Strategies of Invisibility and Urban Youth

May 17, 2011 § 1 Comment

To make change policy makers and society have to hear you–somehow.  Vote, write an email to officials, boycott or buycott, sign a petition, blog, speak out!  Even an uncaring government can change if you take a stand.

Visibility in numbers works. I’ve seen it happen in my local City Council Chambers. The homeless community packs the chamber when programs are threatened. They generate numbers that make the chamber standing room only and they speak to their Councilmembers.  When they do that their voices move our Councilmembers to protect human services. I saw it so I believe in it. It works.

So, knowing that, I’m concerned about findings that Cathy Cohen reports from interviews for  The Black Youth Project , 2005, regarding strategies of invisibility.  In her Chicago focus groups with young African Americans aged 18-21, those youths, especially those “most vulnerably positioned,” as outlined in her paper, Nihilism and Politics: The Constrained Life Choices of African American Youth, “engaged in a strategy of invisibility, making themselves invisible to authority figures like the police, teachers, and correction officers that they believe are out to ‘get them.'” Cohen writes, “…through a politics of invisibility young people lose any power to hold entities accountable. In a democracy based on visibility and voice, attempts to make one-self invisible have the unintended consequence of silencing discontent. It obscures their lived reality for the public, and in particular, those responsible for responding to such difficulties.”  More on Black Youth Project in another blog…

Why would youth seek to be invisible?  Consider the realities. Nationally, 1 in 3 Blacks and 1 in 6 Latinos born in 2001 risk imprisonment in their lifetime.  Michelle Alexander, winner of the 2005 Soros Justice Fellowship,  expounds on the tragedy  in her troubling 2010 book  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.   African Americans are also approximately 23% of those in poverty as The Grio laments  however, as The Grio found out, noone posting responses needs to hear the statistics. They want suggestions on how to create change. Invisibility certainly won’t work to change these issues so in need of vocal opposition. It’s understandable. But it won’t work. 

It’s always easier to know what doesn’t work then what does. How does a community move from silence, or the more dramatic complement invisibility, to vocal action? How do people learn to believe change can happen? Have you made a change? What worked in your community?

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