Invisible Black People: One Aspect of the Invisibility Epidemic

Debbie says:

Laurie and I talk a lot about how closely connected body image is to visibility: if we don’t see positive images of people like ourselves, we have a very hard time seeing ourselves in a positive light. In this article, Ashton Lattimore discusses media-created invisibility from a Black perspective.

Writing about Black people is hard. There are more than 40 million of us in the United States alone, each running around with different ideals, interests, occupations, and income levels. With all of that going on, things are bound to get complicated. So how can the American news media—not renowned for its ability to cover nuance and complexity—engage with all of that?

Of course, they can’t. And they don’t try.

Lattimore, writing for NewsOne, reposted to The Root, identifies seven invisible groups:

1) The Black middle class
2) Gay Black people
3) Missing persons who aren’t white and female
4) Non-Christian Black people
5) Educated, married Black women
6) Africans who aren’t poor, starving, and living in small villages
7) Black police officers

Lattimore is sharp and funny (“If the constant hysterical repetition of the scary statistics is to be believed, you’re about as likely to run into a happily married, educated Black woman with children as you are to be handed a pot of tax-free gold by a leprechaun riding on the back of a unicorn.”/”How else but by ignoring the existence of minority law enforcement officials could media outlets continue to crank out new spins on the old classic “Black Folks Have Historically Fraught Relationship With The (Racist) Cops” story?”) and the points in the article are extremely well-taken. In the section on gay Black people, Lattimore also brings up the racist myth about the passage of California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8: for more on why this myth is nonsense, read transgriot here.

Without in any way detracting from the value of Lattimore’s lists, we could make these lists for every group imaginable. Here are a few, off the top of my head.

Disabled people with good jobs, especially outside of the service sector.
People with disabilities that don’t result in wheelchair use.
Disabled people of color.
Fat people in good relationships.
Middle-class fat people.
Fat athletes, or fat people exercising.
Old fat people.
Transpersons outside of the sex work industry.
Transpersons in good relationships.
White people on welfare.
College students in a family context.
Nontraditional families of any kind (gay parents, more than two parents, interracial, whatever).
Moderate, liberal, or apolitical Muslims
Queer Muslims.

Give me suggestions: I’ve missed hundreds.

To return to Lattimore’s piece,

And when some subset of people doesn’t fit into one of these pre-set narratives? Well, they get the Loch Ness monster treatment: Some kooky blog or other disreputable source might rant and rave about their existence and importance, but you won’t find CNN or the New York Times taking much notice. But we true believers, we know they’re out there.

It’s really hard work to keep remembering what a tiny slice of reality we see in the big world. And it’s so worth the work.

Thanks to onyxlynx for the pointer.

9 thoughts on “Invisible Black People: One Aspect of the Invisibility Epidemic

  1. Hi Debbie,

    Thanks so much for the post, and the link! I’m going to rush off and read it now. As another unicorn (queer feminist Arab man) the difficulties of invisibility are a big deal in my life. Finding other Arab queers and intellectuals has been so, so crucial.

    Some additions for your list: queer Arabs. Feminist Muslims. Muslim intellectuals. Transexuals living in the Middle East .

    I also have a small correction for you: the general term for folks who practice Islam is Muslim. The word you used is something like calling Christians Christianists; it’s not intrinsically offensive, but it is generally linked to either not knowing, or not respecting, the word that Muslims use to describe themselves.

    I offer this feedback with love, respect , and appreciation got the fact that you include Muslims in this post, doing your bit to help us fight invisibility. I know you want to know what word we use for ourselves.

    Xoxo & lunch soon, I hope!


  2. I like this game. Here are a few of my favorites:

    Disabled people in as the dominant partner in relationships.

    Disabled people as parents, especially people with mental disabilities.

    Disabled people in non-disability-related leadership or expert roles, in or out of the workplace.

    Asexual people in a family context. (Or any context, really. We tend to be fairly invisible.)

    Non-liberal gay people.

    Introverts in any context.

    Disabled people who use more assistive tech than is strictly necessary, in order to be more comfortable or to have more options for how to handle obstacles.

    Disabled people who use less assistive tech than would be expected, or unusual assistive tech for their situation. I’m thinking of my ex-boyfriend, as an example – he prefered to crawl rather than use his wheelchair in the house, and would have crawled in public, too, if it was at all safe/acceptable to do so.

  3. I should have qalified “disabled people as parents, especially people with mental disabilities” better – I meant without it falling into the ‘kid sacrificing to take care of their invalid parent’ or ‘crazy abusive parent’ tropes. The idea is to show disabled people actually *functioning* as parents.

  4. “It’s really hard work to keep remembering what a tiny slice of reality we see in the big world. And it’s so worth the work.”

    Spot on! Not to mention an f-ing beautiful post.

  5. Cheddar, in a lot of cases that can bother me too. But I was following Lattimore’s usage in quotations and my own usage in my own words, which explains the disconnect.

    Nabil, thanks, and fixed! I knew that in some part of my brain.

    Adelene, great list!

    youngbohemian, thanks!

    Monica, I’m glad it’s appreciated; it’s certainly deserved. Here and in the previous post, linked from this one, you can see how Laurie and I went off on Dan Savage something over a year ago.

  6. The dominant narrative arc of our society is patriarchial, white, Christian and straight. Anything that creates or exists as a narrative that contradicts the dominant arc is “politically incorrect”, not legitimate and provokes fear and dissonance. The news media is a part of the dominant narrative in ways they don’t even realize. When they cover controversial subjects, they must do so in ways that do not transgress against the dominant narrative to have validity within that context. And it has long and long been a fact that those who are invisible are denied the right to define their own reality, or have valid reactions. Excellent post…
    Here’s one for you – transgendered individuals who for personal reasons don’t transition!
    from a rather invisible transman/butch lesbian Episcopagan reader who fits nowhere on most peoples lists! Thanks for a wonderful post!

  7. I was about to add some examples, but then I realized that I don’t watch enough mainstream media to know whether the things that I assume are “invisible” actually are.

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