For the past few months our attention has been focused on Ferguson, Missouri, and the aftermath of other cop-kills-black-man scenarios around the country. As it is with police officers and every other occupation, we’ve focused on the few bad actors rather than the majority of law enforcement officers who go about their days serving and protecting.
We’ve also forgotten about the majority of black youth, particularly young men, who are doing all the right things trying to becoming people we can be proud of. They are overshadowed and invisible to most of the country because stereotypes are easier to believe. Black youth are described as thugs, hoodlums, drug dealers and worse. But the invisible ones break all the stereotypes. Even so, they have to carry the baggage of what people say and think and believe to be true about them on their shoulders. When they step out of the house, they realize how others view them, and for some of the audience, it only takes the sight of their skin to roll the stereotype reel -- no thinking required.
I saw a fantastic group of invisible men last weekend in Atlanta. They stood, very visibly, on the left side of the Atlanta Symphony Concert Hall wearing their Morehouse College Glee Club blazers. On the right stood the Gwinnett Young Singers, and in the middle, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
My wife and I, along with Sandra and Richard Keil, have been attending the symphony’s Christmas concerts for 16 years. Each year Morehouse performs, “Betelehemu.” I can’t describe the energy it brings. It’s physical. It’s dynamic. They always get rousing applause for their musicianship. David Morrow, the glee club’s director, has trained hundreds of singers over the 16 years we’ve attended. You don’t just get up one morning and decide to sing to packed audiences without months of practice, much less singing a song in Yoruba. These young Morehouse men are from all over the world, and it is an honor and privilege to be a member of the glee club that Morrow has directed since 1987.
This concert also featured another invisible man, the 2014-2015 artist in residence, Russell Thomas. His rich tenor filled the hall, and while this concert featured his voice (he has performed in German, Italian, French and Czech), you could tell he has the acting presence of an opera singer who has performed all over the world.
What inspired an invisible man from Miami to sing opera? Doesn’t fit the stereotype, does it? He’s not alone. Who would have thought the Macon, Georgia, of the 1950s could produce an Allan Evans, who has taken his bass-baritone all over the world? But for all his accomplishments, Evans said in a Macon Magazine profile, “Jim Crow was created to serve a purpose, and to have defeated that monster has been my greatest accomplishment.” What we fail to realize as an American society is that monster is far from dead, and even though it still permeates much of what we do, some claim it to be invisible, too.
What inspires the young men in the glee club to devote their time and talents to something different than some of their peers? Is it a love for music? Yes. Is it because they want to be a part of a tradition that’s 103 years old? Yes. Does walking down the street knowing they are part of an organization that’s recognized for its excellence make them feel good? Yes.
There are examples of invisible men all around us, but we don’t realize it because, well, they’re invisible. Their pictures aren’t splattered all over the place because they are neither the perpetrators or victims of crimes. They are in public safety. They’re educators. They’re lawyers and doctors, nurses, bankers and real estate brokers and preachers. They work in information technology and as over-the-road truckers, journalists, broadcasters and salesmen.
They are going about their lives in a fashion that’s a far cry from how some of the people who share their skin tone are portrayed. I’ve come to the conclusion that stereotypes die hard, and they won’t disappear in my lifetime. But people should realize the weight that’s carried by the invisible men. They should know that they, too, cringe when reading accounts of the incident at Wings Cafe and are just as appalled by the black-on-black crimes that take place without the hoopla surrounding a Ferguson or New York or Cleveland or Macon.
Shouts of recrimination come from both sides, but the invisible ones stay silent. They know the only time they become visible is when they’re seen as a threat.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.