Hundreds of years ago, my ancestors got off a slave ship in chains. This is a fact I encounter in memory every time I sign or type my last name. As an African in America, my ancestral abduction remains an inescapable reality. A reality consistently diluted by Republican claims that center the present democracy. Claims that posit my ancestral abduction as engendering opportunity, not oppression. While the western world argues that white settler abduction produced a slave, I argue, as I have in the past, that this process produced an invisible (hu) man.
The term alludes to the nameless protagonist in Ralph Ellison’s inaugural novel who is consistently conceptualized based on what he’s thought to be not for what he truly is.
By the book’s completion, this nameless narrator fails to develop a self simply because he never had to, thus, “invisibility” encompasses the “place” for this man.
As I mentioned in an earlier piece, citizenship in America for the non-european remains circumscribed to the social reproduction of the invisible man. This is particularly true for the diasporic African or the black migrant. The invisible man is, of course, the non-migrant black, descended from the abducted African and cast into a space that would become what they never would—American. (this is not a complaint, btw)
Whether it is regarding Donald Trump the sole white racist in America or positing slavery as an internship for African people, invisibility maintains the crux of the Black American’s (to employ this oxymoronic term loosely) cognitively dissonant identity. America’s persistent plight to look away from the sin of slavery encompasses the core of Africana invisibility. Simply put, we are America’s invisible (hu)man because to assign visibility to the sin that produced our presence in America is to deteriorate the value of America. It is to reveal that American, or white greatness only is because we were, yet to act as though we never were enables the oppressive caste to become what is.
I recently attended a history lecture on blackness and citizenship. One of the questions posed to the presenter inquired about ADOS and its platform, specifically its stance on citizenship. The host of the lecture, a non-black migrant, who speech indicated non-American origin, like the person asking the question, patronizingly regarded the organization, noting only a few points of the ADOS platform which served their dismissive disposition. I’ve seen this plenty of times on social media where adversaries call ADOS “anti-immigrant” and remain adamant that migrant groups are entitled to the fruits of labor their ancestors performed elsewhere.
The comment in the lecture posited ADOS as imposing exclusionary citizenship, ignoring the reality that this already exists. Most significantly, this assertion ignores the glaring reality that this nation denies the African in America the systemic right to determine with whom they share the identity labels assigned to them at birth much less the right to determine citizenship in a country that still does not see them as human.
Nevertheless, calling those “made” into Americans by seeking to mimic what has never existed for the African in America, casts the African in America as the spoiled kids of a wealthy adoptive family that others desperately want to get into. We attain invisibility as the physical and metaphysical welts on our bodies become symbolic of collective unworthiness and not systemic evils.
I say this to say, the inability for many to view ADOS objectively and to regard their platform as a composite illuminates the invisibility cast onto the black experience as inherently American. The contention ADOS engenders is a ubiquitous methodology to erase North American slavery and cast the descendants of those abducted and robbed of their labor as societal villains bearing oppressive thoughts.
The persistent act to dismember this platform and silence the integrity ADOS gifts the obscured, oppressed descendants of those buried beneath the ground on which we all walk delineates the centuries of African labor in America as a staircase for others to achieve what they did not have to die for. Additionally, it aids the very forces designed to keep our diasporic brethren seeking to become what never was and never could be while silencing and deleting past voices and experiences that bear a promise this nation never made to anyone of African descent in the first place.
To deny accountability and detach from North American enslavement foreshadows a stagnant future that denies any advancement past anti-blackness for any person of African descent. However, this advancement remains rooted in the true cause for the overt and covert tensions that permeates between Africans among the diaspora. Before delving into this component of my argument, I wish to articulate why I do not claim the ADOS label, though I technically meet the criteria as a non-migrant African in America.
ADOS’s use of “American” and the placement of the American flag, which I interpret to be emblematic of black abjection, in the bios of those who claim this affiliation proves antithetical to my convictions as what I call an African Descendant of American Enslavement. While I do credit the ADOS platform for doing amazing work in seeking to cure the invisibility of the abducted African, the engendered espousal between the African flag and the black in America proves irretrievably telling.
Moreover, though those adversarial to ADOS conveniently oversimplify and overlook the African in America’s experience, ADOS’s pairing of their ideology with a flag stained in black blood posits a plight for advanced citizenship vindicated in African enslavement in America. Therefore, many of the most staunch advocates on either “side” bear a common burden. The ADOS side, though forcing a diverted gaze to acknowledge this county’s inaugural sin, uses it as a platform or basis for why ADOS deserves citizenship, and their opposers rip out a significant page in the black narrative to vacate space for their migrant whiteness. Thus, the tensions that exist between Africans in the Diaspora seemingly persist because of the underlying desire to be white and maintain proximity to American whiteness through citizenship and the rights that come with it. The plight for black citizen remains a worthwhile pursuit, however, it seems that if a nation arose from the sweat off a collective’s back, those people should be more than citizens. Specifically, the contention that cuts through an essential black unity illuminates a “fight” for very low “prize” for African contribution and presence.
Moreover, the disregard for the African in America’s perspective when it does not seek to benefit all remains exceedingly cogent. The act works to rid one of their opponents for a throne blacks must collaboratively seek to eradicate not imitate. Collaboratively, both groups illuminate the troubles that follow seeking to occupy a seat the black collectively should solely wish to kick from beneath the feet of its systemic oppressors.
This post is not to suggest that we hold hands against the hegemonic hoax cast onto our diasporic canvass. This is to say that though we may have problems with one another, it is essential to realize that we, one another, do not encompass the problem in its totality. Only as a fist can we extinguish anti-blackness in America. This fist must acknowledge the mimicry and escapism that foments migrancy and extinguish the cognitive espousal to whiteness, citizenship, or Americanness as an end goal. As long as present discussions of blackness omit the past, blackness remains limited to status as an invisible man. It is an oppressive ideology that engenders the oppressed to dream of a seat at a table they built. It is assigning visibility to the African plight and presence that reveals it isn’t about a seat at their table, it is about creating our own.
The contentions around the ADOS perspective embody far more than than a difference of opinion; it marks a different in approach to Americanism. These contentions embody consistency in maintaining the societal hierarchy that privileges those directly and not directly connected to the slavery conducted in North America. A societal hierarchy adamant on maintaining the silence and invisibility of the faction that bears the cross to crucify its systemic and social villains.
Furthermore, to assign visibility to what America has made into an Invisible Man is an essential step to attaining the unity needed to extinguish anti-blackness and relegate all its beneficiaries to the invisibility they deserve and an insignificance we hold the power to incite.