We knew George Floyd before he was suffocated to death under a White cop’s knee.
We’ve seen him dozens of times on television in the faces of the Black men, and women, who were killed because of the color of their skin.
We’ve seen him thousands of times in books, newspapers and photographs of Black men hanging from trees, or telephone polls or scaffolds; thousands upon thousands of Black men, invisible to the law.
The great writer, Ralph Ellison, saw George Floyd clearly, long before George Floyd was born, and murdered.
In his remarkable book, Invisible Man (Random House, NY, NY, 1952), Ellison chillingly depicted how White people looked right through Black men, and saw only what they wanted to see, for whatever purpose they found gratifying.
Ellison describes it through the eyes of a college-bound, young Black man, herded into a wealthy, elite White club, to provide the inebriated rich, powerful men of a small community with some entertainment:
“ All of the town’s big shots were there in their tuxedos, wolfing down buffet foods, drinking beer and whiskey and smoking black cigars. It was a large room with a high ceiling. Chairs were arranged in neat rows around three sides of a portable boxing ring. The fourth side was clear, revealing a gleaming space of polished floor.”
Ellison’s educated main character was invited to the elite gathering by the White Superintendant of Schools to be honored for his scholarship, and was told he would be able to deliver a speech. But, first, he, and nine other young Black men had to perform.
“In those pre-invisible days, I visualized myself as a potential Booker T. Washington…I suspected the fighting might detract from the dignity of my speech. We were led out of the elevator through a rococo hall into an anteroom and told to get into our fighting togs. Each of us was issued a pair of boxing gloves and ushered into the big mirrored hall…”
“We were a small tight group, clustered together, our bare upper bodies touching and shining with anticipatory sweat, while up front the big shots were becoming increasingly excited… Suddenly, I heard the School Superintendent, who told me to come, yell, ‘Bring up the shines, gentlemen! ‘Bring up the little shines!”