I’m a Black man. Yet, for most of my life, in general people don’t see my Blackness. Therefore, I often feel invisible.
People see my light skin and green eyes and, frankly, don’t know what I am. So, they assume. In my experience, Black folks assume I’m either mixed-race or Latino. Latino folks assume I’m Latino. Middle Eastern folks assume I’m Middle Eastern. In my experience, White folks don’t know what to think. They know I’m not White but not sure what I am. I guess I’m just Patrick. I’m just just different. My Blackness is invisible.
And when I speak, I speak the Kings English. I can code switch when the circumstances require it but, for the most part, not even opening my mouth gives my Blackness away.
Being the son and grandson of long time Civil Rights Activists, growing up my Blackness was drilled into me. I was never allowed to forget where I came from — who I was and who my people were. I was never allowed to forget the many times my Mother and Grandmother were jailed during protests or sit-ins. I was never allowed to forget that our family knew the King family. That MLK was a close friend of my my Uncle Talbot (my Grandmother’s Brother) and was his roommate at Seminary in Boston. I was never allowed to forget that my people were in that fight next to him. I was never allowed to forget that the previous four generations of my family had gone to Dillard University, an HBCU, and that I would be expected to as well (which I did). I was never allowed to forget that their struggle and sacrifice was first and foremost for me. Not just for me but for my Blackness and my ability to operate with freedom and dignity within it.
So, in my mind, soul, and heart, my Blackness is alive and visible. Yet…
I’ve never been pulled over by police for little or no reason. Because my Blackness is invisible.
I’ve never been obviously and/or knowingly profiled. Because my Blackness is invisible.
I’ve found I’m often the only one in the room but not treated like I am. Because my Blackness is invisible.
So, while inside my Blackness is alive in me, so is the privilege I receive because my Blackness is invisible to most.
I’ve never knowingly been passed over for a job or paid less or treated differently in the workplace because my Blackness is invisible to most.
So, I’ve personally never experienced what so many of my Brothers and Sisters do, I have and still do experience what White folks do — privilege. The privilege of not having experienced those things because my Blackness is invisible to most.
And, here in lies the rub… Many would read this and think I should be thankful for that. That, maybe, I should be grateful that my Blackness is invisible to most. And, this is conflicting in so many ways. The fact that I don’t reveals the problem with racism in this country. That it does have everything to do with a perception of Blackness. A perception based on superficialities. The color of skin and not the content of character as MLK said. The fact that I’m invisible, that my Blackness is invisible, reveals how basically silly it is.
Yet, here’s the other rub, the handful of times I have been pulled over by the police for very legitimate reasons (3 times for speeding and once for rolling a stop sign), I’ve been let off with warnings. Because my Blackness is invisible, my life was never in danger but…
I was terrified. Because while my Blackness is invisible to them it is not invisible to me and I know the moment it is seen I will be treated differently. Though I have no personal experience with such myself, I know that so many my Brothers and Sisters do. And the reasons they do is simply a matter of their Blackness being visible. And, because it is so visible to me, I figure it is just a matter of time before it is visible to, say, a cop.
Like I said, I live in and my life long experience has been in the privilege but because I know who I am and feel who I am, my internal emotional compass points to the magnetic North of the truth — that of being a Black man.
But the most difficult thing, the most painful of things, is that my own Black Brothers and Sisters often don’t see my Blackness. My Blackness is invisible to them too.
Growing up, it was that I “talked White” or I “acted White” or I “dressed White”. Because of my light skin I was an “Oreo”.
Lately, it’s been when on a Zoom call full of white folks and there is one other Black person there and they make a comment about being the only one because they can’t see my Blackness, because on a call of more than 5 people my image is reduced to a postage stamp. Which I suppose is a metaphor for how I feel as well. Small. Not fully seen by my own Sister. My own Brother. My own race. My own people.
So, especially lately, I have to speak up about my Blackness. I have to make people see it. I have to make it visible to to everyone, especially other Black folks, in the way it is so very visible to me.
It’s painful and frustrating. Even though I’ve experienced this my whole life each time is like a stab in the heart.
I don’t have a tidy answer to wrap this all up. This is just a rant for now. A way to express a lifetime of frustration, pain, and a deep sense of feeling unseen. Always feeling both a part and apart.
But, ultimately, of asking to be seen and longing for a future where everyone is seen for who they are and it does not make any difference in how they are treated.