Watching veteran actor Clint Eastwood’s “act” with an invisible President Obama in a chair may have been the highlight of the Republican National Convention, but as several commentators have mentioned, it ironically represented the Republican platform and treatment of Obama in this election. Through their words and actions, this is what I have heard from the Republicans: “I don’t matter.”
To be rendered invisible is to be treated as if one doesn’t exist and the issues that matter in that life doesn’t exist. Jamil Smith writes in his article, “The President, rendered invisible in a chair,” part of the right-wing’s agenda had been to call out in any way possible the illegitimacy of Obama’s presidency; basically to erase his presence as the president of the United States. But it has also been about erasing the realities of “others” in general. Instead of caring about the people who live down here on earth, I feel as if right-wingers’ heads are always in the sky or at least their noses are so turned-up that they fail to see the rest of us.
Most of the issues that republicans either ignore or want to legislate in their favor will greatly affect the material lives of people of color, women, LGTBQ communities, poor people, elderly, immigrants, the sick, the disabled, students and the unemployed. I am included in this. I am a poor, right now unemployed, post-grad, black woman. All of this will affect me, but all I saw at the republican convention were people who were not speaking to someone like me. I was rendered invisible as well.
Feelings of exceptionalism is to blame for this. It is not only the belief of the exceptionalism of America, but also the exceptionalism of the “good old days” of America and the exceptionalism of the speakers and members of the republican party who are so immersed in privilege that they cannot see around them. Exceptionalism does not allow these people to see that they are “exceptions” and that it was certain social conditions that allowed them to be where they are now. For every person who makes it, there are many other who do not. Their opportunities and successes were partly due to luck, as Elon James White said on one of his TWIB radio episodes, as well as the invisible contributions of “others.”
I have seen and heard this oppressive power of exceptionalism in some of the speakers at the republican conventions. Those who came out to declare their successes ignoring the invisible historical and social contexts and the structural and institutional networks and conditions that prevent other from doing so. The women who spoke in support of Romney stating that he has provided work access for women and how nice he is, ignoring his and some of his allies (Paul Ryan and Todd Akin) views on women’s reproductive rights and rape. I have heard the emphasis on religious and family values, not accepting the diverse realities and the practical issues that many Americans are living with now. Speakers nostalgically brought up the glory days of America, forgetting that for many of us those glory days would have been close to a nightmare.
In his speech, Romney joked about climate change and the waters rising in the midst of hurricanes affecting the south and the memory of Hurricane Katrina. Romney flippantly disregarded the planet in favor of helping families, not acknowledging that is the invisible ecosystem on the planet makes it possible for life on this planet, including the families he wants to help. The current changes in the climate and environment are affecting millions of families all over the world, but I guess those are not the ones he cares about. The use of a diversity of speakers of stage only to present them as tokenized proof of bodies, which did not translate over the the convention floor and to policies that affect people who look like them on the outside. Finally, the lack of facts about the nation and President Obama throughout the convention showed me how much it was about the campaign and not the welfare of the country or its people.
Having read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man for the first time this summer, his words have been insightful and prophetic as I look at this election season. For the main character it was not only the other people who could not see him because he was invisible, but also that they could not see the invisible networks of systems and institutions that made him and the reality of people like him invisible, from Mr. Norton to Dr. Bledsoe to the Brotherhood organization. Ellison wrote in a poignant passage of the book: “All things, it is said, are duly recorded — all things of importance, that is. But not quite, for actually it is only the known, the seen, the heard and only those events that the recorder regards as important that are put down, those lies his keepers keep their power by” (439). As long as me and my reality remain invisible to the republican party, to them I am not important and I don’t matter.