Invisible Man

Elijah De’Vaughn ‘21


All my life I had been looking for something and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was . . . But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!

— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


Let me tell you a story about my life:

“You acting so White now; it’s that damn school.”

At age 12, these words crashed on my ears.

Every family gathering, this is what I would hear.

I attended Chadwick: an independent school found where there are no gunshots at night. 

The kids here were the sons and daughters of the top 1% in America, crazy, right? 

“Struggle” had a completely different meaning to them.

And because these were the people I grew up with, I was consumed by this world of gems. 

I began to walk a certain way, talk a certain way. I lost my way.

I felt like I didn’t belong with my family anymore because I acted too “White.”

I wasn’t “Compton” enough because I didn’t know how to fight.

I was using words like “multifaceted” and “indistinguishable.”

Maybe because I thought my identity was extinguishable?

Around my family, in Compton, near Black people, I didn’t know who I was. 

It was so tough-- because I wasn’t “Black” enough.

“Have you ever seen someone get shot?”

At age 12, these words crashed on my ears.

When I came to school, this is what I would hear.

I retorted with ease, saying, “No, I’ve never seen that.” Next, my peers would collect stats:

“Do you crave fried chicken?”

“Do you love watermelon?”

“Do you know anyone in prison?”

Here’s the thing: I didn’t like watermelon, I loved fried chicken, grape soda wasn’t my favorite, and, yes, my father was in jail.

And I told them all these things to no avail.

Because I still felt as though I didn’t belong.

Because my reality was just a line in their favorite song.

Because they could buy anything while my mother struggled to pay bills.

Because my father was in jail and theirs were CEOs perched atop in Beverly Hills. 

Around my friends, in Palos Verdes, near White people, I didn’t know who I was. 

It was so tough because I wasn’t “White” enough.

Did you notice how the aforementioned realities were a little dissimilar? 

They didn’t go together like salt and vinegar.

They were opposed,

Foes,

Juxtaposed.

Night and day,

Sun and moon,

Black and White?

My identity was out of my sight.

My 12-year-old self used those words with intention:

because I was multifaceted, there existed a tension.

A tension between my worlds that pulled me left and right.

It pulled me so much that I was not in the light.

For I was indistinguishable—invisible—for so many years.

I didn’t know who I was because I incessantly tried to adhere: 

To everyone except myself.

Not until the age of 14, when I pulled Invisible Man off the shelf.

Today, I realize that I am not “visible” at all. I am invisible. Nobody can tell me who I am or what I should be— except me.

And what if I told you I made use of my invisibility?

For I realized that it is actually ability.

I am a Black boy who acts a little “White,”

Who loves track, football, science, and the theatre spotlight.

So, I can connect with the Black boy, the white boy, the football prodigy, 

With the theatregoer, the popular, or even someone who feels like an anomaly. 

With invisibility, I have learned to be seen: a leader and friend to many,

For I finally stopped trying to be “ordinary.”

I now will not be caught up in trying to be “something” from dusk to dawn.

I will be me, invisible and all, Elijah Christopher De’Vaughn.

The end.