on the privilege of being invisible
June 5, 2012
So this post by Riley about the only thing that Black people have over other minorities is visibility touches on something I’ve been meaning to write about. Namely, the privilege of being visible.
To a certain extent you often see white queers (or Asians, I’m embarrassed to note) crying about their lack of visibility. In politics. In the media. In life.
No people of colour can lay any credible claim to being truly visible in media beyond tokens. So I don’t want to hear it.
Being visible hasn’t actually helped Black people. Especially not the Black/white focus of american racial politics. This is often where I’ll see other Asians complaining about a lack of visibility. And I’m not really sure what in the entire fuck they are talking about. Because it isn’t like Black visibility in the political sphere has lead to them having a disproportionate (or any) political power. The visibility does nothing for them. One of their children gets brutally murdered and while we may here about this and not the murder of an Asian child. Look at what this media coverage actually is. The kid was a thug. Was being or acting suspicious. Some other dehumanizing victim blaming bullshit. This is not something to envy or desire. So stop it.
Now to the meat of my post. I’ve always been quick to talk about the privileges associated with being light skinned and/or white passing. But one aspect of this that isn’t often talked about is how being light skinned and/or white passing allows you to be invisible. And how this invisibility, while also painful erasure, also serves to protect you. It really, really does. It means you actually can fade into crowds and not have negative attention drawn to you. It means that when the police, or some other white people, are looking for victims you are not the first person they see.
(even as it is more complicated than just this. as anyone who has ever passed as white knows, white people really do say the most atrocious, racist shit when they think no poc are around. so no, your life isn’t racism free but there is a difference between ‘overhearing’ racist shit and having it directly and hatefully thrown in your direction.)
This also holds true for those genderescent and/or trans people who present in normative ways. It reduces your visibility and allots you a certain measure of safety. So too with queers. If you are a queer man who is butch, you’ll not be experiencing the worst of homophobic violence. If you are a queer woman who is femme, so on and so forth. And, when anything I mentioned intersects (say, a queer femme man of colour) this visibility only increases the danger. This is most certainly highlighted with trans women of colour.
And, in case anyone is gonna jump down my throat, notice the term I’m using. Invisibility. Not erasure. Erasure is terrible and not a great thing to experience. And it isn’t equivalent to the privilege of being invisible. Because highly visible people experience erasure too (note my earlier point about no race being well represented in media).
Also, because I believe in nuance, you can gain in/visibility in one area only to loose it in another. Some types of in/visibility cannot be changed (see skin colour).
Me as example: light skinned. This invisibility is mine forever. I’ve never really had the choice about queer visibility, since pretty much everyone I’ve ever met has assumed I was queer (including my dad). I used to be more visibility genderescent, but had some terrifying experiences and presented more normative for quite a few years (moving out of this zone at the moment).
And perhaps it is my own shifting relationship with in/visibility that allows me to see the ways that it has protected me or endangered me. But it is real. And important. Because those who are most visible have every right to demand the most protection.