Golden Day because while he was going on about how his fate was tied to the success of the black students, his experiences with Trueblood and in Golden Day affirms his superiority over the very race he’s trying to “raise” and empowers him in this task by making him a saintly figure gracing these fallen people with his gifts when really, he and his kind are what took these people and crushed them under their well-shined shoes and then put themselves as false prophets bringing to the people something which should have been a natural right. A modern example can be seen in the label of ungrateful over social movements like TakeTheKnee and Black Lives Matter.
[Dr. Bledsoe’s Meeting with the IM]
“The only ones I even pretend to please are the big white folk, and even those I control more than they control me… These white folk have news… to get their ideas across. If they want to tell the world a lie, they can tell it so well that it becomes the truth; and if I tell them that you’re lying, they’ll tell the world even if you prove you’re telling the truth. Because it’s the kind of lie they want to hear… I’ve made my place in it and I’ll have every Negro in the country hanging on tree limbs by morning if it means staying where I am. I had to be strong and purposeful to get where I am. I had to wait and plan and lick around… Yes, I had to act the nigger!” (pg 142-3)
Here, we see a more vicious side of Dr. Bledsoe. We see that the IM is starting to get a taste of what it is outside of his idealistic world. We see that the mild-mannered Dr. Bledsoe is actually someone who is very pragmatic in his methods to gaining and keeping his power. He is willing to sacrifice one member of his race in order to maintain the status of the rest, especially of himself and his institution. He has no illusions about uplifting his race to an equal level to the whites that he pleases on the surface. He wants to keep what he has and is content to work his “power” from the shadows.
Like with every other social issue, the question of racial equality is something that many people have different opinions about. Some take the high road with peaceful protests and civil disobedience. Others don’t wait for change to happen, they respond with terrific passion and sometimes, it leads to physical confrontation. Still others believe in reforming the system from the inside. There is another type who, like Dr. Bledsoe, is someone who is jaded about how society works and doesn’t hold any ideals or illusions of changing the way things are and instead choose to focus on elevating themselves; the fate of similar others are a secondary priority and oftentimes neglected altogether. This brings the motif of power. All of these methods are to gain power. With Dr. Bledsoe’s two-faced act, he doesn’t pretend to really care about the rest of his race. It just happened that his position is the director of an all-black school. Everything he preaches is just something for the patrons to hear; he’d rather see the rest of race lynched if only he could retain his power. However, his method does seem to have worked out for him; it’s been noted that he was the only black man the IM has seen who is able to touch a white man and he does have a measure of immunity against the distaste and contempt the rest of the white folk seem to show so far in the story. Meanwhile, the similarly intelligent but blunt doctor from Golden Day can’t bring himself to scrape and bow and is instead institutionalised. So, the theme here seems to be that pragmatism about your cause in some cases can bring better results than facing a problem head-on which, when you think about it, is something that Booker T. Washington employed with his intent to slowly empower his people through education to become more like the white folk rather than to use blunt force to change legislation and people’s perceptions of black people. I also have a strong suspicion that the Founder is based on Washington; the book even mentions the ambiguity of the statue where the IM isn’t sure the veil is being lifted or brought down on the slave and this reflects the conflict between Washington and W.E.B Du Bois’s views on how to go about bettering the situation of the emancipated slaves with Du Bois believing that a more direct approach would yield better results. By mentioning this, Ellison is weighing in on the debate and it’s clear that he supports Du Bois’s philosophy.
This was the first time that a character acknowledges the invisibility forced onto black people. For all of Dr. Bledsoe’s faults, he is being honest here and this is the first major blow that the IM gets to dispel his illusions about the purpose of the white people. He learns from his most respected role model that lying to the white people is how you please them and that lying is the best way to accomplish anything if you’re a black person in this society. Lying is so integral to the position of members in this society that the white people would be more willing to believe lies even if they know otherwise. So the illusions in this story are present two-fold: in the narrator (aka the IM) and the white folk. People like the IM are what feeds the self-illusion of the white folk. The white folk self-deceived because it will be too much if they were to see how things really were (like with Trueblood) and see that their philanthropy was a sham and that the students they educate are just tolerated. The IM perpetuates this self-congratulatory cycle by showing the dull intelligence and obedience that they would expect out of a well-trained dog and they compare that to the violence and baseness they think is inherent to the black race and say that they’ve contributed to the empowerment of the race.
Applying psychodynamic concepts to IM (Mr. Norton, on hindsight, is super creepy)
Defense Mechanisms with Mr. Norton-
Sublimation – satisfying an otherwise unacceptable impulse in a socially acceptable way
-racist beliefs (that black people are inferior)
– absolved with sublimation where he supports a black college by hiding behind a screen to philanthropy but holds the belief of the “white man’s burden”
– delights in the ways the that the black people are inferior to justify his cause
– “rewards” Trueblood by giving him a lot of money after he was told the story about incest with his daughter. He definitely enjoyed the story and walked away feeling superior to this moral-less man. By giving him money, he also absolves himself of the guilt of his social conscience by feeling this way
– his actions are definitely not fuelled by his daughter’s death. Rather, it seems like Mr. Norton personally related to Trueblood’s story especially with how he had previously described his own daughter’s perfections. So, it may be a way to defend himself against his own thoughts about his late daughter. Human psychology is hard to understand and is oftentimes disturbing.
Repression – preventing disturbing or anxiety-causing thoughts from rising to consciousness
-what I mentioned about Mr. Norton towards his daughter (the money could also be used as a distraction from his thoughts)
Displacement – satisfying an unacceptable impulse to a substitute and
Projections – attributing unacceptable thoughts or impulses to another person
– battle royal
– displacement – any anger from other sources (argument with wife, feeling inadequate, feeling that they’re treated unfairly at work etc.) is directed towards the blacks instead and they get to yell obscenities and threaten physical violence, letting them vent their anger and frustration onto people that can’t defend themselves (aka kicking the dog or beating your wife).
-projections – (once again, Mr. Norton’s fascination with his daughter) The violence and hatred that the patrons of the “fight club” feel is exemplified in the blindfolded participants of the battle royal and they get to avoid responsibility for their own feelings because they can then attribute these feelings to a people that they feel is safely separated from them
In reality, the Mr. Nortons of society is more poisonous to social progress than the overt racists we see in the battle royal scene. Both promote the worst parts of the black race and reward them but the covert racists like Mr. Norton are able to do so with a smiling front and are harder to confront because their methods of undermining the people’s dignity and status are more subtle and casts doubt on people’s suspicions.
- What fears does this text generate?
The fear of not being seen, the fear of being powerless and the fear of not knowing what’s going on. One of the running themes in the book is in how people see what they want to see of you and not what you really are. Your existence depends on other’s validations of you so if you’re denied of that, especially when it’s a core trait of yourself, you lose your sense of self and you feel invisible. The book demonstrates this right out of the gate with the IM, after being humiliated in the battle royal, was to give a speech and while he was speaking, the men he was supposed to be giving the speech to ignored him. Then, there’s Mr. Norton in the car scene where instead of asking what aspirations the IM has for the future, he instead talks about his own vision and his daughter and in asking the Invisible Man to confirm his fate, he is showing that his philanthropy is just for the statistic of how many people he helped and how many careers he helped make. These people to Mr. Norton are merely numbers, a trophy to add to his wall of accomplishments. So when he asked to know his fate, what he’s asking isn’t in what happens to the people he helps but in what he can use to as evidence of his own goodwill.
With power also comes with influence over reality. Dr. Bledsoe talks about how the white people can make others believe whatever they want through media and that he can make the white people think what he wants them to think and see what he wants them to see (which is why he is threatened when the IM brings Mr. Norton to the old slave quarters). This brings up the second fear of being powerless. The IM is told explicitly that he has no power because his opinion can be overridden and he can be easily discredited.
Then, there’s the big reveal of Dr. Bledsoe’s true self and how the IM doesn’t know what’s true and what’s false because reality seemed so contradictory to his idealistic worldview and he has trouble reconciling the two. This is the fear of not knowing what’s going on. The IM has always carried around a sense of unease about his lack of knowledge about the world ever since his grandfather’s dying words implicated that things aren’t always the way they seem. Together, these fears are what contribute to many of the plot points and revelations in the book and through these fears, Ellison is then able to articulate the more subtle aspects of racism that is otherwise hard to grasp and empathise with especially for those who have never experienced it before.
- How is the IM able to maintain his identity if there’s no one to confirm his existence?
Since we’ve established that a person’s identity is through the perceptions of others around him, the IM is a paradox where, in the present time, he isn’t acknowledged by anyone but he still retains a strong presence in his environment. The way he seems to confirm himself is through light. Light is the source of our primary sense: sight. Through light, his solid physicality can be confirmed in the form of a shadow. In a sense, this could be a physical manifestation of cogito ergo sum where it’s instead I see therefore I am. He also triumphantly declares his existence through his thousand-plus light bulbs. He is able to exert influence on the outside world even though he’s invisible by leaching energy from the electricity company and racking up electricity bills. This is the biggest confirmation of his existence. Although they know the electricity is being used up, they couldn’t figure out that it was him and so, ironically, in being invisible, his presence is louder than when he was trying to be visible. In becoming invisible, he can live outside the laws and basically squats in an unused living space right underneath the people who refused to acknowledge his existence and syphon free electricity.
- In the story, being invisible is a sign of discrimination, however, what are some advantages to being invisible?
Under the cover of invisibility, the IM can punch someone out and have them be clueless as to who the culprit is. With this anonymity, the IM is able to move around and do more without anyone knowing. This reminds me of masks and other face-coverings associated with protests and activism. The massive anonymity in those protests has the powerful effect of protecting the members and making them more menacing since you don’t know who they are. If you take activist groups like Anonymous where the members wear Guy Fawkes masks, the effect of thousands of masks becomes eerie since the masks also suppress any signs of humanity the wearer shows by blocking the entire face and our ability to read intention and emotion in facial expressions. In wearing the same mask, the wearers can also assume a collective identity instead of being individuals.
In this case, the collective anonymity of a race can also be advantageous to its members where it’s hard to pick out an individual among a sea of faces and where because people take less notice of what you do individually, you’re able to slip under the radar as the IM did. This was the purpose of the slave codes pre-1860s and many of the laws in the slave codes were to prevent slaves from communicating so that they couldn’t plan revolts. Those codes were in part fuelled by the need for control and also by the constant fear of the slaves’ masters because, in many places, the numbers of slaves significantly outnumbered their masters. So, in numbers come strength and if the whole of the race were to stand together, then their invisible status would make them a formidable threat both physically and psychologically since the segregation of white and black also meant that to the white folk, the black people’s culture would be alien to them and the lack of knowledge would breed fear. It’s scary to think of the Mr. Nortons that existed and still exist, working a persistent poison among the people. The same powers that work in the IM are at work today and in a lot more ways than just towards someone’s race.
On the other hand, this invisible status means that people are more likely to generalise about the entire race so the attributes of one person or a group within the race are generalised to the rest of the population. This results in persistent stereotyping and subsequent bad treatment to all members of the race.
‘Tis the season of giving (or at least, it was when I began this article in December).
Normally, everyone is happy to receive a gift but there are times when a gift isn’t welcome. Imagine being given something you didn’t even want in the first place and being told that it was the greatest gift anyone could give you and that you should feel grateful because of it. On the other side, there are people who feel responsible for whatever good fortune you have and try to take credit for it by holding the word “ungrateful” over your head.
One of the biggest examples last year was in the #TakeTheKnee protests. The protests, originally as a way to raise awareness about police brutality against African-Americans, were misconstrued first as being unpatriotic and then as being disrespectful against the anthem and the United States Armed Forces, totally ignoring the original intent of the movement. The players and other members of the black community who participated in the movement were called ungrateful in the media and about this same time, they were attacked for being “spoiled millionaires” and that if they have the nerve to protest during the national anthem, then they should get off their spoiled rich butts and join the military.
That is not the point!
How do people fall for this? I know this rant has been a long time coming and this movement isn’t front-page news anymore but Outlet isn’t about current events, it’s about the bigger picture. We talked about American ADHD before where people were somehow or another tricked into ignoring a big problem but since Trump took office, this has been happening constantly.
This is a strategy to divert and distort. This strategy calls upon the existence of the absurd fetish patriotism that exists in American culture. Living in America, you would not think that our reverence for the national anthem and the flag is strange but once you get outside of the US, it does look really strange. It is almost like a dystopia where people are expected to pay ultimate respect to a song and a piece of fabric while fervently believing in the superiority of their way of life. I have said so before and I’ll say it again; you know there’s a problem when people pay more attention to the potential “disrespect” towards inanimate objects or a song especially when the citizens of that song and flag are neglected and demonised.
Here’s a clip from Real Time that talks about this very thing (albeit in stronger terms).
This sort of expectation of gratitude for what should be a God-given right isn’t something new either. The slaves were expected to be grateful for the life they had on plantations under the shackle and whip. Why? Because their masters “saved” them from a barbaric life in their home country and made them worthy to serve “a greater purpose” by so graciously gifting them the mercy and love of God and his Son.
As one of the many activists who helped free South Africa from apartheid, Desmond Tutu characterises it like so:
“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”
There are so many other examples of this which is especially sickening to me because this expectation of unconditional adoration and admiration in return for not doing anything — rather harming the people that you’re expecting that adoration and admiration from is so much like what a narcissist parent does. Besides the physical, economic and social oppression of the African Americans who were forced to come to the colonies, they’ve had to struggle to maintain their own identities and cultural history despite all attempts to strip them of that. Even centuries later, African Americans are expected to keep quiet about their abuse and be grateful for what they have as if the anchormen on Fox were somehow responsible for the success and fame of the football players.
People also try to maintain a level of superiority when they do help the less fortunate. The less fortunate becomes another species entirely. A hobo can’t possibly be as educated as you or me. They can’t possibly as intelligent or hard-working as you and I. They are poor and homeless because they have some intrinsic flaw that makes them as unlike the “rest of us” as a human would be like to a garden slug. So, with these expectations and armed with a suitable amount of pity and an overwhelming sense of one’s generosity, what they see becomes a reflection of their “one story” of the poor. Pity and self-serving generosity is a thin screen to hide behind for the lack of knowledge about other aspects of the human experience.
This doesn’t only apply to America. It applies to whenever people refer to “the children in Africa” or “people who are dying of malaria and AIDS”. What is it exactly does that mean? What are you implying when you say that? Perhaps the reason you say it is because you’re just trying to get your stubborn child to eat his vegetables or to be thankful for what he has, but if you also don’t make it clear to that child that there is little else besides circumstance that separates him from those whom you’re speaking of, then your child will also assume erroneously the character and strength of people he’s only heard about as being pitiful and lacking.
I, for one, don’t believe in altruism. Altruism makes yourself feel better because you then have just cause to think of yourself morally superior and having “done your duty” to the less fortunate. This is also why a lot of problems aren’t solved. What people need isn’t donations to give them food and water and clothes. Those are temporary alleviations. They are temporary solutions to a persistent problem. By empowering people and to make available to them the resources that they weren’t able to access, then poverty would only be a temporary state for those who fall into it because people automatically want to do better by themselves (because some people think that those who are poor like being poor). That’s what a lot of humanitarian organisations are trying to do but there isn’t enough motivation in society at large to help people help themselves because we’d rather provide those temporary solutions than to think that the less fortunate are just like us. As it were, some would like to maintain their high ground so that they can continue to show their “generosity”. A good literary example of this can be seen in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park where Sir Thomas only tolerates Fanny when she is kept in her station and once she shows signs of independence, he sends her back to her impoverished mother to learn some gratitude and humility.
To end, here’s an excerpt from a poem by the ever-progressive Rudyard Kipling, encouraging the US to colonise the Philippines:
The White Man’s Burden
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain,
To seek another’s profit
And work another’s gain.
Lovely, isn’t it? Tell us again how hard life is when you can get a fast food employee suspended from her job for referring to you as a white boy.
This is Lieutenant out.
As human beings, perspective is something that constantly limits us in our ability to understand the world and our ability to empathise with others who don’t have similar perspectives. In this TedTalk, the speaker Ms. Adichie details some stories in her life that led to false expectations and false realities in her own life. I think this is very relevant today when we are often blinded by “a single story”. In psychology, this is called the representative heuristic where the most available example of one thing is taken to represent the whole of that thing. This thing can be a race of people, it can be a place or it can even represent things like political and economic systems. When you only hear one perspective about a thing and it’s the only story you hear, then your knowledge is incomplete and you risk making serious mistakes based on your incomplete knowledge, one of which is your choice in what to vote for. Be informed and seek out sources besides news to inform your choices.
For the 2016-2017 academic year, safe spaces were a particularly hot topic in light of the 2016 election in which both sides of America’s political spectrum were rather vocal in their support or opposition to the idea. There are some articles floating around that claim that safe spaces on college campuses are redundant if not counter-intuitive and promotes segregation instead of diversity. Those who advocate for the elimination or continued absence of safe spaces often misconstrue where safe places would be or exactly what constitutes as a safe space.
This could probably be due to the Sinclair group’s corporate takeover of local news channels so that they can spread their pro-Trump views by using flattering diction. This video is one of the many that appear when one searches “safe spaces” on YouTube. FOX even has several of their own videos which ponder whether millennials will have the necessary skills to fight terrorism. Arguably, their perspective isn’t invalid because it questions the actual worth of the spaces but undoubtedly the language that both the left and the right use to refer to one another is nothing short of inflammatory. The “right” calls the “left” social justice warriors, cucks, and elitist snowflakes but the “left” is no better with insults such as backward hillbillies, Neo-Nazi, and white supremacists. Granted, there are actual neo-Nazis and white supremacists but to generalize all of the people of a particular political ideology certainly does no favors. If anything, it further alienates people.
People are now making awkward attempts to understand each other but it’s still mostly reporting statistics or forgetting that some, the new administration at the very least, promises change. Be it good or bad, people can’t ignore “the other side” anymore or write them off as a silent minority. Most news channels are confused by the conservative populism phenomenon (as historical trends tend to skew towards ideologies that favor progressivism) but there have been populist movements before and it’s always difficult to make sense of things as they happen. After bias, representation becomes the most condemning thing for media. What they decide or not decide to cover decides what voters are aware of as they make decisions. That’s part of the reason why FOX news does so well or that Trump resonated with those who voted for him. But in this case, when both sides speak of the other, it is often while maintaining a caricature of the “other side”. A character. A persona. But not another human being. It then becomes a happy game of either intimidation or provocation on both parts due to this intense feeling of “other” produced by cultural lag. Cultural lag is when cultural aspects that were previously acceptable have been outstripped by progress, in this case, socio-political progress. It has been called fear-mongering and it has been called furious self-righteousness.
I cannot speak as though some do not violently parade under the banner of the Black Lives Matter or even support black supremacy as opposed to equality. In the same way, not all Christians go on Crusades, not all Muslims are terrorists and not every Republican approves of the sitting president. We have to acknowledge these vast overgeneralizations based on extremes and instead look towards the medians. Progressives understand the Black Lives Matter Movement is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. The difference between then and now is that blatant racism was largely accepted. Now we shun actual discrimination without giving much thought to the actual prejudices. Mr. Jonathan Helwink of The Federalist asserts that safe spaces actually make the world a more dangerous place for that very reason. Doing this is often denoted as “political correctness” which helps to harbor resentment or at least the idea that the “left” has sensitive sensibilities which is where the term snowflake comes from.
It cannot be said that all of the right’s views are archaic nor that the left has all the answers to progress. Nor can it be said that one side is superior to the other. Both sides respect humanity but sometimes it becomes a matter of how they approach it. According to the political spectrum some five years ago, many more people were moderates. So what changed in that span of time? Vox in particular points to the rise of nationalism in the Republican base and any mention of the Democrats is usually headed by “reviving the party” and “this is where we went wrong.” What the world is seeing now is called friction. Some minorities want acknowledgement, others want rights, and still other groups just want rights de facto. As soon as the election ended, news companies encouraged people to create a dialogue. For the most part, there were some half-hearted attempts but it didn’t take long to fall back into a routine with all the scandals surrounding the administration and the failure to distinguish between the different types of supporters on both sides of the aisle.
Conservatives still largely feel attacked for having an opinion and liberals do not “deign” to politely explain why they may find certain conservative views “ignorant”. This is the part of the reason why liberals are seen as elitist. Liberals now have views which would have been considered hippie or ultra-contemporary whereas the conservatives more or less want different things in foreign policy but want the domestic policy as it was ten years ago.
I won’t go into too much detail because that will take an entire article in of itself to elaborate fully. However, you can see the difference in the approaches of these two YouTube personalities and you can guess where their political philosophies lie and you can decide for yourself who is more respectable:
Learning that it is a bloody spectrum
If you want the other person to listen to you, you have to be willing to respect them as much as you want them to hear you out. Sometimes, it’s hard to not get emotional as most liberals were after the 2016 election (as it also was in 2000) but that does not excuse the mud-slinging. Twitter posts and the like of conservative minds often remark that they themselves did not behave in such a manner. The liberals were not reluctant to point out that this was not true. My honest opinion is that we all stop being dicks but then there’s the awkward grey area where the dickish people make us appreciate those who will have a dialogue. What to do? What to do? So, about safe spaces… Are they a legitimate thing?
Why I am probably not a credible authority on this discipline
We gossip. We laugh. We lament. We cry. But we do it all with people that seem like us. That is not to say that we are all friends within the space but that we can derive comfort and understanding from these spaces. If one is feeling homesick, one of the ethnic student associations may celebrate by organising ethnic festivals with food and ethnic culture. If one is a girl and is tired of having everything mansplained, there’s a space for women. Honestly, safe spaces are not bubbles that people are born and die in but it is a bubble that one retreats into when you want someone to understand you. I honestly cannot think of a way to define this without Neo-Nazis being able to say aren’t celebrating their “culture” and were also seeking the same comfort and like-mindedness offered in these spaces but I can say with certainty that all the minority groups that are requesting safe spaces do not mean other people harm. That should be the only thing I have to say in that regard.
Appreciating that we have more in common than we give ourselves credit for
We do not forget. We have been enduring. We will forgive if someone were to sincerely apologize but the majority of us bear no ill will to people who bear us no ill will. We have enough issues and although we speak about the things we want to change, there are things we know will take a while to change. That is why we use safe spaces: not to take away from democracy or counter-intuitively stimulate segregation.
Editor’s Note: I believe that we have come to a point where with my unruly schedule, my political forecastings are observations by the time I can write a post. How do you all feel with the current pacing of things? Have you lost track? Have you tried sorting things into wrong and right?