Confronting invisibility

Today is Equal Pay Day! That is, today marks how far the average woman in the U.S. would have to work into this year (adding to last year’s pay) in order to match what the average man made in 2014. It seems this would be the perfect opportunity for me to get into the gender (and race!) issues around equal pay, but I already did that last month and – believe it or not – I try not to sound like a broken record.

So, I’m going to take it as a given that you know how I feel about equal pay and move on to another topic: being invisible.

Not being seen or heard is something women – and especially women of color – have struggled against for decades. But it’s never really been part of my personal story. I mean, yes, I certainly feel underappreciated at times – but that’s almost always because of someone else’s flightiness rather than discrimination, blatant or otherwise. But that changed last week.

I spent most of the last week in South Dakota for a reporting assignment. On Thursday, I was recording a podcast super early in the morning, so, bleary-eyed, I ventured out to the hotel lobby to get some coffee. As I was adding my requisite 50 gallons of flavored creamer (it’s the only way coffee is palatable to me), a hotel employee approached a man who was sitting about five feet away from me. A nearby TV was showing CNN’s coverage of the Walter Scott shooting, and even though I was standing right there, the employee said to the man, “Isn’t it a shame about those protestors in South Carolina? They’re talking about justice, but it’s on video. What more do they want?”

The two proceeded to enter into a semi-audible conversation the origins of black people in South Carolina, and then the hotel employee mentioned that there were good and bad people in all races and that people were mistaken in their attempts to make the shooting about race. “The real problem,” she continued, “is work ethic. And that’s white people and black. Basically, anyone under 30 has no work ethic.”

And that completely freaked me out. I wasn’t afraid, exactly, but it was unnerving that my presence – a black woman under 30 – did nothing to mitigate the tone of the conversation. It was as if my personhood did not register at all. I was invisible. And it was the most unsettling feeling in the world.

I wanted to say something to the hotel employee – not anything snarky – but I wanted to assert my presence, to force her to reckon her words with my existence. But I didn’t. I put a lid on my coffee and scurried back to my room.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the people for whom invisibility is a chronic condition. I was shaken by an experience that lasted maybe three minutes. What would it be like if that were my entire life?

In a lot of ways, Global Sisters Report, is all about confronting invisibility. The stories we write are often about people on the margins: refugees, migrant workers and the like. But the stories of the sisters themselves could also be included in that categorization. Obviously, women religious aren’t looking for fame or recognition, but I believe credit should always be given where it’s due – and often, sisters don’t get credit for their ministries because no one knows about them.

I’m still pondering this invisibility thing, but in the meantime, I’m super proud of the work GSR has done in the last year, and I’m excited for what we’ll be doing next!

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is staff reporter for Global Sisters Report based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @Dawn_Cherie.]

Check out the latest coverage from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 2019.