First published in 1952 and immediately hailed as a masterpiece, Invisible Man is one of those rare novels that have changed the shape of American literature. For not only does Ralph Ellison’s nightmare journey across the racial divide tell unparalleled truths about the nature of bigotry and its effects on the minds of both victims and perpetrators, it gives us an entirely new model of what a novel can be.
As he journeys from the Deep South to the streets and basements of Harlem, from a horrifying “battle royal” where black men are reduced to fighting animals, to a Communist rally where they are elevated to the status of trophies, Ralph Ellison’s nameless protagonist ushers readers into a parallel universe that throws our own into harsh and even hilarious relief. Suspenseful and sardonic, narrated in a voice that takes in the symphonic range of the American language, black and white, Invisible Man is one of the most audacious and dazzling novels of our century.
This Thanksgiving holiday, much like last year, was overshadowed by demonstrations against police brutality further exposing the reality of the un-justice system in America. Except this year, we were not protesting the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, this time, it was in my hometown of Chicago, Illinois and the victim was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald who was shot 16 times in the back by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, I was at my favorite bar on U street awaiting the release of the video that would show Laquan McDonald being executed in middle of the street by CPD. The incident, which actually happened a year ago, was covered up by the CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy (recently fired, finally) and the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel (should be fired, finally). The video was to be released on the eve of Thanksgiving, and would unquestionably spark protests across the city. After spending all summer in Chicago protesting and organizing full-time, I was anxious and nervous that I could not be in Chicago with my comrades who would absolutely be taking the streets of Chicago. So I decided after enjoying a couple drinks with friends and conversing with the bar’s regulars, and against my mind’s own strict orders not to, I watched the video. I left the bar, and no more than two minutes later, was harassed by DC Metropolitan police as I was crossing the street. “He must be bored!” an older black man reassured me once I made it to the other side of the street. I wish boredom wasn’t a good reason to be evil. I imagined myself as Laquan McDonald, in the middle of the street, fate at the hands of police. It is so easy, too easy, to become a hashtag these days.
There is this thing that happens when you see someone that looks like you, or your brother, or your future child, being killed unjustly by police, over and over and over again. It either makes you numb to the violence, allowing you to passively accept that violence as normal, mandatory, or warranted. Or it fills you with rage. A hopeless rage. A rage that can never truly be retaliated. We’ve seen countless black and brown bodies shot down by police since the killing of Trayvon Martin, everyday we’ve hash-tagged the names of our skinfolk or kinkolk, we’ve erected street memorials of flowers, cards, and candles. And for many of these faces, these families, we have not received due justice.
So Thanksgiving, for the second year in a row, we unknowingly decided between choosing love or choosing hate. Choose to give and show compassion and care to the people around us or fight against people, or systems, that dehumanize and harm us. We shouldn’t have to fight to live. We shouldn’t have to, year after year, prove our humanity to a system that devalues us. I choose life and love. I can no longer stand for reactionary causes. Real revolution starts with, and ends with love.
On Thanksgiving, in response to the Laquan McDonald video, we gave love. Wholeheartedly. We gathered in McPherson Square, a park just blocks from the White House, known for it’s influx of homeless residents. We shared, we prayed, and we gave thanks. We watched families, organizations, and businesses pass out food along side us. We gave out tons of food and toiletries to people who needed it. Ethiopian food trucks passed out traditional thanksgiving meals, just because. We conversed with each other, and even if just for a few hours on a beautiful and warm Thanksgiving day, our only concern was making sure everyone had a plate. The reality of the moment was heartbreaking. Here we were, hungry and close to poor ourselves, passing out food to hundreds of homeless people in the Nation’s capital. It’s a crushing reality knowing that this nation, our government, doesn’t value the lives of it’s people; poor, black, veteran or other.
At such a strange time in this country, where institutional and state-sanctioned violence is widespread, the only thing we can do is act in love. By acting in love, we are naturally protesting and boycotting any organization, system, or people that does not benefit the collective humanity, happiness, and peacefulness of all human beings.
November is one of my favorite months. Its something about watching the leaves change colors, the wonderful smell of autumn, and the feel of love and gratitude that comes with thanksgiving. It’s the perfect time to curl up with a Toni Morrison novel, and be with the one you love.
God Help The Child is the November feature for Melanin Book Club.
November is also National Novel Writing Month!
Melanin Book Club encourages and supports everyone, especially readers and writers of color to participate by writing a novel, short or long, that highlights and praises the experience of people of the African diaspora. It is all the more important that we begin write and tell our stories, as we continue to read them. May you be inspired this month with one of the best African American female novelist, Toni Morrison.
When we find ourselves on the cusp of reaching our dreams, nearly overcome by the fatigue of late nights and the hunger of much deserved success and acknowledgement, it is easy to lose sight of our true selves. One’s personal journey is never easy, in actuality; following our dreams with all that we have is probably the hardest thing that we will ever undertake. We are tested every step of the way so that when we finally reach our destination, not only are we happy but our hearts are light and filled with gratitude and love to share with others. We are better in tune with the infinite.
As I embarked on my journey to manifest my dreams and fully live with purpose, I’ve been faced with many hardships and barriers along the way. We often think that our dreams are unattainable for this very reason. When we see obstacles in our way, instead of having the courage and faith to strive all the more, we often fall victim to fear and our own self-doubt. Fear is an illusion. The things that we fear most in life only exist within the barriers of our mind. We create these false illusions as restraints because not pursuing our dreams is a lot easier than having faith. To go against what we’ve been taught and indoctrinated to do is often intimidating. Maybe you’ve noticed the same to be true with your own personal journey. As young people of color especially, we are encouraged to pursue our dreams only if they fit within the four corners of the box that society, or our family, has constructed for us. By trying to mold our dreams to fit into this box, we succumb to the fear that limits us and we will never reach absolute happiness.
I’ve completely done away with fear. “Fear and God cannot occupy the same space,” I recently learned from civil rights icon and comedian Dick Gregory. Fear and I cannot even be in the same room; one of us will lose. Recognizing my trials and, at times, seemingly negative experiences as truly a part of the journey has shaped my perspective on life and has positively influenced my relationship with self and with others. My fearlessness has inspired those around me to dwell within the same mindset and to set out on their own journeys to self-fulfillment. It has also caused others to place their own fears, like burdens, upon me. That energy is consuming. Even if it comes from a place of love, fear is toxic. To let others place their fears upon you gives that person the power to control the direction of your dream. Instead of being in the driver seat of our own car, directing our dreams, by taking on the fear of others, we give them permission to blindly direct and steer our car for us. I never want to be in the passenger seat on the road to realizing my dream. I want to drive. Even if I get tired and have to stop for gas occasionally, allowing someone else’s fear to drive me is like giving them permission to crash and totally wreck my dream.
We lose sight of our true selves when we let others take control of our dreams. I’ve learned that as I pursue my deepest desires, I will be faced with many challenges that will test the faith that I have in myself. It will also make those around me uncomfortable because living in my truth requires everyone who comes in contact with me to question his or her own truths and reality; and adjust. It is easy to become distracted and fearful of change but victory is awarded to the one who perseveres and never loses sight of the end goal. We learn and grow the more we struggle; we win. We lose when we submit our dreams to the fears of those around us.
Be patient with yourself. Practice gratitude. Be thankful for every struggle and every misstep. Every time that I have a setback, instead of complaining, I practice sincere gratitude. I’ve become truly thankful for the adversity and hardship that I’ve experienced in my life. Instead of using pain as a crutch to stop me from following my dreams, I turn my poison into medicine. The lessons that I have gained and the knowledge that I have received in the midst of all adversity has made me who I am and has equipped me with knowledge that one can only receive through experience. For that I will always be thankful. Gratitude is what lightens our heavy hearts.
Be in tune with the universe. Meditate. Meditating and chanting has allowed me to find peace of mind. Some of us don’t know what we want in life or from our lovers because our mind has not been quiet long enough to tell us. By being in tune with the universe, we uplift ourselves. I can no longer operate on low levels or dwell in dissatisfaction because meditation has allowed me to elevate and understand the oneness of self. Jay Electronica’s “Better In Tune With The Infinite,” is a song that has helped me on my personal journey. Sometimes the best we can do for ourselves and for those around us is to distance ourselves, whether physically or mentally, so that we may be better in tune with our dreams and with ourselves to manifest infinite possibilities. Only then can we know peace and love and then, and only then, can we share it with others.
Originally published for Black Girl In Om, March 2015.
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. (GoodReads)
“I’ve been wondering who might fill the intellectual void that plagued me after James Baldwin died. Clearly it is Ta-Nehisi Coates. The language of Between the World and Me, like Coates’s journey, is visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive. And its examination of the hazards and hopes of black male life is as profound as it is revelatory. This is required reading.”—Toni Morrison
Join Melanin Book Club as we read Between The World and Me this October.