The Invisible Woman: With apologies to Ralph Ellison

23 Oct

According to American society I do not exist. I am black, but have never been in jail. Have never said anything remotely like ” Yo, brutha, cut me some slack”, never had a food stamp or been on welfare, have never taken drugs ( that is not to imply I am saintly, Xenia,Ohio where I grew up missed the drug culture until I was too old to justify experimentation–it always took trends longer to get to Xenia,we kind of missed the sexual revolution too, darn it), have been married for decades, my husband is the father of all of my children ( sorry Maury) , I cannot stand rap music, have never lived in a urban environment, do not contort my neck when I am trying to make a point and have never, never watched a Tyler Perry movie, except one time I was dragooned and dragged ( or is it drug?) anyway forced into the theater by some friends.We then had a, shall we call it spirited, discussion of the movie in the restaurant we went to afterward for dinner.

I do not wear extensions ( I thought those were cords for when your laptop plug-in could not reach for the longest time and wondered why people were talking about them in relation to hair!), I am not hip, I do not particularly love Louis Vuitton, or any other designer for that matter and I do not frequently throw up my hands and shout Praise  Jesus! or tell folks to be blessed ( since I am not a saint I am pretty sure I cannot bless people, can I? ), I believe in the separation of church and state. I am a feminist, I believe in a abortion rights and I believe in gay rights and think anyone who loves someone else enough to commit to them should have the same chance to have half their marriages fail as us heterosexuals.

In other words I fail to be black in any way that American society recognizes. Although you might not think this matters, it does. I have had black people tell me I am ” out of touch with black culture” because I did not think it was funny in a Tyler Perry movie–my ONLY Tyler Perry movie, when Medea, supposedly an older black woman with a foul-mouth and irrational reactions, threaten to “shank” a small black child, an orphan no less,  who says something she does not like. The theater audience, which was about 80% black seemed to think that was hilarious. Considering the difficult lives many black children, especially poor black children, have I found it hard to find humor in that exchange. Perry’s Medea either gave rise to or exacerbated an existing stereotype of the “angry black woman.”  This characterization, which includes being irrational and at least threatening violence, means that when a black woman like myself has a perfectly appropriate objection to oppression or complaint about racism, sexism or any other social injustice we can be dismissed as ” difficult.”

I have had white people tell me after presentations at national conferences that ” I would not think of you as black.”  They were not talking skin color, I am not that light. They were talking demeanor and language usage.I did not fit their stereotypes in those areas so they simply removed me from the race, making me honorary white, at least for the moment.

Both groups, the blacks who do not think I am black enough, and the whites who do not think I am black at all, have misconceptions about the diversity of the black community. We are not a monolithic group of urban dwelling, hip hopping, bling wearing, foul mouthed, dysfunctional people. Oh, I know that is virtually all you see on television but people like me exist in good numbers.

I grew up in a place with two historically black universities within 4 miles of my home town. My concept of black people, as a result was one highly educated, erudite and articulate people. I doubt Greene County Ohio is the only place on the planet where the blacks speak standard English and finish college in large numbers. ( I was 30 before I heard that knowing grammatical rules meant you were emulating whites. A lot of my white classmates had some bad habits, like asking ” where is that at?”  or ” I seen it” something I never heard before integration).

So, what is my point? Simply this. I am one of the blackest people anyone ever had the pleasure of knowing. I love being black and resent being considered less than because I do not fit a stereotypical view of blacks.

I am not a myth. I know a lot of other black folks just like me. Look for us, we are not hard to find if you remove your blinders and quit expecting to see something from a movie or television show. To steal a line from Avatar “see me.”


Posted by on October 23, 2010 in Race, The Gospel According to Saint Cookie


4 responses to “The Invisible Woman: With apologies to Ralph Ellison

  1. Amy

    October 26, 2010 at 9:06 pm


    I’ve been told many times that my perception of black people is skewed. I think a lot of it is from growing up in Xenia with the colleges nearby as you noted. I grew up with you and other educated professionals as my normal. I didn’t experience the urban black culture until I went to college, but then they hadn’t met too many people like me either. We learned a lot from each other, just as I had learned a lot from growing up in the atmosphere of Xenia for my first 18 years.

    To make a long story short, there are many of us I am sure who “saw you” over the years!

  2. Nigel A. Gunn

    November 5, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Whilst you “love being black and resent being considered less than”, many people would wish that there was no “black and white” and insist that we are all humans, living in one very mixed up world.
    I would rather not think of people as being of any particular colour or race; you are just all my friends (even the ones I haven’t yet met!).

    • minerva5

      November 5, 2010 at 2:32 pm

      Preferring not to think of people as any particular color is a privilege only afforded to those who do not have to think about it.

      • Julie

        November 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm

        BULLS EYE…we can’t percieve that which we do not know.


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