In chapters 4-7, I was most interested in Reverend Barbee and Dr. Bledsoe’s understanding of whiteness and power.
In Chapter 5, Reverend Barbee gives a speech at the chapel discussing the Founder’s altruism and divinity. The campus glorifies the Founder to an alarming degree, to the point where Reverend Barbee equates the Founder to the North Star. This parallel is an oversimplification of what the North Star truly represents. In his speech, he turns the North Star from a source of Black empowerment and their struggle for freedom to a white man’s benevolence and humility. Furthermore, he makes the Founder sound like Jesus or God, someone who sacrifices himself to join the races together and fight for Black freedom. The idolization of the Founder feels like a religion in and of itself; The students, faculty, and benefactors all seem to blindly subscribe to the Founder’s greatness, even dedicating a whole evening to hammering that fact into the student body. Lastly, I think it’s interesting that after Reverend Barbee has an entire monologue about the Founder and his heroic journey, he removes his glasses and reveals that he is blind. Perhaps Reverend Barbee is blind to the faultiness of his beliefs and the Founder’s prevailing savior complex.
“Ah yes, those indescribably glorious days, in which the Founder was building a dream… instilling the dream in the hearts of people… Erecting the scaffolding of a nation. Broadcasting his message that fell like a seed on a fallow ground, sacrificing himself, fighting and forgiving enemies of both complexions” (Ellison 124).
Dr. Bledsoe appears to be Invisible Man’s enemy as he “wrongly” expels the narrator, but, in reality, he is Invisible Man’s role model. Dr. Bledsoe acts identically to Invisible Man in the prologue. Dr. Bledsoe is only seen as threatening because he derails Invisible Man’s eagerness to blindly follow the Founder’s values. Dr. Bledsoe, like the grandfather, weaponizes their appearance as a form of resistance and a way to gain control. He does not care for the Founder’s sacrifices but primarily focuses on wearing masks for white benefactors to climb the social ladder. Dr. Bledsoe controls them by appealing to white people and embodying the type of man they want him to be. Indeed, it is not only about power to make decisions on campus but to influence and manipulate white people’s decisions to his benefit. This is offensive to Invisible Man because he violates all the principles the Founder and the college stand for. However, white people can worry about morality in the game of power and influence because they already have it. Dr. Bledsoe is trying to amass power for himself, the betterment of the campus, and as a way to act against white leaders. Interestingly, Dr. Bledsoe sounds similar to the Invisible Man we know from the prologue. He advises the student:
“You let white folk worry about pride and dignity– you learn where you are and get yourself power, influence, contacts with powerful and influential people– then stay in the dark and use it!” (Ellison 145).
I find this quote interesting because it touches on the sacrifices that must be made to attain power. Worrying about pride and dignity, no matter how important, gives the white leaders a way to overpower and control you. Instead, Dr. Bledsoe insists on staying in the “dark.” In previous classes, we discussed light vs. darkness and whether Invisible Man staying in the hole (during the prologue) was a bad thing. Here, darkness is a weapon for Black people to mastermind ways to have agency and control over their own lives. This darkness is also a weapon against white power and its oppressive nature.
What do you make of Reverend Barbee and Dr. Bledsoe, both Black leaders of the campus who have opposing beliefs about white philanthropy/generosity? Do you believe Reverend Barbee could also be playing with appearances to promote a rebellious agenda?