Friday, September 27, 2013

Almost invisible again.

African American author Ralph Ellison's landmark book about dis-empowerment, and ultimately the journey to empowerment Invisible Man was recently banned by a school board in the U.S.A. It is not important so much that a single school district in the U.S. had chosen to ban a book as to look at the reasons why, and examine this issue in the wider sense. Read the article here

Each individual case needs to be looked at in its specifics, but in cases like this where the book is 60 years old and has been held in libraries since the 50's, a magnifying glass needs to run over why - now - it has been judged to have transgressed some social standard. There is often a repressive and oppressive gene in boards pretty much anywhere, but individual opinion can't be decoupled from the potential of structurally ingrained prejudice. 

These kind of episodes are concerning, and are important to highlight and speak back to. Often the concerns over content and appropriateness and judgements about literary value (laughable, in this case) are beards for suppression of narratives that run counter to traditional power. Terrible irony that 'Invisible Man' itself was subject to an attempt to render it invisible. 

This particular example demonstrates several things:

1) the potential for agendas to come into play at any time, and skew the mix of what is available to our culture, to their own ends
2) that the post-colonial era and its divorce from the colonial past is sometimes only a sheet of paper deep
3) that people, readers, writers, political activists, or just people who care, can fight back. That oppression loves a vacuum, and generally dislikes being daylighted. We can make a difference.The ban was overturned. 

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

~ Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man, 1952

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