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Invisibility Blues

Invisibility Blues

“somebody/ anybody sing a black girl's song bring her out to know herself to know you but sing her rhythms carin/ struggle/ hard times sing her song of life she's been dead so long closed in silence so long she doesn't know the sound of her own voice her infinite beauty she's half-notes scattered without rhythm/ no tune sing her sighs sing the song of her possibilities sing a righteous gospel let her be born let her be born & handled warmly”

Ntozake Shang

“Let her be born and handled warmly,” declared Shange a few decades ago and in some ways, she was merely echoing Sojourner Truth's profound lament in that powerful question, “...And, ain't I a woman? “One wonders, how does this culture learn to let the black girl be born and handled warmly? Since it is constructed upon the premise that the Black woman is basically the mule of the world whose basic job is to pick up whatever is thrown down before her and to make the best of it; just as Zora Neale Hurston's character, Janie, declares in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In my last Blog on February 11, 2022, I shared a story about being made invisible and engaging the energy of trespassing from a group of white women colleagues. It has been decades since I have thought about that incident, and I have relived some of my pain around it over the past few weeks. I realize that this is the time, in my life, that I can confront the soul wrenching pain of invisibility; yes, this time when I have so much confidence that I am living the life that I came here to live, and I have the clear-headed language for the first time to describe it all as I engage the pain. And more importantly, I know how crucial this conversation is to the deep healing work that blacks and women must do for sustainable relationship building.

A part of the reason that the group of co-workers who went off to the whites only club without me did not feel the necessity to speak about it ever again lies in the fact that I was invisible to them in many ways. So, on one level, nobody was left. Of course, none of them would have been able to name what was happening in that moment. This conclusion arises for me out of my belief that no one who was conscious of me as an equal human being would have been willing to treat me in that manner. They did not see the part of me that was like themselves, the part that would be hurt by such treatment. I was invisible. Invisibility makes trespassing easy as well.

There is a complex set of dynamics that need to be interrogated by white women with black women to make widespread deep and sustainable relationships possible. While there are some instances of such relationships in the present moment, we need them to become much more widespread to create the healing energy necessary to destabilize systemic racism.

Racism has wounded everyone in this country and there is no escaping that reality. Thus, it is important to keep that in mind at all times, but, when a white person tries to show their solidarity with a black person who has shared a situation that represents a lifetime of trespassing and invisibility by proclaiming their colorblindness or describing a situation of injustice against them which happened once or twice, it is hurtful and insulting.

While, white persons may surely tell their stories of being wronged and deserve to be heard with a compassionate heart; when those stories of one or two events of denigration by someone of color are told to counter what a black person has said in regards to a life time of denigration, it is much akin to someone who has lost a fingernail sharing that loss with the person who has lost a hand in an effort to show their empathic solidarity. The intention may be a good one, but the behavior is not helpful. Stories should not be edited or diminished so that the hearers will have less discomfort. The stories need to tell the best truth possible.

And though black women are well versed in the “do not make white people feel too badly about you or become frightened by your narrative,” it is time to vacate that narrative of trying to manage white women's fragility, fear, and inability to stay in the pain of the creation of new narratives until something is born. The conversation is critical and the energy around the awakening will be troublesome until it isn't. The awakening to the necessity to do this work for women of color is painful, risky, and causes fear as well. When we clearly ground ourselves in the fact that we must stay open to healing despite the depths of the wounds caused by racialized trauma, we soon learn that it will cost everything to do so. We are all invited to do our part. Let's be a half shade braver!

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