The moment I found the scholarly journal for this essay, I immediately said to myself: “This is the one I’ve been looking for”, simply because it says exactly what I feel when it comes to the first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. My selected scholarly journal is also a review of a book called Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America by F. Michael Higginbotham. Another important reason why I chose this specific journal is because it also discusses how racism is still a major problem in American society. The way of connecting it with Invisible Man is almost like confronting racism in different time periods, just continuing the same conversation.
Amy Bass’ journal of the book obviously explains the novel’s main purpose per its title but also goes in depth with its clear racial content. The following quote serves as an example of this claim: “there is some sort of notion that both are issues only of the past, with America ignoring the fact that just because ‘one individual black has been treated fairly does not warrant the conclusion that all others have been’ (Bass 1). The two issues talked about in this quote are race and racism which continually serve as blights to American society not only because they are deemed as morally wrong but also because they have existed in America before the United States was even a nation. This quote itself may allude to the famous statement coined by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal” yet this did not include black slaves who lived in America during that time. Per this phrase, America surmises that just because one black man achieves success, every black person has the same equal amount of success which is false.
It seems as if, given Bass’ viewpoint, the main message of Higginbotham’s book is to state that America should not stop giving African American people more civil rights because the black people in the country are still treated unequally even though slavery in the United States has been outlawed for over 150 years: “Higginbotham is remarkably optimistic… as he encourages America to continue to embark on projects for equality, with some semblance of a belief that it can actually be achieved” (Bass 1-2). Barack Obama, in 2008, made dreams a reality when he became the first black president of the nation yet Higginbotham’s main argument is that America should simply not stop until every black person is treated fairly.
Invisible Man, written by Ralph Ellison, is a well-known novel that is often said to be autobiographical yet this claim has never been proven. An interesting aspect about the story is how the narrator is haunted by his grandfather, a quiet man who releases pent-up anger on his deathbed about how he feels like a traitor to his race, probably because he did not join in the fight of equality for the black race. In the first chapter of the book, called “Battle Royal”, the narrator has been accepted to an all-black college but must participate in a battle royal in order to receive the scholarship. Even though the narrator loses, he still gets it after giving a speech to the white crowd.
Passages of Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Exposition address is quoted by the narrator when he starts his speech and then talks about how the American community needs social responsibility. Although after being beaten senseless and on the brink of unconsciousness, he briefly replaces this with social equality. This brief utterance causes a stir with the crowd but the narrator “corrects” himself by reverting back to social responsibility. After a man in the crowd asks the narrator if he was sure that he was mistaken by saying social equality, the man says: “Well, you had better speak more slowly so we can understand. We mean to do right by you, but you’ve got to know your place at all times” (Ellison 1219). The very inclusion of this quote just confirms how nothing has really changed for racism in America: yes, the narrator goes to an all-black college which would not even be an opportunity 100 years earlier but had to humiliate himself and denounce the opportunity to proclaim for social equality in this process. At this stage, the argument could be made that while life for the black people in America has improved significantly from this point, America still has an extremely long way to go.
Racism is an obvious tie to the scholarly journal and Invisible Man but what really connects them together? The answer is this: they both talk about racism but the heart of the message is about the illusion that racism was in America. Racism is an aspect not seen among America’s current problems because it has already been resolved yet it is a problem that still exists, a realization made by Bass and the narrator. An awareness of racism against the black community is more prevalent in American society due to the deaths of young black teenagers such as Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray among countless others which are said to have happened because of police brutality. Deaths such as these have inspired the founding of the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to eradicate the systemic racism that African Americans continue to face throughout society.
After reviewing these points, Bass’ article and Invisible Man contribute to our conversation in class because like other readings, these specific ones deal with racism and how to conquer it in American society. Racism still leaves a huge impact on society – if it did not, we would not be discussing it so much in class. Ellison, in the “Battle Royal” section, showed how much racism continued to thrive in 1950s America because of the battle royal while Bass provides insight to the reader on how this same racism still exists in today America. The fight against racism in America is like overcoming an addiction: it must continually be checked and fought against every day or else the country will revert back to its racist origins. I know, this fact about America is not a pretty one but it is one that must be confronted – no nation is born with innocence.
Bass, Amy. “Ghosts of Jim Crow: Ending Racism in Post-Racial America.”
Ethnic & Racial Studies, vol. 37, no. 10, Oct. 2014, pp. 1900, 1901,
sessmgr03. Accessed 10 May 2019.
Ellison, Ralph. “Invisible Man – “Battle Royal”.” The Norton Anthology of
American Literature: Ninth Shorter Edition, Volume 2, W. W. Norton &
Company, 2017, p. 1219.