Twenty years ago I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and it changed me. It opened my innocent eyes to a world where a man lived every day and never felt seen. We never learn this man’s name. We simply know he’s black and poor. To himself, and the world around him, he’s nobody.
Yet, he’s always been somebody to me. And he’s caused others to question my motives, and me. The same year I read Invisible Man, I participated in a scholarship pageant called Junior Miss. I listed Invisible Man as my favorite book. One of the judges, a middle-aged black man, drilled me about the book. I remember him asking, “Why do you love it? Do you actually have any black friends? Would you ever go to their house?”
I remember looking at him shocked at his aggressive attitude toward me through his line of questioning. Even after all of these years, I’m not shocked at his actual questions as much as I’m shocked that he, a grown man, had the audacity to attack a teenager in that manner. He didn’t seem to see the opportunity before him that someone so young could be so ready to engage with, and change, the mindset of her white counterparts.
I wonder where he is now. I know he doesn’t remember me, but I remember him. I wish he could know this white woman continues to reach outside herself to attempt to learn more, be better, and bring understanding to all around her.
It’s one of the reasons why I read Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond by Marc Lamont Hill.
An Arden’s Book Club supporter recommended it and upon reading the description (see below) I knew this book would be as important to my development as a person as Invisible Man.
Author: Dr. Marc Lamont Hill
Genre: Nonfiction, Government Social Policy
Basic Description: In Nobody, scholar and journalist Dr. Marc Lamont Hill presents a powerful and thought-provoking analysis of race and class by examining a growing crisis in America: the existence of a group of citizens who are made vulnerable, exploitable and disposable through the machinery of unregulated capitalism, public policy, and social practice. These are the people considered “Nobody” in contemporary America. Through on-the-ground reporting and careful research, Hill shows how this Nobody class has emerged over time and how forces in America have worked to preserve and exploit it in ways that are both humiliating and harmful.
To make his case, Hill carefully reconsiders the details of tragic events like the deaths of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. He delves deeply into a host of alarming trends including mass incarceration, overly aggressive policing, broken court systems, shrinking job markets, and the privatization of public resources, showing time and time again the ways the current system is designed to worsen the plight of the vulnerable.
Arden’s Thoughts: I’ll admit, not everyone will like this book. You’ll come at it from your personal viewpoint. You’ll see various things, but I’m sharing with you what I saw… As I read Nobody, I believe he’s making a case to really look at the names in this book, not as characters, but as actual people; living, breathing people.
As I read Hill’s book, I continued to watch news reports of more men, more black men, being killed, and began to see a collective world move forward with a shoulder shrug. One sentence, heck a sentence fragment, sums up what I’m seeing: “Michael Brown’s life was taken with disturbingly casual ease.”
As I watch, as I read, as I simply live, I fear for my black friends. I fear we as a nation are becoming as immune to “another black man being killed” as we are to “another solider dying in service.”
Rest assured, as I write this review, I’m not attacking our police force, or any other collective group designed to product us. In my opinion, Hill’s book does not attack any group either. He simply calls us to look at the society that’s becoming numb to these deaths; numb to these actions.
Just as Ellison asks us to look at our fellow man in Invisible Man, Hill asks us to continue to look at that man or woman next to us as a person. Look in his or her eyes. Watch him or her breath. Realize beneath the superficial differences beats the same heart, bears the same lungs, and yields the same mind as you.
In the circumstance in which you find yourself with this other person, is his or her life less important than your own?