Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Banned Book Week: Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man

Earlier this month, North Carolina’s Randolph County Board of Education banned Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel Invisible Man. Heralded as one of the best novels written during the post WWII era, Invisible Man explores racism and the complex web of racial identity in 1950s America. It has since become required reading for high school and college students.

The fact that North Carolina is behind this latest effort to ban books seems appropriate considering that this state has also been behind the effort to deny voters the right to vote through their heinous Voter ID laws. The right to vote and First Amendment rights go hand-in-hand. One cannot exist without the other. The right to choose who will represent us in local, state, and federal governments is as dependent on expressing and being exposed to the market place of ideas as breathing is to life. The fact that Voter ID laws will disproportionately affect African Americans (as well as women, the elderly, and college students) makes this latest move by Randolph County Board of Education seem like an overall strategy to affect the local and national dialogue regarding issues concerning African Americans.
Ellison’s novel goes to the heart of how racism operates in this country, how it depends on denying our voices and our very existences. As he writes in the novel’s prologue: 

I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and I might even be said to possess a mind. 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.

Whether it be President Obama, who has become a caricature in the minds of his Republican opponents, or Trayvon Martin (and countless other black men), who tragically was unable to live beyond the “figments” of George Zimmerman’s rabid imagination, this modern, so-called “post-racial” America continues to prove how much Ellison’s voice is still very much needed. 

UPDATE: due to numerous complaints both in Randolph County and across the country, the Education Board voted Wednesday 6 to 1 to return Invisible Man back into the local school libraries.  

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