Friday, May 10, 2019

Invisible Men?

In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock famously states, “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases…” It’s obviously the reverse of racial profiling, the point being to emphasize the humanness of his condition. But let’s turn this around. Shylock’s speech is a condemnation of categorization, but this is also the era of pride.  Sexuality has become like nationalism with people touting their orientations, as ways of separating themselves from others. And the same can be said about race. After years of oppression, minorities in what was for instance a formerly hegemonic White Anglo Saxon Culture have all raised up the mantle of identity politics. It’s totally understandable that after years of oppression and self-hatred, embattled ethnic and sexual groups unite together and find strength in numbers. However, what’s lost in all these turf wars and attempts to compensate for the inequities of the past is the reminder that humans share a commonality and that democracy is ultimately based on those things that all people have in common. “All men are created equal…” states The Declaration of Independence. Conversely one might easily conclude that what defines an individual ultimately is only partly do to his race, sexual orientation or country of origin. Those things are what he or she shares with others. His or her laugh, comportment, philosophy, sense of humor or tragedy are what make for the almost infinite variety of  humankind. Isn’t this one of the points Ralph Ellison was making in his classic Invisible Man? Wasn't Ellison saying that despite the cozy elements of social cohesion, exclusiveness leads to invisibility?

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