The Invisibility Factor

The Invisibility Factor
                Many years ago there was a black student at an elite high school in a small elite community in New England who gave an unforgettable address at his high school graduation.  He was bused from the inner city to the suburbs to fulfill a carefully devised integration plan that left minority students just that in a public high school where white students were, of course, the overwhelming majority.
                In his talk he discussed what it meant to be “invisible” during his high school years.  By invisible he meant according to his example what happened when he entered an advanced mathematics class and the teacher assumed he did not belong there and said so.  In fact, he was one of the highest performing students in the school.
                Invisible does not always mean unable to be seen.  It can simply mean excluded from expectations, from consciousness, from consideration.
                Michael Klare has written extensively on the industry of petroleum and he made a film and wrote a book with the same title Blood and Oil.  The film takes place in Nigeria where a team of oil field technicians are killed and the film explores an amazing array of inter-connected themes in this industry.  In the film there is a character named Joseph.  Joseph is a gardner, nearly invisible as he carries out his daily duties.  Probably the residents of the housing hardly notice him, he is a fixture, a quiet one who goes about his work.  He epitomizes the invisibility of most of the people in the world, a world in which most of the people are poor.
                How poor?  Statistics are easy to find, a couple of quick hits on google.com state that 1.2 billion people in the world live on less than a dollar a day.  3 billion on less than two dollars.  According to www.globalissues.org 80% live on less than ten dollars a day.  For most of us in the so-called developed world, these people, something like 5.6 billion people are invisible, that is they do not occupy space in our daily lives and all the things we think about.  Yet, we depend on people like this daily.  In the U.S. low-paid immigrant workers put food on our tables.  People living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo play a key role in the mining of the mineral coltan that is essential for the electronic devices that we use.  Leonardo DiCaprio made an exciting movie about “blood diamonds” that gave a little insight into how these costly stones are mined by the poor.
                To bring invisibility even more to the thinking of a class of students who had seen Blood and Oil, we took a look at documentary that you can find on youtube.com entitled “The Dark Side of Chocolate – Child Slavery.”  It reveals the role that children play in harvesting cacao and how they receive little or nothing for their labor.  At the end of the film, students were speechless, several said they had no idea that such things happened.  One student simply said, “I’ll never eat chocolate again.”
                The vast invisible world does not enter our lives until we go through some personal tragedy and we begin to feel the solitude and loneliness that we did not feel before such an event struck.  This may be the loss of an important job that we depend upon, a divorce, diagnosis of a disease, the loss of a beloved partner or child.  Invisibility is the 2 million or so people in Iraq that have died since the beginning of the 1990’s and the first invasion of the U.S. of Iraq.  Invisibility is the two to four million Vietnamese who were killed in the war that we call “The Vietnam War.”  Invisibility are the countless innocents who are the collateral damage of hundreds of drone strikes carried out in many countries.  Invisibility can even be the 40 to 50 million U.S. Americans who have no health insurance.  Invisibility can even be the powerful and rich leadership class that truly makes the decisions that impact all of our lives but whose names will not be found in the roll call of Senate or Congressmen and women in Washington.
                Having lived in the so-called third world, or second world, however we define these terms, for many years, I saw the invisible people in a powerful way that I cannot get out of my mind, nor do I want to.  If I look at simple, everyday items in my life, chocolate bar, an orange, a banana, turn on a light switch or computer that is ultimately power not by anonymous electricity but rather oil, the invisible people now make their presence known.
                Folks who live in what we call the “developed world” are absolutely dependent on those who are invisible to us.  To make the invisible, visible, is an immense undertaking.  Native Americans who once populated what is now the United States in the millions, now number around half a million according to www.american-indians.net/today.  Jews, the Roma people, and disabled became invisible in Germany in 30’s and 40’s.  Palestinians are disappearing in Israel.  Again, according to an easily found reference on the Internet, some 21,000 children a day die from mostly preventable causes.  Millions are hard to comprehend, but I think we can wrap our minds around 21,000, a baseball stadium’s worth of fans watching a major league baseball game, children becoming ultimately invisible—one child dying every 4 seconds.  We might look at our own child and think, their life will end in 4 seconds, this might make the invisibility factor almost comprehensible, the time it takes to read this sentence.
                None of this is meant to create guilt, but rather to show the possibilities for finding a life purpose and career when we in the developed world often feel our lives lack deep meaning.  This, of course, is no easy undertaking.  It will require immense thought-taking, planning, education, research, maybe learning a new language, reassessing how we will use our time and energy.
                Bertrand Russell, the Englishman who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 said, “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.”  Wikipedia says at the beginning of the article about Russell: “Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed anti-imperialism and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I.  Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the involvement of the United States of America in the Vietnam War, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament.  In 1950 Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature ‘in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.’"
                Betrand Russell is an example of a person who dedicated his life to making the invisible, visible.  We might say he was a conjurer.  That’s it!  We, too, need to become conjurers and make the invisible, visible.  Choose your own area of specialization, and go to it before we all become invisible.

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