Every reading of Invisible Man drives the reader to the heart of racial awareness: through our narrator, we examine what it means not to be seen as an individual; what happens to one’s dignity when your education, ambitions, human relationships and self-determination are (overtly or sub-consciously) considered available for the taking by those who imagine themselves to have power over you. The constant challenge of reading people’s motives towards you—determining whether they see you as fully human as they see themselves—wears you out.
In the midst of this provocative & sometimes discomforting reading, the film Get Out comes to London and some of the intrepid members of the Salon attend the film together. Without giving too much away, this film reveals the monsters lurking beneath the skin of the apparently well-meaning white liberals. The film also renders the sometimes (Sometimes) subtle forces of cultural appropriation as bodily and violent. Cultural appropriation does do violence—but the wounds are usually psychological: unseen by the ignorant eye. The party scene in the film is particularly cringe-worthy: white viewers may see themselves reflected in the obvious awkwardness of a group of upper-class white people trying to make one black man at ease while downplaying the racial experience. It is deftly handled—particularly when you realise how much more is going on as the movie unveils motives. The movie also uses humour—the great Trickster skill—to bring us close to the fighting hero. Like Invisible Man, the isolated black character must use his wit and craft to survive the monsters. His ability to do so not only endears him to the audience but reveals the Brer Rabbit inventiveness that goes beyond entertaining into the press of survival. Jordan Peele imbeds humour and satire in the very plot structure—he takes Faulkner’s fascination with the historically taboo blending of white & black families (miscegenation) and creates an outrageous Frankenstein. The objectification of black bodies isn’t simply racist in root—the white cultural elites desire the coolness & strength they perceive as natural to blackness— not just to imitate but to take as their own…
This film helps me make the ANCIENT connection between blinding greed (for money, power, youth) and racism. Over-arching self-regard disables one’s humanity –and makes it easier to disregard the humanity of one’s fellow beings. I realise that this is an ancient –and all-too contemporary insight.
The moment of learning often requires discomfort. As one who has inherited the privileges of whiteness, that discomfort should be part of my inheritance. In a work like Invisible Man, some of that discomfort for the reader may be in recognising their own blindness. Every time I read this book, I peel back another layer of prejudice and ignorance. Considering this book carefully with other readers helps me to understand the moment in the Oscars of confusion over the actual Best Picture award opened a double wound: the black artists of Moonlight at first feeling they were not recognised because of their blackness—then worrying that they were given the award as a salve to the accusations of racism in the Academy. There is no uncomplicated victory in the position of the oppressed (Thanks to KP for this insight).
The experience of reading deeply & empathically does not halt at the recognition of difference. Understanding racism—my own and the active and daily racism of our world—requires honouring difference and then reaching for connection. Significant art stretches our perspective to hold both—a greater understanding of the experience (history, struggles) of someone outside our own—and an opportunity to feel emotional resonance in the experience of another. There is great danger in limiting our understanding of individual life (or art) to a racial, ethnic, sexual or religious category. These categorical limits encourage the growing nationalism that threatens our future.
A recent editorial in the New York Times argues that reading deeply ’disrupts the totalitarian narrative’—and why this is so crucial right now:
“All great art allows us this: a glimpse across the limits of our self. These occurrences aren’t merely amusing or disorientating or interesting experiments in “virtual reality.” They are moments of genuine expansion. They are at the heart of our humanity. Our future depends on them. We couldn’t have gotten here without them.”
Books are central to our resistance to a too narrow vision of the world.
Some great resources around the film:
“Get Out: why racism really is terrifying” — http://theconversation.com/
“Interesting piece on the movie especially liked reference to blind man being representative of whites who claim not to see color. Very invisible Man like…”
An ingenious movie takes bloody issue with the idea of a postracial America.