• Cary Martin Shelby

Managing Shades of Invisibility in Privileged Spaces: Reflecting on Meghan’s Exit


Churning billows of discomfort expand within your stomach as you walk into the room. Frozen smiles simultaneously blended with curiosity and judgment confront your every step. You then produce an equally phony smile hoping to conceal your uneasiness, or somehow camouflage yourself into these unfamiliar surroundings. But there is no escaping it. You are different. They know it and so do you. Maintaining your own identity is a constant challenge given the prism of dualities that represent your existence. Figuring out how to manage those differences consumes you, while for them, they are free to do with it as they please. I can only imagine the horrors that Meghan Markle endured while residing within the countless privileged spaces that were designed to exclude her. So many of us had to constantly fluctuate along comparable shades of invisibility, from muted silence to scathing exploitation, all while fighting to maintain our own individuality.


As for myself, after fighting indescribable beasts to persevere towards self-sufficiency, I soon discovered the degradation that often accompanies privileged spaces. Whether it was a gala, filled with exclusive airs of opulence that my communities could only dream of accessing. Or dinner parties filled with latent judgments about your world travels, your family pedigree, or even your degrees of wittiness as defined by them. Coming from foster care makes it nearly impossible to fully participate in these conversations and any resulting moments of awkward silence have made me appear less witty, less welcoming, and even more invisible. And faking like you belong is a fool’s game that will invariably be used against you. The workplace in itself can become a privileged space where your competence is measured by your gender, race, class, or the prestige of the institutions that you’ve attended. Moving up the ladder increases the levels of elitism that you must encounter, making it more difficult to even begin the game of climbing. Even if you do start the arduous climb, the elitism makes it difficult to understand the ladder’s rules, which increases your chances of falling.


But then there are these moments where you become scathingly visible. If it’s exploitive in nature, it can become painfully tricky to navigate. At first it feels like a golden opportunity to be heard. To eloquently spill out your heart, perhaps for the sake of a noble cause or charity. But when it’s over, they no longer see you. The calls stop coming. Any resulting trauma from sharing your story is your own burden to bear. They don’t invite you into their familial or interpersonal spaces. You’re excluded from any resulting profits or opportunities that have been generated from your pain. It effectively becomes objectified for their benefit. And you’re left feeling even more invisible than you did before, wondering if it made any difference at all.


Being scathingly visible also means that you are thrust into additional zones of abuse and toxicity. When your differences make them feel better about their own shortcomings, then suddenly, you’re as visible as an iceberg protruding from the ocean. They then use your differences as a weapon to tear you down, and all who surround you, to clear a pathway for their own deficiencies to shine. When your differences provide entertainment and fodder for gossip, then you become so visible, that your very presence transforms into an insidious obsession. Your differences then fuel a gluttonous consumption that is virtually impossible to satiate. When it’s all said and done, you realize that being scathingly visible is yet an additional shade of invisibility. Then you start to see that much of your pain is caused by their fear. Then your heart starts to sink as you fully realize that their fear has made it increasingly difficult for you to see yourself.


With this new decade dawning upon us, I am excited about the prospect of creating my own privileged spaces, where I’m free to nurture everything that makes me different into awe-inspiring greatness. Spaces where I can create freely without being inhibited by the contaminated judgment of those who cannot see me. Spaces where I am free to love every intricate aspect of myself, including all of my imperfections. As for the external privileged spaces that I must still endure, I plan to implement more boundaries so as to further guard my beautifully wonderful differences. This means that if I don’t feel like attending a work or social event, or if I feel strongly compelled to go home for the sake of my mental or spiritual health, then I will give myself the freedom to do so. If I intuitively know that it’s time to shift gears with respect to my career or personal goals, then I will pursue that alternative path unapologetically. This brings me back to Meghan Markle. Her courage is beyond admirable. I send her my love and well wishes as she embarks upon her own continuous journey of creating her own spaces for herself and for her family. She has inspired me and for that, I am grateful.

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