Why Oscar’s Middle Name Is “Ellison”

This is the first entry in the series Honoring Black History.

I don’t remember the class or the year, but back in high school I remember being asked to choose one from a selection of books to read and write a report on. That was my first exposure to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and my first glimpse into the realities of racism as seen from the perspective of a black man in America.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it’s a story told from the perspective of the unnamed protagonist as he makes his way in New York in the 1930s. It tackles a number of topics that are still relevant today: racism, of course, but also black identity and the disconnectedness (invisibility) experienced daily by marginalized people.

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.

It was emotionally tough to read, hit me hard, and has left a lasting impression. Invisible Man was an awakening for me in many ways, though it took many more years for me to recognize that fact.

And so, when Kelly and I were in the process of adopting a child (who we knew would likely be black), “Ellison” was top of mind for me as a boys name. Already having a “son” in my last name, however, it made sense to give Oscar the middle name “Ellison”.

I’ve written before about my hopes for Oscar and for all black children. I want them to grow up in a society that sees (and values) them for who they are. I want them to grow up in a society that doesn’t look at them with suspicion because of their complexion. I want them to grow up in a society that recognizes the fullness of their humanity and respects their bodies and their spirits. Ellison’s novel—in addition to his other writings—remains a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to go.


Webmentions

  1. I didn’t know you had a son! (Sorry I’m super out of the social media loop). Congratulations, and I love the thought behind Ellison (Oscar is a fab name too).

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  2. No worries, it’s been AGES since we’ve seen each other :-)

    (And thanks!)

    We hope to make it down for a visit again soon. I’ve been talking to @johnallsopp but the dates haven’t lined up yet. Then you can meet him. One day!

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  3. He turned three in December. We’ve traveled a bit in the States & down to Mexico, but nothing super-far yet.

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