Overcoming invisibility

Psychologists’ latest research shows that racism is more subtle–yet as pervasive and harmful as ever.

By MARK GREER Monitor Staff September 2004, Vol 35, No. 8, Print version: page 70

Source: https://www.apa.org/monitor/sep04/overcoming

Anderson J. Franklin, PhD., a professor at the City College and Graduate Center of the City University of New York, describes in his new book, “From Brotherhood to Manhood: How Black Men Rescue their Relationships and Dreams from the Invisibility Syndrome” (Wiley, 2004).

Causes of invisibility

In a field that has been discussed for more than a century and has included such preeminent thinkers as W.E.B. DuBois and Ralph Ellison, the latest on visibility comes from Franklin’s in-depth book, compiled from research, writing and notes from a clinical practice spanning nearly three decades.

In it, Franklin explains how the invisibility syndrome concept refers to Ellison’s 1952 book “Invisible Man.” He quotes from the opening of Ellison’s book, in which the African-American narrator describes the concept of being invisible: “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…They see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”

“People’s presumptions are filled with all types of stereotypes, leaving the real person invisible from those holding prejudiced attitudes,” Franklin explains. “Bill went to the restaurant with a set of presumptions about his own status, and it came under assault when his status was not recognized. He had a series of encounters that frustrated him and boiled over. That is a common experience and a common process.”

Enduring such microaggressions can damage one’s mental health, Franklin says. In his clinical practice, he has seen clients who say feeling invisible causes them a range of ills, including disillusionment, chronic indignation, pervasive discontent, anger, depression, substance abuse, and hopelessness. It can also interfere with achieving professional goals or creating loving personal relationships, he adds.

Recent work by Angela Neal-Barnett, PhD., an associate professor of psychology at Kent State University, shows how such microaggressions often produce anxiety in African-American women. In her latest book, “Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Women’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic and Fear” (Simon & Schuster, 2003), Neal-Barnett explains that many African-American women feel they can’t seek help for that anxiety because of stereotypes they say are strong.


Do not acquiesce in being treated as, or rendered invisible.

Be polite but firm. Have your say, make your point clearly and firmly.

If people ‘get away’ with treating you as invisible, that is what they will do in future.

If people realise you are not going to accept that role being thrust upon you, they are less likely to persist.

But it will take persistence and patience to break through entrenched attitudes, if tht s what you face.