Speak to anyone who has dealt with the experience of being ‘invisible’ in a particular setting, and I guarantee you that it was not pleasant. It takes great effort to work through messages they may have attached to their identity as a result of their existence being implicitly invalidated. This is an experience shared by many people of colour facing invisibility because of the white ideal.
Some would argue that this feeling of invisibility is even worse than being ‘seen’ in a negative way.
‘There is no worse feeling than that of invisibility,’ says pastor Steven Furtick in one of his popular YouTube videos that resonated with me. He speaks about the discouragement that accompanies giving your all only to have it and your personhood go unrecognized.
What are the consequences of invalidation?
Many experience loneliness in an era of ‘connection’ via social media and this can have devastating consequences.
If we’re honest, the means of online ‘connection’ has morphed into a ranking scale for validation.
With that, the experience of feeling invisible remains hurtful and damaging to any person. This is because it carries the message that you and your experiences don’t matter enough to be acknowledged. In a sense, that you existing as you are is not valid.
I know that may be harsh. What’s sad is that it is a harsh reality for many.
The reason for feeling invisible can have many sources. I speak from the context of identifying myself as an introvert in a largely extrovert-praising world. Second, I’m a woman of colour who has always been somewhat quieter than my peers growing up. This was both as a result of striving to please everyone and wanting to look ‘good’ in everyone else’s eyes.
I wasn’t the loudest or most charismatic individual so I was overlooked for the most part in a group setting a lot of the time. In the grand scheme of my environment I felt invisible. This manifested in many subtle ways during my young adulthood. It led me to struggling with accepting who I am and taking up any kind of space. I struggled to validating myself because I didn’t ‘match’ society’s ideal.
The difficulties that have held me back in some ways are the manifestation of problematic standards which were implicitly modeled to me through peers, television, rom-coms and society since childhood.
Society’s Obsession with Whiteness
Society’s standards, largely rooted in comparison and competition can cause so much damage, especially for young voices. In particular, young black voices.
I can’t even begin to imagine how it must be for our many black brothers and sisters who are dealing with and working through the ramifications of the violence, oppression and injustice which generations have had to face owing to silencing black voices. I believe this has to do in part with the invisibility and invalidation of ‘blackness’ in comparison to ‘whiteness’ – which is displayed as the ultimate standard when examining society.
The White Ideal
I’m mixed race or ‘Coloured’ as we’re referred to in South Africa. I have very curly hair. From the age of ten, whenever we would have a big celebration coming up, we’d straighten our hair so that we would look ‘nice’ for the occasion. The implicit message was that when we straighten our hair, we look more beautiful. The compliments were fuel to the idea that the closer to white hair (straight, smooth) our’s was, the more beautiful we would be. This subtly conditioned us to think of white as the ideal and wanting to ‘erase’ any indication of our non-whiteness.
The statement ‘I don’t see colour’, is problematic in itself.
We are not going to come to a place of accepting and embracing each other and our differences by denying or invalidating the existence of the parts, features and characteristics that make up who we are as humanity.
Our Existence is Our Validation
Humanity is diverse. It’s something that’s evident in the world we live in, displayed in and through all creation. Diversity is woven into the fabric of the human race.
That being said, we can be present in all our diversity and still not be SEEN (and celebrated) for it.
This is where inclusivity comes into play. We have to be intentional about inclusion at an individual level in our personal lives and at a broader, institutional level. Only when we are doing so, will we see others different to us and say I acknowledge you and am willing to learn from, celebrate and listen to what you have to say. Only then can we begin to overcome the white ideal and the discrimination that comes with it.
This is the place from which we need to be responding to our black brothers and, especially sisters. This is the place from which we need to be continuing the work and taking the action long after the excitement of the movement has passed. That is how we cultivate acceptance and validation. And we could all use some of that, especially now.
This opens our eyes to where discrepancies and irregularities exist in how we think about and treat each other. In order to be better aligned with a more inclusive, loving and accepting approach, we need to change direction.
We all want to be ‘seen’ for who we are and the potential that we have within us. And we all deserve to be seen that way.
Read more about antiracism and intersectionality here.