Standing in for God: Light and Whiteness in Ellison and Pinero

The idea of something standing in for a higher power can be seen in both Invisible Man and Miguel Pinero’s “The Book of Genesis According to St. Miguelito.” In Invisible Man, this can be seen towards the beginning where the narrator goes to the church and hears Barbee speak. These old cathedrals are hierarchical by design: the choir is often high up in the balcony, and the pastors, clergymen, and altars raised up from floor level where the congregation sits. In “The Book of Genesis,” Pinero also uses to distance to create hierarchy which points out socioeconomic inequality as well – “On the Fourth day / God was riding around Harlem in a Gypsy cab.” As aforementioned, the lights are also omitted, denoting that even in this intended place of hope, whiteness creeps in and blinds and sucks out that hope.

Also, in Invisible Man, the Founder is seen as a deity figure, and quickly in the novel we are presented with the idea that Bledsoe is a stand-in for the founder. The quote that most heavily seems to suggest this is where the narrator says: “Until, like a clap of thunder, I hear Dr. Bledsoe’s voice ring out whip-like with authority, a song of hope” (Ellison, 125). On top of inserting him in a Founder role, this seems to be suggesting that Bledsoe is the answer to the narrator’s problems, and in a way, by being able to solve his problems, likens him to God, especially “song of hope.”

This same sort of stand-in for a higher power definitely is what is being discussed in Pinero’s piece as well. I see two strong potential readings of Pinero’s poem. The first being that an agnostic view – we can’t know God, but we know that what God created has warped. A second reading suggests God created man, and then white men saw themselves as God, in God’s image, and created a world which thrives on oppression and racism. Whiteness is the created God in Pinero’s poem to me, which created the slums and the war on drugs and “GENOCIDE” (Pinero, line 35). Whiteness is also what created the Blindness which plagues Barbee and Bledsoe and all of the characters of Invisible Man as well.

Furthering the discussion of things in the texts which stand in for higher power calls for a discussion of light in both texts. Light is synonymous with good in the same way the color white is – day and night, light and dark, white and black. Both texts omit light in a way which suggests that the presence of toxic, racist whiteness blocks out any true light from the character’s lives. Pinero’s decision to omit any sort of good from the biblical seven-day creation story parallels Ellison’s choice to omit the windows and therefore any natural light in his chapel. On the first day of the biblical creation story, God creates light, and in Pinero’s narrative, on the first day, God creates the “ghettos and slums” (Pinero, line 4). The space where poor non-white people will live their lives stands in for light in Pinero’s poem, which we might take to mean that our surroundings can block out any sort of natural positivity from taking root in our lives and allowing us to grow. The absence of natural light in Ellison’s chapel also gives this sort of caging in feel as well. In fact, while Pinero takes care to have his God do nothing on four out of the seven days of creation, it’s important to note that his God acts to create something on only the first day, the third day, and the fourth day – respectively the days in which God created light, sea and land, and the sun, moon, and stars in the biblical account. The three days in which Pinero’s God creates take the place of things that fill our space and create our surroundings – the light by which we see, the sea and land by which we move and take root, and sun, moon, and stars by which we navigate, tell time, and use to dream. Once Pinero’s God creates his stand-ins for these things – the slums, the backyards, and capitalism – they have become the people’s space. Light doesn’t matter – have slums and ghettos. You don’t need the sea and the land, you have an ocean of heroin and cocaine and your barren backyards and alleyways with which to use it. And why would you need the sun, the moon, and the stars to navigate this Earth when can have capitalism and let it rule and consume you.

-Katie Dillman

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