Monday, January 25, 2016

Invisible Man Discussion

As a group, please create 3-5 questions, comments, realizations, and/or wonderings about the article you read over the weekend, "Off the Margin," by Dr. Walter Jacobs.

Dr. Jacobs was born and raised near Atlanta, Georgia. He is currently Dean of the College of Social Sciences at San Jose State University.  He received a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Indiana University. 

Dr. Jacobs holds a doctorate in sociology and has published multiple works, including a book on undergraduate media literacy, a memoir about "sociological ghosts," Ghostbox. 

As you create your questions, consider the following:

1. Did the article increase your understanding of the novel, Invisible Man?  How so?  How not?

2. Does the article raise any new questions or wonderings about Ellison's intent, themes, importance?

3. Do you have any questions for the author?  (For example: race in America, invisibility as a black man in America, stereotyping, growing up black in America (South), growing up smart and black in the South, collective identity of Black/White America, individual identity in Black/White America,  why he thinks Invisible Man is an important novel, diversity in America.)

Remember that you will be corresponding with a dean of a university sociology program. Keep your questions brief and academic in nature, and take advantage of the great opportunity for insight and learning!  Dr. Jacobs is willing respond to your questions either publicly (on our blog) or privately (through email).  You will also be given the opportunity to respond to his responses, via the blog.  

27 comments:

  1. Scott Starr, Kristian Nielsen, Stephanie Kalick, Garrett Carver, Faith Barrett
    The Eagles

    Why did you decide to use the grocery store metaphor in your paper?

    1.Why did you choose to coin the word “interposer”; and what was your thinking process behind it?

    2.Do you feel like you are an interposer? Do you feel like whites can be an interposer?

    3.Do you believe that people can stop thinking of others as lesser beings?

    4.Do you believe that people can stop thinking of others as interposers; and accept people within different social classes?

    5.how does the disillusionment in the novel compare to the interpositionality?

    6.Do you believe that you were ever naive like the narrator; and what do you think broke that disillusion?

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    1. Hi Scott, Kristian, Stephanie, Garret, and Faith! Good questions. My thoughts are below:

      1. I wrote the article 23 years ago (!), so this question is hard to answer since I can't remember everything about my motivations. I think that I had recently discovered the term "interpositionality," and while playing around with variations of that word -- like "interpositional man," and "interposing man" -- the term "interposer" popped into my head. Also, I liked how it referenced "to pose," as the person is thinking about how to present herself/himself to others. "Pose" for me was neutral, not "fake" as some would say.

      2. Oh yes, I'm still an interposer, and probably always will be! And yes, I'd say that White folks can be interposers. The term can apply to anyone who feels that they are not completely accepted by their home community. Interposers don't want to leave home, but want to expand the boundaries of what "home" means.

      3. I'll always remain optimistic that one day we can get to this point, but unfortunately we still have a lot of work to do to get there. It's very hard for us to not to notice differences -- however small -- and then put them on a scale that make some people better than others.

      4. My answer here is connected to the answer to number 2. The only way we could treat each other the same as if we were all alike. There are differences that many feel that we should celebrate. The trick is figuring out which differences are trivial and should not matter, and which ones we should pay attention to, either to celebrate because they increase happiness, or work to decrease because they create unnecessary divisions.

      5. The disappointment in the novel is worse than interpositionality, as the narrator felt that he would be invisible no matter what. Society has progressed a lot since then, so that those who don't completely fit in have many more options. There are still constraints so that no one is free to completely do what she/he wants, but there is a lot more openness.

      6. I was definitely naive! What helped me was reading more about our country's history, and taking sociology classes to better understand how society works. When you all get to college you should about definitely take sociology classes! :)

      And now a question for The Eagles! Today we often hear that we should be "color blind," that if we just stop paying attention to race then it will eventually lose its significance. What do you think about that claim? Why do you agree or disagree?

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    2. Hello, That would be debatable but altogether not possible because of the fact that many people take pride in their heritage so us being totally blind to color wouldn't ever really be possible

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    3. Hello, That would be debatable but altogether not possible because of the fact that many people take pride in their heritage so us being totally blind to color wouldn't ever really be possible

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    4. I believe that race and color shouldn't be ignored. It should be something that everyone has pride in or the world will be boring without noticing or acknowledging race. Also our livess, and minds are already set in stone. Meaning if we were to start being colorblind we would struggle and our adults would have a harder time seeing colorblind.

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    5. I don't think anyone can be "colorblind" because someone's views are based on the way they're raised. If someone's parents are set in their views, they will too.

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  2. Hello, Dr. Walter Jacobs. We are group KAL (Kierstin Hendrix, Adam Tyson, and Leeha Mihilof)
    1. When people of a minority culture try to balance themselves (make themselves equal) with people of a majority group, why do they fail?
    2. Why do you think that it is so difficult to rid ourselves of racism in this time period of the book and now?
    3. Do you find similarities between yourself and the main character?
    4. The main theme in the “Invisible Man,” is the idea that invisibility pertains to only the main character but do you think it also refers to all of the blacks in the book in general?
    Thank you for answering our questions.

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    1. Hi Kierstin, Adam, and Leeha! Thanks for questions. Here's what I think:

      1. There have been entire books written about this question! Different researchers would use different theories to provide the answer. I tend to agree with folks who say that what explains inequality here in the U.S is a concept called "hegemony." Whereas "democracy" means "majority rules," you can think of hegemony as the *appearance* of majority rules, wheres the small groups of folks with power listen to some of what the rest of us think and make small changes to make it seem like the majority is in control, but rarely big changes that would make everyone truly equal, since this would decrease the power of the elites. Mass media is a big part of the process: we are given lots of examples of the small changes that distract us from the larger challenges.

      2. I'll share an answer here that I used with another group. The only way to completely eliminate racism is if we were all alike. There are differences that many feel that we should celebrate. The trick is figuring out which differences are trivial and should not matter, and which ones we should pay attention to, either to celebrate because they increase happiness, or work to decrease because they create unnecessary divisions.

      3. The article was definitely autobiographical! A big difference between the main character and me, though, was that I had many more options than he did. The U.S. underwent a huge change with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (which built on earlier Civil Rights movements, I should add). This was one of the rare big shifts I mentioned in the answer question 1.

      4. At the time of the book all African Americans were invisible. How folks reacted to this state differed. Many, for instance, knew about invisibility and accepted it, others knew about invisibility and fought it, and those like the main character did not initially know about invisibility and were shocked when they discovered it.

      And now a question for group KAL! In question #3 I mentioned that the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s changed then U.S. a great deal. Some say that the 9/11 tragedy was the next major event that radically changed the U.S. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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    2. 9/11 definitely changed this nation in a very dramatic way. The way that the American people viewed Muslims afterward the attacks was horrible. Many people on the day of the attacks, and this is probably in immediate rage, wanted the U.S. to go and bomb every one of the cities that is controlled/houses Muslims. We have now segregated ourselves from anyone who looks like they are in a terrorist group.

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  3. Hi Dr. Jacobs!

    We are CELLK (Colton, Emma, Leah, Lauren, and Kassie). We appreciate your ability to correspond with us about a piece of your interesting and informative doctoral thesis.
    We really enjoyed your analogy of the grocery store and symbols associated with a certain population. Could you elaborate on the transition between those isles? Was there a reason it was not included?
    Elaborating on that idea, do you believe that it would be possible for the interposer to coexist between the two populations in a positive way?
    In addition to that analogy, we are very interested in your idea of "approbation". Do you think it is more likely that there would be a positive reaction from both the interposer and the host group in this day and age?
    Now looking at "The Interposer in Postmodern America", we noticed another interesting analogy between a hole and a home. We associated this hole with comfort zones. Is there a reason why we make comfort zones where we do, and is there a reason we don't attempt to expand them and feel more connected?
    We found it interesting that you coined the term "interposer" because someone who imposes is usually an outsider and thought of as unwelcome; however the prefix "inter" generally means positive involvement in communication. What made you think to create such a unique combination of these two conflicting words?

    Thank you for your time!
    -CELLK

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    1. Hello Colton, Emma, Leah, Lauren, and Kassie! Thanks for your questions. I'll combine some in my answers below:

      1 About the grocery store isles and the interposer as a positive state, I was trying to think of a way for those who feel caught between two different cultures to view her/his state as a good one. An interposer can be happy if s/he feels more free to pick and chose elements from the different cultures. Sometimes interposers try to gets others to have a broader view of what "home" means, so it's also a very powerful to interposers when they see others start to stretch the boundaries of what they can and can not do.

      2. Interposers definitely have more positive reactions from home and host communities today. One reason is that the very rigid racial boundaries at the time of the book's publication have been disbanded, so there are fewer consequences if boundaries are crossed. (For instance, now you do not have to secretly marry someone of another race.) There will always be those on both sides of the aisle who will try to police the boundaries, however, as they worry about negative consequences when identities are more fluid.

      3. Great comment about holes vs. homes! As I noted in the answer #1 above, many interposers do want to make connections and expand comfort zones. Remember the discussion of Ellis Cose's book in the article? He talks about those who feel proud of opening doors for others, even if they don't reap the benefits. That's definitely a common trait for interposers.

      4. Another great observation! I commented on this with another group. I wrote the article 23 years ago (!), so I can't remember everything about my motivations. I think that I had recently discovered the term "interpositionality," and while playing around with variations of that word -- like "interpositional man," and "interposing man" -- the term "interposer" popped into my head. Also, I liked how it referenced "to pose," as the person is thinking about how to present herself/himself to others. "Pose" for me was neutral, not "fake" as some would say.

      And now a question for group CELLK! I noted that I think that there will always be those who try to police the boundaries between groups. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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    2. Thank you so much for your response!
      We believe there will always be those who police the boundaries and those who fight the boundaries. Although discrimination against race is being slowly diminishing, we believe racism will always exist, therefor the police will as well. Take for example a TAG group. If an interposer enters that group, and does not meet the group's requirements/status quo, they might be ridiculed or discriminated against by those police.

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  4. In your paper you refer to the shopping carts as being different shapes. I was confused with this analogy being used because in a shopping center the store usually supplies the carts and they are identical. Could you explain a little more about how the cart is actually formed, and what the cart symbolizes?

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    1. Good catch, Colton! All analogies have flaws, and you've identified one of them in mine. This is the type of observation we love to see with students in college classes!

      With the different size carts analogy I was trying to get at issues of power: some groups have greater access to resources than others. (Symbolic as well as material resources.) If I were rewriting the article today maybe I would specifically identify a store that has different size carts. My neighborhood Whole Foods, for instance, has a regular size cart, a smaller one, and hand-held baskets. I'd have to say something about why different carts get chosen by different people. Maybe you can talk with you group about that!

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  5. Group Fergi Bergi
    Katie Taylor, Doug Crone, Sunday Maker, Natalie Thomas, Kitty Terhune
    Thanks for taking the time to answer the following questions:
    1. Based upon your success with a doctorate in your host/home community and from reading your article, we would consider you an interposer. Do you consider yourself an interposer?

    2. Do you believe we will ever come to a place in society where interposers will become just regular people (accepted in both their home and host communities without exceptions)?

    3. In your opinion, where would the radicals of the black live matter movement fall upon the Expanded Stranger Typology chart?

    4. Would you relate yourself more to the protagonist of The Invisible Man (in the respect of battling with your personal identity) or to Dr. Bledsoe (in respect of your success as a dean)?

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    1. Hi Katie, Doug, Sunday, Natalie, and Kitty. Thanks for the great questions! Thoughts below:

      1. I'm an interposer, and probably always will be. An interposer never feels truly at home in one particular culture, but tries to expand the definition of what "home" means. There will always be those who push back against the expanding boundaries, as they feel like they might lose something in the process. This resistance happens both within a community as well as outside of the community. A great book about this process is "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now": http://www.amazon.com/Whos-Afraid-Post-Blackness-Means-Black/dp/1439177562/

      2. I'll share an answer here that I used with another group. The only way we could treat each other the same as if we were all alike. There are differences that many feel that we should celebrate. The trick is figuring out which differences are trivial and should not matter, and which ones we should pay attention to, either to celebrate because they increase happiness, or work to decrease because they create unnecessary divisions. Interposer see and value positive differences, and want others to do the same.

      3. Great question about a contemporary social movement! The answer lies in your use of the word "radical." Some of those who see themselves as radical would say that the entire typology is a problem, as it highlights a system that is fundamentally broken and ends to be replaced, since we need to create a new system that doesn't have such extreme inequality among folks. [Think also of the anti-1% movement where some think that the very rich have too much power.] Others who identify with the Black Lives Matter movement would identify as interposers, saying that the overall system is OK, but we need to expand access for folks who are not White, and decrease the amount of abuse that people of color experience. Almost everyone in the Black Lives Movement, though, would say that we should resist calls to be "color blind." I'll ask the group a question about this later :).

      4. Wow, another great question! I definitely strongly identified with the protagonist when I was in graduate school; my article has some autobiographical elements about how I too was naive about invisibility, and was shocked to discover it. Now as a dean I understand Dr. Bledsoe's position better. As a dean and interposer my job is to try to constantly expand possibilities for students to explore their identities and create fulfilling lives in college and beyond. This involves being aware of very real constraints without discouraging them from dreaming big! (In Dr. Bledsoe's time, the constraints were much bigger for racial minorities than they are today.) I hope that you all are considering college attendance one day!

      And now the question for Group Fergi Bergi: why do you think that those in Black Lives Matter would argue against us becoming "color blind," the idea that if we just stopped paying attention to race then it would fade away?

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    2. We believe that there is a difference between racial blindness and racial acceptance. The word "colorblind" is intended to be a positive term, however it has negative connotations associated with it (blindness, ignorance etc.). In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, colorblindness is not the appropriate response. Today, most people don't realize they are being racist when they are. Racism often occurs subliminally. The movement is calling for racial acceptance/importance. We believe the issue of race needs to be brought to our attention, rather than forgotten.

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    3. Our questions for you:
      Do you believe that someone who is physically colorblind has the ability to be racist?
      Does racism reach beyond skin color?
      We just had an interesting discussion over the ending of Invisible Man. We have a few additional questions for you.
      Which do you believe is worse- the narrator's quest for visibility or his acceptance of his invisibility?
      Ellison chose for the narrator to fall into "the hole" rather than giving the narrator the choice of entering. This also applies to the narrator being unable to find the ladder, therefor unable to leave the hole. Why do you think Ellison strips the narrator of his options? Does this send a stronger message?
      What do you believe the narrator realized in the hole?

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    4. More great questions! My thoughts:

      1 and 2. As you probably know, race is based on more than the color of one's skin. Other physical characteristic that are cused include the shape of one's eyes, or the texture of her/his hair. So even if a person can't discern colors they can use those other characteristics. Also, one can also be legally blind but still be taught to hate others. For a humorous depiction of that, watch the "Black White Supramacist" skit from the first season of "Chapelle's Show."

      3. Wow, both options are tragic. Perhaps the more tragic one is acceptance of invisibility, if that means that one just gives up about changing her/himself and/or the surrounding society. However, accepting invisibility does not mean that you stop trying to change things. It's much easier to be ignorant of the operation of forces like race and class and gender, but in many ways it's good to form a more realistic view of the world, so that you can be a more effective
      change agent.

      4 and 5. Folks who study literature closely could provide a much better answer to these questions than me. Be sure to ask Ms. Rutledge for her take! I'd say that Ellision did want to give the narrator very few options in order to increase dramatic tension. I think that he hoped that the narrator would eventually get out of the hole! To connect with my previous answer, once a person is made aware of previous ignorance and is confronted with new knowledge they can get depressed and withdraw from others. Then the question is will they stay in that state, or accept the new reality and try to move forward. I think that the narrator eventually said 'I can speak on the lower frequencies to others like me, and together we can try to change things." Well, I hope that he did :).

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    5. Please excuse my typos. I'm writing on an iPad while riding the train home. Blogspot's text editor is not playing very nicely with me.

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    6. Thank you very much for your thought provoking responses.

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  6. Group 1:
    Amanda Bryan, Ashlyn Smith, Hannah Smith, Owen Shacherer, Peter Johnson

    1. You talk about a transition between race groups, but do not talk about what it is like between the transition, what is it like?

    2. Do you think is is possible that America will get rid of racism completely?

    3. Do you think in today's society people are more discriminated against because of their social class more than their race?

    4. Do you think that if one accepts himself, then others will be more accepting towards him? For example, in the Invisible Man the protagonist doesn’t fully accept a true identity, he lets others choose or influence who he is.

    5. We are interested in your personal opinion on what causes people to become racist?

    Thank you for taking your time to answer our questions.
    -Group 1

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  7. Hi Amanda, Bryan, Ashlyn, Hannah, Owen, and Peter! Thank you for posting great questions! I've been answering questions from the other groups this morning, and your group is next up. I have to go to a meeting now, however, but will answer after that meeting ends. I did not want you to worry if you saw the answers to the other groups and wondered why I skipped yours. I'll be back soon!

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  8. OK, I'm back. Answers below:

    1. Periods of transition are always hard, as established ways of being are being challenged, so folks are anxious about what will replace old structures. In between transitional periods those with privilege (like men on the gender scale, and heterosexuals in terms of sexual orientation) tend to be very comfortable, and often unaware of their privilege. Those without privilege might also be unaware of the power difference, aware but choose not to do anything ("don't rock the boat"), or aware and try to change things for the better.

    2. This questions has popped up in other groups. I'll share an answer here that I used with elsewhere. The only way we could get rid of racism is if we were all alike. There are differences that many feel that we should celebrate. The trick is figuring out which differences are trivial and should not matter, and which ones we should pay attention to, either to celebrate because they increase happiness, or work to decrease because they create unnecessary divisions. Interposer see and value positive differences, and want others to do the same.

    3. This is a great question, and subject to much debate! I would say that we should turn the question around: rather than asking "is group X more discriminated than group Y?" it is more productive to examine how the categories work together to create inequality. For example, I'm African American so face racial discrimination, but my class position as a professional with a steady income shields me from many ills that those less fortunate must endure.; say, a homeless White male, for example. I sometimes face difficulties as someone who does not identify as Christian, on the other hand. Another example: all of you have a disadvantage because of your age, as you would have to pay higher rates to rent a car...if the rental company would rent to you at all!

    4. Acceptance of ourselves definitely goes a long way towards how others see and treat us, but there will always be those who ignore our self-image. Look at how President Obama is treated, for instance. Despite ample evidence, many will see and hate him as a Muslim and un-American, no matter what.

    5. Those who are racist are taught to be racists. It can be direct instruction, as in a best friend constantly pointing out all of the reasons why group X is inferior, or passive observations s/he makes, such as only watching movies that always present group Y as evil. A key to fighting racism is education. We all can play a role in exposing others to a broad range of ideas and experiences.

    OK, I have a question for your group! It is connected to your 4th question. Sometimes people within a group police the boundaries for others in that group. So it is not always members of group A saying that those in a different group B can't think or do certain things, sometimes others in group A limit acceptable thought and behavior for fellow group A folks. Why is this? Can we do anything to change that?

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  9. We believe this happens so that everyone gets along or is better accepted if everyone thinks the same. This is why one person is in charge, they set the standards for the rest of the group. We think that it might be because people with power don't want others to exceed their accomplishments, so they limit others to maintain their power. We believe that we can change this by being more accepting of others and removing limitations. Talking to others to better understand them could help us remove the set limitations.

    What do you think made the first person who taught everyone else to be racist?

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    1. Great question! My thought would be fhat in the first human societies everyone looked alike, and their survival depended on very close connections with others in the small groups in which they lived. Strangers were justifiably viewed with suspicion, as they were unknowns who posed a threat. So if the strangers physically looked different that could be a reason to form negative views, which eventually became associated with the concert of "race." I'll have to ask my colleagues in the Department of Anthropology if I'm correct, as they study ancient civilizations.






      , as they

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    2. Thank your for taking your time to answer our questions!

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