Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blind Spots

After reading an article on The Root about research that concluded that Black women are "socially invisible," my mind started working overtime. The article referenced a Psychology Today piece-Are Black Women Invisible?

I thought about those times when I felt invisible-whether it was because someone had mistaken me for another black woman. Where I work, two other black women have short hair--one is taller than me and has natural close to her scalp and the other is shorter and has a perm--and I've been confused for both.

Then I also remembered the times when I confused non-black people for each other because I couldn't distinguish between them. For example, I meant no harm when I was teaching and confused students who looked similar.

There is being invisible as in not being in someone's line of sight...and there is being invisible as feeling undervalued. It's complicated because those articles touch on both kinds of invisibility. At times I've felt invisible because I spoke up in a group, only to have what I said be ignored. If and when I insisted on being heard, the message I sometimes received (verbal or otherwise) was that I was being intrusive.

We could all be more mindful of each other.

I went to an African dance class last week and not once, but twice, a large
black woman walked over to where I was and practically stood in the same space I was occupying as if I wasn't there. In this class, we dance in lines and if you come in late, you have to find a space. I couldn't understand how the first woman somehow did not see me quite present there and began to dance in the space where I was when there were other spaces without people in them. And when a different woman did the same thing, I was even more perplexed.

But then, I went to a completely different African dance class at a completely different fitness center...

I walked in while people were warming up and they turned to look at me, as people do when someone they don't know walks into a room. I joined the warm-up and a rather large woman who was in a line in front of me stopped warming up, turned around, pointed to me and said:

"What are you doing here? You're fit."

I can say that in that moment I was certainly not invisible or overlooked and no one was going to invade my personal space.

1 comment:

affen15 said...

Well you don't need to be black to experience that kind of invisibility. I have been both visible and invisible in similar situations. I know part is due to my personality, part is self confidence, but also part is how able and trained I am at grabbing the attention of a group of people. To that point I a now considering taking a stand-up comedian class, staged by a local stand-up artist. The challenge these artists face is similar to what I struggle with. Also I know that when I prepare for a performance I am able to stage it quite well. So I am just not quite prepared for life itself. Yet.