by Dr. Karen Oliveto, Pastor
As an entire generation readies itself to say good-bye to one who grew up with them, I figure it’s time to think about some of the spiritual lessons of Harry Potter. The seven books which make up the Harry Potter series portray the age-old battle between good and evil in a fresh and creative way. The characters and the world they inhabit have much to teach us. I’ve specifically been thinking about the Invisibility Cloak , which was a special garment that Harry was given which, when he used it, made him, or whatever he covered, in visible.
At first, an invisibility cloak sounds really great. Which one of us hasn’t wanted to be that fly on the wall, ready to hear juicy tidbits of gossip? Who among us hasn’t longed for an invisibility cloak when we have done something so embarrassing we just wished we could make ourselves disappear? Who hasn’t wanted to put on an invisibility cloak and fight back at injustice with minimal risks, since it would mean that those we battle couldn’t see us?
But the longer I think about it, I realize that it’s not really a healthy thing, this invisibility cloak. Too many of us, without our permission, have had a cloak of invisibility put on us, on who we are. Too many of us are overlooked, left out, made to feel as if we don’t really matter or don’t exist. We have come to realize that there are those people and systems that would like nothing better to render us invisible and sadly, all too often they have succeeded.
A Victorian era saying was “Children should be seen and not heard.” Unfortunately, that saying now includes not only children, but people with physical or mental disabilities or handicaps, the poor, people who don’t conform to society’s narrow definition of sexual orientation or gender identity, and people of color, and has evolved to a new phrase, “should not be seen and not heard.”
In fact, psychology now has a counseling term called “Invisibility Syndrome” to explain a condition experienced by people who are made invisible. Developed from studying the effects of the subtle and overt slights experienced by African American men, this refers to the “inner struggle with feeling that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or even recognized because of prejudice and racism.”
Invisibility is what happens when you are constantly and consistently devalued, demeaned, and dehumanized. Ralph Ellison in 1952 in the Invisible Man expressed the Invisibility Syndrome when he described what he felt as a black man in America: “I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone…I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me…They see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination–indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Perhaps the most recent, vivid example of racial invisibility is found in a recent drowning in Fall River, MA. The body of Marie Joseph, an African American woman, was undetected in a public pool for THREE days! Invisibility extends beyond race. Ask someone who has lost their home and now lives on the city street what invisibility feels like. Ask a person in a wheelchair what invisibility feels like. Ask an LGBT youth what invisibility feels like. One look at the budgets being adopted by every level of government shows how those in power have made entire classes of people invisible, from our children who are in need of quality education, to the sick who are in need of affordable healthcare, to the homeless who are in need of accessible social services. If budgets reveal a country’s moral compass, it is clear we have lost our way because we no longer see the most vulnerable in our society and how our policies make them even more invisible. The problem is while we as a people might default to an “out of sight, out of mind” orientation, ignoring the social plights of the invisible will further fray the social fabric that creates and holds us together as a healthy community.
Are you living beneath an invisibility cloak, due to someone else’s choosing? Does your presence, personhood, demeanor, make others so uncomfortable they have tried to cover you up so that you can be ignored. Don’t you know that to remain under that cloak is to allow yourself, the full person you were created to be, to suffocate? It is time to throw off the cloak and be your fullest, most beautiful self!
Prejudice and oppression are not carved in stone. Racism, classism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism do not form an unchanging status quo. Liberation, healing, justice and right relationships can and do happen when we dare to remove the invisibility cloaks and make ourselves seen and heard. When we stand up and speak out, name our truths and tell the story of our lives.
Are you ready to make yourself visible? Are you ready to sing your song? Are you ready to speak up and speak out? Are you ready to let your light shine? Are you ready to help others remove the cloaks that enfold them? Are you ready?