Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On "Invisibility"

Growing up in an upper middle class family in an almost entirely white town, I never had a feeling of “invisibility” like Hobson describes.  The story she tells about what her mother said to her after the birthday party she attended, at which she was the only black child invited, is something that I never experienced.  There was no diversity in my town, so at every birthday party I attended, I looked just like everybody else.  

In high school, I was extremely introverted.  I got to school early so I could get inside and to my locker before everyone arrived.  I spent the morning before first period in one of two teachers’ classrooms sitting at a chair pulled up to their desk doing work so I didn’t have to socialize with anyone and could avoid homeroom.  I went to class, refused to participate in group work, and then proceeded directly to my next class, communicating with no one in the hallways.  When lunch block came around, I would sit in one of my teacher’s classrooms instead of going to the cafeteria.  I had this option because he was just like me.  He refused to eat his lunch in the teachers’ room.  So we would both sit there doing our own work and eating our lunch in silence.  That was my time to recharge.  You see, as an introvert, social situations are very stressful and draining for me.  I needed this time to be alone.  As a result of my habits at school, I essentially isolated myself from all of my peers.  I was pretty much invisible to everyone I went to school with.  But that was ok.  That was my goal.  I liked the isolation, the invisibility.  Because of the way my school days went, by the time I got to the dance studio I was usually ready for it.  Sure, there were some days when I still wanted to be alone.  But my dance teachers (who were and still are some of my best friends) respected when I needed that space.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was growing up.  I CHOSE to be invisible.  It was not something brought upon me because of my race, culture, sexual orientation, religion, etc.  I enjoyed the isolation and invisibility I created for myself, but I can’t fully imagine what that would be like for someone who did not choose it.  I imagine that someone experiencing “invisibility” due to things such as race, culture, etc. would feel sad.  Lonely.  Less than.  There were times that I felt like I was missing out on things by isolating myself, but the truth is, I could have changed that if I had wanted to.  I could have spent my days forcing myself to try to be more extroverted or socialize more, and then gone home to recharge.  But what about youth who are invisible because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation?  Do they spend their days trying to seem “less black” or “less gay” or “less Catholic”?  I believe that this would be so hard for them.  

This is where I see organizations like YIA coming into play.  For students that feel invisible during the school day, these are safe places where they can come to be themselves freely and recharge. Places like this, where students are allowed to "share their stories, practice leadership and create change in their communities", hopefully help give these students the power to feel like they do not need to feel invisible all the time. If nothing else, they will be given the confidence that there is at least one safe place where they are truly visible and safe to be their true selves.

The book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, is a great read for anyone who might have stereotypes about introverts. Also, here is a TED Talk given by Susan Cain herself.


  1. Your post made me think a little more about the times where I actually wanted to be noticed but seemed invisible. I know in some classes I do not know anybody yet everybody else seems to know everybody. When it comes time to working in partners I usually just work by myself. It was the compete opposite of what happened to you and though it is not the same as Mallory's story, it still bothers me.

  2. Your post makes me think of high school. I hated gym and I hated eating in the cafeteria. When l entered the cafeteria, all I did was look at the clock. When first period was over, I went straight to my next class. I was always the first one in class no matter what. No stopping in the hallways and no talking to anybody.

  3. Such a thoughtful reflection on the power of choice, in the context of a very real you. I was going to recommend Susan Cain, but you beat me to it!

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  5. Interesting perspective on invisibility, also distinguishing the different forces/motives that make one invisible. Good point! I'm more of an extrovert and so I never thought about it like that! Thanks for sharing.