Single-Minded: On Being the Invisible Woman

A recent study says that African-American women are more "socially invisible" than black men. This would not be news to Zora Neale Hurston. Or any other black woman who isn't Oprah.


In another classic literary summation of the black woman’s life, The Bluest Eye, one of Toni Morrison’s main characters, a little girl named Claudia, says, “We had become headstrong, devious, and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves. Our limitations were not known to us — then.”

That story, set in the 1940s, could tell every black girl’s story since slavery. Generations of black women have grown up outside of the spotlight, becoming “headstrong, devious, and arrogant” because nobody “paid them any attention.” Again, the research examined in Psychology Today reiterates what black women have already known for generations.

Problem is, articles like Burkley’s continue to pile up and pile on the increasingly bleak mainstream outlook on black women. What exactly are the women who aren’t Oprah or Mrs. Obama supposed to do about their lack of visibility? Lurking on the fringes of society or quietly toiling away as its mules are obviously not long-term options.

But I prefer to look at our invisibility with optimism. I’m reminded of another quote by Morrison, who was featured in HBO’s documentary series The Black List. During her interview, Morrison explained how she works:

Almost all of the African-American writers that I know were very much uninterested in one particular area of the world, which is white men. That frees up a lot. It frees up the imagination, because you don’t have that gaze. And when I say white men, I don’t mean just the character, I mean the establishment, the reviewers, the publishers, the people who are in control. So once you erase that from your canvas, you can really play.

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter.

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