Can You See Him?

“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

The powerful statement opening Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man summarizes the challenges of being an African American male in America. I was born sixteen years after this classic was first published and I continue to witness and experience the pain and confusion that comes with being feared and disdained in public places and insulted by insensitive comments and jokes in private ones. The backs of African American males, upon which much of the early American economy rested, have little value in the 21st century. As a result, the only areas with open access for Black men are the gridiron, the basketball court, the recording studio, and the correctional facility. African American males as a group is quite diverse and has contributed greatly to all areas of American life including education, science, the military, business, and politics. Yet, those who do not have a criminal record or aspirations to entertain through art or sport often experience palpable cognitive dissonance from others when we sit at leadership tables or receive recognition for professional excellence or acumen. The collections of thoughts and ideas here represent are part of an effort to change the context of interaction for African American males and even other disadvantaged groups of males.

The purpose of these brief entries is to discuss the full humanity of African American males. We have been and continue to be valuable members of our families, communities, and our society; yet we remain invisible. I say no more. We are husbands, fathers, we are sons, we are friends, we are leaders, and we are citizens. Like everyone else, we require direction when we are lost; forgiveness when we earnestly seek repentance; and celebrations when we achieve. We can be tremendous assets to humanity when our strengths are leveraged and our deficits are comprehensively and compassionately addressed. Lifting African American males lifts our society and it all begins when we see them for who they are and who they can be.