Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education

Rate this book
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching is an account of how, politically and culturally, the existing script for black manhood has been rewritten for the millennial generation. Young men of this age have watched as Barack Obama was elected president but have also witnessed the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, and so many other young black men killed by police or vigilante violence. Chronicling his personal and political education during these tumultuous years, Smith narrates his own coming-of-age story and his struggles to come into his own at a time when too many black men do not survive into adulthood.

From Barack Obama’s landmark speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 to the recent and widely reported cases of violence against women, from powerful moments of black self-determination like LeBron James’ “decision” to the mobilization of thousands of young black men in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching documents of how these public milestones have challenged cultural notions of black manhood. Part memoir, part political tract, this book is an unprecedented and intimate glimpse into what it means to be young, black, and male in America today—and what it means to be treated as a human in a society dependent on your subjugation.

224 pages, Hardcover

First published June 14, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mychal Denzel Smith

2 books111 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,193 (50%)
4 stars
880 (36%)
3 stars
266 (11%)
2 stars
35 (1%)
1 star
10 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 371 reviews
Profile Image for Bethany Fair.
82 reviews14 followers
June 1, 2016
Having been born the same year as Mychal Denzel Smith - coming of age during the delusional post-Reagan 90s during which nearly everyone tried to teach us that sexism and racism were problems only of the past - I too share Smith's inclination towards borderline obnoxious activism. When we were too young to know better, we were unknowingly guided into an apathetic posture towards issues of discrimination that were mostly swept under the rug but have recently come back into the public eye with fresh urgency. As Smith witnesses the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and many more, he begins to ask himself how he has learned to be a black man in America, when so many black boys have not even been allowed to become men at all. But the difficulty for Smith has been learning how to vocalize and express black masculinity when much of the language he has been taught to express himself is also rooted and framed within a racist and sexist framework. As a teenager, he finds solace and hope in the words of Malcolm X, Mos Def, Dave Chappelle, and Ralph Ellison - his black male heroes. But until he reaches college, he fails to consider the voices of those who understand those black men the most, those who "see them most clearly" - black women. Having been on the receiving end of discrimination his entire life, Smith also finds himself also posturing the same attitudes towards women without realizing how much these learned attitudes prevented him from seeing the whole picture. And this is truly what lies at the heart of Smith's brilliant discourse - the coming to terms with the latent systems of oppression that subtly influence his ability to understand the world, and more importantly, himself.

As a white woman, I'll never truly understand how difficult it is to learn to be a black man in America, though Smith does a brilliant job explaining his own experiences in unapologetically honest terms - but I do relate so much to the idea that even when we try to upend the oppressive systems that silence us with words and actions, many of those words and actions are inherently steeped in systemic racism, sexism and violence. So how do we ever hope to effect real change? We must pull the rug away and acknowledge the ugly truths that we spend most of our lives trying to hide through naive progress narratives. "We make a grave mistake every time we invoke the history of oppression to diminish the reality of racism's present. Progress is real, but the narrative of progress seduces us to inaction. If we believe, simply, that it gets better, there is no incentive to do the work to ensure that it does."

A must-read, 5 stars!
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
February 7, 2017
I first learned about this book from Yanira Ramirez, my guest on Episode 070 of the Reading Envy Podcast. It felt like an important book that I never heard about, so I was so glad she brought it to my attention. I ended up buying it from Audible during one of their BOGO deals. The audio was great, but not read by the author, which I found myself wishing for.

Mychal Denzel Smith reflects on his life, specifically as a young black man. He looks at Obama and his presidency, and the pressure to be the better-smarter-kinder black man (and also looks at how Obama was treated despite being the epitome of all these things.) He addresses sexism and homophobia in his own community. He talks about his role models (NOT Obama, but Dave Chappelle), his struggle with depression, and how he found his voice. I felt like he brought the reader into his struggles and imperfections in an effective way. I found myself wondering what he thinks about the present state of politics in America, and you can get a clear sense of it from his Twitter feed.

I have a bunch of quotes marked but it is complicated to transcribe them from Audible, so I will have to come back.

Overall I am grateful for one more perspective to get me to think differently about assumptions I hadn't even realized I had made, and to better understand one more person's experience.
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,209 reviews189 followers
July 29, 2016
I am almost exactly the same age as Mychal Denzel Smith, so reading his reflections on learning how to be a black man in America was like stepping into an alternate reality where the same people and events I remember from my childhood and adolescence are present and recognizable, but cast in a different light. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a stunning demonstration of how limited my own viewpoint is, and that revelation alone makes reading his book worth it.

Take Kanye West, for example. I remember vividly the telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief when he went famously off-script and announced that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. I also remember being confused by both the statement and his anger, because at the time I didn’t understand systemic injustice and racism. I didn’t personally experience it, so I didn’t see it. A lot of white people still don’t see it. Kanye, in the way only Kanye can, was trying to make it visible to everyone. Smith, of course, because he had experienced firsthand the effects of racism his entire life, understood perfectly the point Kanye was making, and his feelings upon witnessing his statement were of affirmation and solidarity.

This is just one example of how Smith’s writing helped me see a familiar world with new eyes. It seems to me that a lot of times, racism has at its root a failure to understand that our own viewpoints are limited. This, I've decided, is how otherwise kind and understanding white people can deny the existence of racism with utter seriousness. They can’t accept that there are experiences outside their own. That’s why books like Smith’s (and for that matter, videos documenting police brutality and other injustices) are important for all people, white and black, to engage with—so we can all bear witness to what’s happening outside our own little corner of the world.

Although the book is fairly short and I listened to it in just a few hours, Smith’s interests are wide-ranging and he covers a lot of fascinating topics. He talks about the need for intersectionality with LGBTQ and feminist causes. Also highly interesting to me was his discussion of respectability politics. As you might guess, the comparison to Ta-Nehisi Coates feels inevitable, with Between the World and Me published just last year and dealing with similar themes, but Smith’s writing is less poetic, a bit more accessible, than Coates’s. Still, I couldn’t pick a favorite between the two. They’re both great and everyone should read them.

More book recommendations by me at www.readingwithhippos.com
Profile Image for Monica.
620 reviews631 followers
November 16, 2020
An unexpected pleasure. I really enjoyed looking through the eyes of a young black man at the world we have here. A searing look at how society views black men and how they view themselves. Cynical yet self-aware and optimistic.

4++ Stars

Listened to the Audiobook. The narration by Kevin Free in my view was perfect for this book.
Profile Image for Sarah Jaffe.
Author 7 books900 followers
May 21, 2016
I whipped through this in a day--Mychal's writing is so beautiful, it was hard to put it down.
Profile Image for Martha.
423 reviews13 followers
June 21, 2016
There are clear parallels between Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching and Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me: they're both works by young black men, exploring their existence in a hostile country, and they touch upon sometimes similar themes, including the importance of struggle and the massive unseen and largely unacknowledged mental and physical costs of simply existing as a black man in America. That said, however, their voices are completely different, and Smith engages in immensely important -- and immensely powerful -- examinations of gender and sexual orientation, two area of oppression that Coates has been criticized by some for ignoring. The discussion of the way black women and black gay men, in particular, are marginalized within the black community, Smith's own complicity in that marginalization, and his clear assertion about how that marginalization stems from the same white supremacist patriarchy that oppresses straight black men is the most moving section of a very moving book.

No matter his theme, though, Smith is a strikingly graceful writer. He shifts from emotional storytelling to critical analysis and back again to storytelling with a lightness and ease that defies reason, and his confidence in his abilities and his message illuminates every single page. It was an honor to spend 200+ of them with him (and now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go seek out everything else he's ever written).
Profile Image for Brandice.
911 reviews
November 5, 2017
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching was a great book. It was very well-written and touches on a lot of current, relevant, and frustrating topics. Mychal Smith is a year older than me and as a millennial, I can related to some of the topics he writes about. I won’t pretend that I fully understand or could understand some of the others. He discusses race, class, and privilege. Smith is a talented writer, and I found myself saving numerous quotes throughout the book (a couple faves below). This is a book everyone can learn something from.

”We shouldn’t be seeking the respect of an unjust system that will not respect us on the basis of our humanity alone.

“For all the hope the picture represented, there was always this reality to return to: there will be more Trayvon Martins than LeBron Jameses. LeBron’s ability to choose millions and his voice, and Chappelle’s choice of sanity and independence, are inspiring. But choice is a privilege not afforded most black boys trying to become black men in America. We can’t all dribble a basketball, make people laugh, rap on beat—or write. We don’t all have talents someone, some industry wants to exploit. Most of us have our bodies, our minds if we’re lucky, and a desire to survive against the odds. Choices are a privilege defined by circumstance.”
Profile Image for Christina.
221 reviews87 followers
February 21, 2017
This book was fire.

I read this in one sitting and to say I merely enjoyed it is an understatement. It certainly reminded me of a millennial version of Ta-Nehisi Coates' award winning Between the World and Me. Smith's writing is sharp, intellectual, and urgent. For the rest of this review and to see an a video clip of Mychal Denzel Smith speaking about this book click here.
Profile Image for Andre.
542 reviews146 followers
September 13, 2016
The introduction recounts the Trayvon Martin tragedy and as Mychal Denzel Smith laments the fact that Trayvon was deprived of the chance to grow, it lead him to this seminal question. "I asked myself: How did you learn to be a black man?" And so this book is his attempt to answer that question while dealing with the general but including the specifics from his own life journey.

This makes the book part memoir, part sociopolitical inquiry. Invisible Man,Got The Whole World Watching is the latest release in a spate of recent books that includes a look at recent killings of black men at the hand of the police.

Mychal takes us through his teens and his college years. We learn what and who influenced him, and his thinking on his way to becoming a man. Dispersed throughout these memoirist moments are the events taking place in society, and how they not only personally affected him, but what was the result concerning young black men generally. His writing is clear, concise and often jocular. He has some shining moments, his time at Hampton, his quest to be a "honest black man and a good black writer "and his activism around the Jena 6.

Mychal does a courageous takedown of the "identities that have been rooted in archaic notions of masculinity and sexuality." Also as as addendum to that, the myth of black father presence as difference maker is put under the microscope and found wanting. "If black children were raised in an environment that focused not on their lack of fathers but on filling their lives with the nurturing love we all need to thrive, what difference would an absent father make?" He understands the challenge of black fathers to be more than just disciplinarians, to be free enough to be emotional. For too long we have been taught to suppress our emotions, lest we been seen as soft or sissy. "The challenge of overcoming invisibility is one that black men take up daily in the quest to live freely as ourselves."

He closes the book with a discussion about respectability politics and despite its noble intentions he rightfully concludes it has sadly become "another tool to blame black people for their own oppression.....If you adhere to the rules of society, your race will not matter.....This isn't just a diminishment of the impact of racism, but a misreading of how racism operates. There are no traits that are inherent to blackness that then become the basis for oppression. It's the other way around. The system of racism invented, and continually adjusts, the rubric to justify its existence."

It is inspiring to see a young man asking the hard questions and brave enough to put pen to paper and work out the answers in such a public way. With Mr. Smith being only 30, I'm sure we will hear much more from him. This is a book that should be shared with men, women and children. It succeeds in doing what good books do, and that is provoke thought and inspire readers to want to share with others.
Profile Image for Niv.
55 reviews
April 14, 2021
I can't remember the last time I devoured a book like this one. Probably because despite the difference in gender, Mychal Denzel Smith spoke so perfectly to me and my own struggles. In his candid, raw, and honest accounting of his short life as a young black man thus far, I saw my brother, my uncle, my absent father, my husband, and countless other men I know. But I also saw myself.

Lots of empty references to the millennial generation tend to overlook race, thereby ignoring the specific struggles that being Black and millennial in the age of Obama have brought about. Smith, though not claiming to speak as the racialized voice of a generation, still manages to do so by addressing the political problem that has characterized our lives: the cognitive dissonance of accepting the overarching notion of racial progress in the face of endless Black death.

This painful reality has given birth to a radical movement that is a purposeful detour from those that came before, and Smith champions this. All the while, still contending with the same dark issues of mental health, self-hatred, rampant misogyny, homophobia, and countless other issues that come with being Black in America. Smith leaves no stone unturned, speaking truth to power by taking everyone, including himself, to task for the ways we venture away from the very thing that has the power to save us, the very thing that should be at the heart of any radical movement for a just future: love.

This is a book about a young Black man grappling with what he's been taught is the meaning of being a young Black man in America, and with so much truth, clarity and honesty, turns it all on its head.
Profile Image for Sidik Fofana.
Author 2 books278 followers
February 27, 2018
SIX WORD REVIEW: Thirty colored tumultuous years, eloquently explained.
Profile Image for Tom.
428 reviews1 follower
August 16, 2016
Wow. This book doesn't just tackle race; it tackles race in the context of feminism, gay rights, and mental health awareness. Smith basically says that all of these things exist in conversation with one another, and racism will not end until women and gay people and people with mental health issues have an equal place in society and are allowed to simply be themselves. This necessarily involves the following: "True self-reflection won't only result in an acceptance that continues to separate. It will mean unpacking our identities that have been rooted in archaic notions of masculinity and sexuality, and embracing the parts of ourselves we've been taught to reject." This is one that I need to read again.
Profile Image for Rachel.
584 reviews69 followers
February 26, 2017
(4.5 stars, rounded up because this book is essential and desperately needed)

This book is Smith's examination of how he learned to be a black man. The book felt like a collection of essays rather than a memoir. Regardless of what you call it, it's fantastic and certainly worth reading. Smith talks about violence facing black men (with examples from recent history such as Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant), mental illness, feminism, the discrimination the LBGTQ community faces, Obama's presidency, and fatherhood. Smith is sharp, honest, and eloquent and this slim book is incredibly powerful and one I highly recommend checking out.
Profile Image for jeremy.
1,133 reviews279 followers
March 26, 2016
to be a writer is to bear witness; to be a black writer is to bear witness to tragedy. in order to be honest and good, this is something i can't escape.
the debut book from knobler fellow and nation writer mychal denzel smith, invisible man, got the whole world watching, is a personal and political coming-of-age that melds candid detail with trenchant analysis. taking its title from a mos def lyric, smith's book shares a revealing and self-aware recap of his development as a young black millennial and budding wordsmith. confronting his own assumptions (about a variety of subjects and social issues), smith is a smart, searching, and skilled writer, one committed to chronicling not only his own challenges, but also those of a culture still mired in prejudice, bigotry, disregard, and disenfranchisement.
we make a grave mistake every time we invoke the history of oppression to diminish the reality of racism's present. progress is real, but the narrative of progress seduces us into inaction. if we believe, simply, that it gets better, there is no incentive to do the work to ensure that it does.
confronting patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, the mental health stigma, and obama's politics of race, smith turns an incisive eye to issues that are often overlooked within his own community—calling out movements that seek solidarity while excluding the most defenseless and vulnerable. there's an enviable fervor and zeal to smith's writing, yet, at times, he seems to vacillate between recognizing the power of his own critical thinking and doubting in his ability to excel in conveying it (which combine to great effect in revealing a very human duality). invisible man, got the whole world watching is unabashed and unequivocal, and mychal denzel smith's a keen observer of both himself and the world around him.
but we have to start with the right questions. we re-create white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, class-based elitism, self-hatred, violence, and untreated mental illness in part because we have failed to ask the right questions about how to end them. so far we've mostly asked how we can stop the bleeding.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,161 reviews1,256 followers
June 16, 2019
This disappointed me. It’s not really a memoir – which is probably for the best; the author wrote it at age 29 and his life to that point doesn’t sound especially remarkable – but instead it’s a 220-page op-ed piece without a single citation. It’s all the author’s opinions about various contemporary events and social justice issues, including lengthy descriptions of news and pop cultural events, including entire segments of the Dave Chappelle Show, excerpts from Obama’s speeches, descriptions of events in sports, etc.

The book begins by talking about unarmed black men sometimes being shot by the police, which clearly makes the author angry and upset (rightly so), but he doesn’t have anything original to say about it, unless you count the offhand claim that this is a deliberate effort to keep the black community down. By whom, he doesn’t say. Does he think police officers are doing this on purpose, rather than making bad snap judgments because they, like everyone else, grew up in a stew of racism in which the evening news constantly associates black men with crime? Or is it that these shootings have the effect of keeping people fearful, even without dastardly intentions? How does the rate of police shootings of unarmed black people compare to the rate of police shootings of unarmed people of other races? Why doesn't he talk about the racist genesis of the drug war? The facts are out there, but Smith seems interested only in sharing his own opinions, which might be more valuable without all the unsupported claims.

But then, shocking but unsupported claims seem to be his trademark; he writes about an incident in college where a protest in support of the Jena Six at his HBCU was preempted by a last-minute pep rally, and he responded with an op-ed entitled “Hampton University Hates Black People.” A professor later pointed out to him that the university (which is 90% black) consists of a lot more people than the one administrator who made that decision, and Smith acknowledges the point, but clearly hasn’t changed his style.

People have also praised Smith as a black male feminist, but I found this portion of the book to be the least valuable. Yes, the civil rights movement sidelined black women, and today’s black culture (as well as white culture) could certainly do better. But Smith’s criticism is over-the-top. He takes lengthy aim at a rap song (“Brenda's Got a Baby”) for insufficiently specifying what makes its female subject unintelligent, but it seems to me “the girl can barely spell her name” makes things clear enough in this context; it's a song, not a novel. Then there's this passage: “There isn’t a man alive who hasn’t abused a woman in some way. Through outright lies and lies of omission, deception and manipulation, exploitation and judgment, silencing and ignoring.” At the point that you define every negative behavior as “abuse,” the word becomes meaningless. And it’s unhelpful to paint gender relations with such a broad brush – claiming that all these behaviors carry more weight when enacted by men due to patriarchy – when African-American women do better than their male counterparts in important areas such as educational attainment. It’s a subject that requires nuanced analysis, and Smith doesn’t offer any, apparently opting instead to just prove himself “woke” and move on.

There are a couple of chapters that are better, though. To me the best is the chapter about homosexuality, where Smith writes honestly about dealing with his own homophobia, and about the ways that the homophobia and macho requirements of black male culture are damaging to everyone involved, and about realizing his own heterosexual privilege. The chapter on mental illness is also decent – he writes about his own struggles with depression and anxiety, and how long it took him to acknowledge this as a genuine problem, and how dealing with discrimination and violence causes mental health issues. Again, though, this chapter would have benefited a lot from some research to back up Smith’s opinions; some studies, some interviews with experts, some statistics would have improved it immeasurably.

In the end, Smith touches on a lot of important topics, but he doesn’t do so in a way that seems helpful in moving the conversation forward. This is essentially a book-length op-ed, but like most op-eds, it offers simply rhetoric, which will have people who already agree with the writer nodding along without coming away armed with new facts or knowledge, and people who disagree dismissing the piece for its inflated language and unsupported claims. And in his criticism of Obama for talking about the complaints of working-class white people alongside those of black people, he comes across more interested in proving his righteousness than in finding solutions; ironically, the exact same attitude shared by Trump voters. A quick read, but as a cultural contribution it’s lightweight.
Profile Image for Gail.
332 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2016
**A disclaimer: I'm a 60-something white woman. Many of his references to black cultural experiences (particularly the comedians, rap, and hip-hop artists discussed in this book) are totally foreign to me. While I recognized the names of artists, I'm totally unfamiliar with their work. That may have influenced my impressions and understandings.**

This book is another addition to the recent literature in which black men explore what it means to be black in America today. Like Ta-Nahisi Coates, Mychal Smith asks very difficult and sensitive questions. Unlike Coates, he examines how the myths of the black as well as the white community contribute to the pain he has experienced as a young black man.

His writing is exceptional. And he is fearless. He exposes both his deeply painful personal struggles as well as his view of the community he lives in. He exposes a generational and class gap within the African-American community that is likely to stir up emotion in many. He is critical of President Obama's views and speeches on the role of black men. He examines the black community's homophobia, patriarchal view of the family, the aversion to revealing any mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.

But I don't think he realizes that many of the things he decries are a function of society at large and religion in particular (he notes that African Americans are one of the most religious groups in the country). Yet he doesn't take on religion or patriarchy as systems that distort and promote attitudes that harm all of us in whatever community we reside in. He tends to generalize from his own particular family experiences, failing to recognize that almost every family, regardless of color or class, harbors dysfunctions that spill onto their children. He doesn't explore how other young black men from families like his may have experienced manhood and the stressors of growing up as a black male in America. That turns this into a memoir more than a study of raising black boys into men.

There is no question that there are real barriers that make it hard to become a healthy black man in America. The legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow days continues to promote terrible injustice within our policing system. Urban schools are consistently sub-par. And as he notes, many of the young men who've been shot had fathers at home. He explores the extent to which many black fathers are not functioning in a healthy way, even if they are present. They may be violent in order to live up to some machismo image. Consequently, he seems to dismiss the calls for more two-parent homes because the men are so dysfunctional. He is right to question patriarchy's role as well as white America's continued racism in the challenges black families and black men in particular face.

My problem with the book is that the author seems to find nuance and complexity difficult, especially when he tries to examine solutions. The conclusion is one of the strongest chapters in the book. Here he recognizes that his identity and understanding of himself and his community continues to evolve. That more questions need to be asked. That it is possible that he, and others, are asking the wrong questions. Certainly, if we don't confront the systemic problems inherent in America's continued racism, sexism, and homophobia, it will be extremely difficult for a community under near-constant siege to raise healthy men, or women for that matter. He shows much wisdom in recognizing the impact of attitudes towards gender fluidity and mental illness on entire communities. Again, this is not unique to African-Americans. There are opportunities to build alliances with other communities of color and with women to advocate for justice. I thought he was remiss in not critically examining the role of the black church in these problems. Religion is a potent force in black America yet he scrupulously avoids tackling the messages coming from preachers that reinforce patriarchy, sexism and homophobia.

Overall, this is an important book that should be read if you are trying to understand the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the barriers in the U.S. to reforming our society. I look forward to reading more from this author. He is an important voice in the country that I hope continues to grow and share his perspective.
Profile Image for Dana DesJardins.
265 reviews35 followers
July 28, 2016
This is a hasty, angry, relevant, potentially provocative book. Smith parses how racism maps onto intersectionality, by charting his personal journey from angry kid through wanna-be revolutionary to struggles with depression. (Smith is only 29.) He locates his interrogation of how to build an undamaged, male, black personhood in between the Obama presidency and Trayvon Martin's death, two bookends of systemic racism. He begins by describing Trayvon's murder through Zimmerman's eyes, an audacious move that reminds us that, "[b]efore he was a symbol, he was just a boy."
In the next two hundred pages, Smith discusses his evolving consciousness, as each new book, teacher, friend, or national tragedy awakens him. He is a fearless self-interrogator. Perhaps it is only because I am so much older that his realizations seem less than revolutionary to me. Certainly for most Americans, as our current election cycle demonstrates, the assertion that a center implies margins is radical. Smith allows his own pain as a black man in our racist country to open his eyes to the suffering of other marginalized groups, writing, "But neither our will, nor faith, can adequately heal the psychic wounds of that survival."
At the end, he writes, "We must abandon the hierarchies. Our challenge is to take the spirit with which we have fought for black men -- cisgender, heterosexual, class privileged, educated black men -- and extend it to the fight for everyone else."
I wish his editors at Nation Books had taken this book more seriously. It is rife with typos that must make Mr. Smith cringe. McLuhan said it: the medium is the message. Smith, and his message, are better than the shoddy proofreading his important ideas received. To paraphrase George Washington, "Are these the words with which I am to redeem America?"
Profile Image for Hilary Martin.
202 reviews29 followers
January 4, 2017
I absolutely loved this book and recommend it to everyone. Smith brings a fresh perspective to the subjects of racism, he talks about sexism, homophobia, mental health and other issues. I love his youthful rage and hope he keeps it.
Profile Image for Maya Smart.
39 reviews47 followers
June 16, 2017
Necessary and audacious, Mychal Denzel Smith’s assured debut, Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, fuses memoir and cultural criticism to ponder an often-neglected question: How did you learn to be a black man?

The way he scrutinizes the origin of his beliefs about black identity and masculinity is revelatory–and instructive. He mines his personal history as an Obama-era black millennial in the service of a larger vision: social transformation through personal awakening.

As he traces his own education, through family, books, music, comedians and college, he illuminates a way forward for anyone willing to grapple with their own cultural inheritance. He models a process for questioning convention and envisioning a new self and a new world freed from past constraints.

He credits truth-tellers including Malcolm X, Mos Def and Aaron McGruder with raising his black radical awareness. But, just as importantly, interrogating those influences spurred his black liberation imaginings. When you critique your culture, appraise your morals and shatter your worldview, you have a shot at growing up whole, he posits. You have a chance to create something other than the self-hatred, violence and mental illness all around us.

The journey can feel isolating. He learned that most people, even fellow students at the historically black college he attended, don’t share his enthusiasm for fighting black oppression head on. “I expected to engage thousands of other young black budding intellectuals about the politics of racism, and how we might unite and organize to bring down the system, with our struggle-weary professors guiding and cheering us along,” he writes. “Instead I found thousands of mini-Obamas and an administration happy to indulge in their delusions.”

Yet he also found books and people on campus who nudged him forward. A professor suggested that he move beyond the “SAY IT LOUD, I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD” literature to consider how gender affects power and politics in ways black men often don’t consider. Thus, “And what of ‘the black woman’?” gets added to Smith’s question list and Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and Toni Morrison eventually join his intellectual universe.

Of this transformed perspective he writes:

These black men were my guides through the minefield of identity when faced with racism. I was attracted to the bravado, to the reclamation of black excellence. I wanted to absorb their performance of black arrogance as a corrective to self-loathing. But what I hadn’t considered was how that ego was gendered. I spent my childhood passively absorbing white supremacist ideas of my invisibility, then unconsciously shrinking myself from the world. Everything I read, listened to, and learned validated my right to existence as a black man in America. But that wasn’t the whole equation. Everything I read, listened to, and learned validated my right to existence as a black man in America, but only within the confines of a patriarchal definition of masculine identity. What went unquestioned were the ways my newfound sense of black manhood contributed to the ongoing marginalization of my mother, her twin sister, my grandmother, my high school guidance counselor, and more than half the student population on Hampton University’s campus. I began to see myself, but only by refusing to see black women.

Smith’s emphasis on questions over answers may frustrate readers seeking a specific cure-all for The Race Problem. But his depth and candor in exploring the making and remaking of his own identity illustrate an important first step: To fight a system of oppression you must understand how pervasive it is and how you are complicit in it.
Profile Image for Laura.
513 reviews19 followers
November 5, 2020
I read this because the title lead me to think it was going to be Invisible Man Spawn, which it absolutely was not. There was no satirical zany edginess whatsoever (not that every book alive needs to be like that, but the back of the book literally said "if Ralph Ellison had twitter" to which I said sign me up!) I only finished it bc I always fall into the sunk cost fallacy.

This is presented as a memoir, but I think it would have been wayyyyyy better to present it as an essay collection. Smith comes off as an extremely normal guy with an extremely normal life, and part of that is just that he was really young when he wrote this, but I didn't come away with knowing that much about his life other than being angsty at college. (I do commend him for admitting that the first time he smoked weed he made his friends take him to the hospital. That takes some balls tbh) Much of this book is cultural criticism about major celebrities like LeBron James, Frank Ocean, Dave Chapelle, Kanye, Jay Z, Obama. Maybe he is a person who constructs his life/identity via celebs (we all do this to some extent) but that isn't the sort of thing that constitutes a memoir.

I was gonna give this 2 stars but I went with 3 in the end because I feel so aggressively neutral. I agree with everything he has to say, he just doesn't go very in depth on any of the topics presented. So it's not like I'm mad about any opinions here because I pretty much share all of them. The inside cover and the last paragraph mention transphobia, but I don't remember any discussion of trans people, only gay men. The back cover also says its a feminist critique, but there is basically one chapter where he talks about misogyny in hip hop and how he didn't treat his college gf very well. Because it sometimes veered into memoir territory, I wanted to know more about the real Black women in his life like his mom and gfs rather than the abstract women in songs and comedy routines. That just goes back to my assertion that this would have been better marketed as essays/opinions. At least he was also anti-Obama which would maybe make this a good read for people who over romanticize that era. Idk I'm rambling at this point, but the ultimate message is this isn't necessarily bad it's just very surface level-- there's just plenty of other books that discuss these topics with a much more intense analysis or with more personal emotions or with more history and this book couldn't decide what it wanted to be.
Profile Image for chantel nouseforaname.
628 reviews328 followers
September 10, 2017
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching was a un-unique, unique read. I waited for the feminist perspective I read about on the book jacket to arrive for some time - and it did, 100+ pages in. I thought Smith had some incredibly powerful and spot-on points to share - especially expounding on James Baldwin and the use of the ideology behind America's "nigger" and how America has this need to use that established, racist framework and ideology to subjugate and persist.

I also thought that his points about black women not being given the necessary respect and acknowledgment when they have been on the front-lines fighting for black people since the beginning - was an important moment here.

One of the most standout moments to me was the line - "We shouldn't be seeking the respect of an unjust system that will not respect us on the basis of our humanity alone." / this line was everything! It was the line that I related to most in this - because, real talk: fuck respectability politics.

Something about HIS story on a whole, to this point, felt like there was more here. The feeling that there was more here - has to do with his discussion of depression, college; his subsequent leaving college and the eventual writing of this book. It all simultaneously took away from and added a new layer to the point. I don't want to comment in detail on what layers were added and taken away based on my perspective - due to the fact that it is a memoir and people's stories are their stories. What I will say though is that - real recognizes real and something here felt off-kilter. However, that could just be me looking at his story through the lens of my own personal similar story. I could be trippin.

All in all though - it was a good read and it's recommended.
Profile Image for SibylM.
335 reviews29 followers
November 24, 2016
Wow, what a fascinating book. Totally brilliant and often surprising. I will admit to occasionally getting impatient with in-depth discussions of parts of pop culture that I know nothing about, but I would remind myself that the book wasn't written for me. The author is such an insightful thinker and writer. He's the kind of person I wish I could vote for as a leader, but sadly he's probably too radical (I mean that in a good way) to get anywhere in American electoral politics. Still, I hope people will read him and listen to him and that he can serve as a leader in that way.
Profile Image for dc.
287 reviews12 followers
July 20, 2016
I don’t think I have ever read such a complete, hard, honest, brilliant look at racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, classism, etc. – how they came to be and how they are perpetuated. This book is filling the world with YES! I recommend this book to EVERYONE.
Profile Image for Tracy.
34 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2020
3 stars for the first half, and 5 for the second.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
352 reviews6 followers
February 12, 2020
If you’re born a middle-class black boy in America, and you grow up to be a black man in America, what do you learn about who you should be and how you should live? What does Dave Chappelle teach you? How about the presidency of Barack Obama, or your first college professor, or your patient feminist girlfriend, or the media narratives of each victim of police violence, or the basketball stars you see on tv?

This was such an honest, generous attempt to answer those questions, and an attempt to let those answers guide readers into looking closer at the work that remains.
Profile Image for Jon Zuckerman.
249 reviews2 followers
March 1, 2017
This book is unbelievably important and has honestly changed the way I think about a lot of things in life. For those of us around the same age, this provides an alternative viewpoint of our childhood from a completely different perspective. It's beautifully deconstructed even if concrete answers aren't provided. Please, please read it.
Profile Image for Bogi Takács.
Author 55 books579 followers
February 7, 2017
(Longer review possibly later.) This was a wonderfully thought-provoking memoir of political coming of age; I really liked it that he's about the same age as me, and had grown up with a lot of similar popular culture (basketball and rap), but in a very different country and context. It was very interesting for me to see both the similarities and the differences, and quite literally illuminating as I now live in the US.

(Sidenote: I am incredibly aggravated by the amount of white American social justice activists who are ready to pontificate on the wholesale evils of hip hop culture. If they do it to me - and they do -, oh my G-d they probably do it to actual Black people 64837268473 times worse. Anyway, THIS BOOK IS NOT THAT and it was so good. Music in a book that I actually like!! Can I, yes please, I did not even realize I was missing this, but I was.)

I expected the insightful commentary on racism and gender in America, but I did not expect the chapter on mental illness and how it relates to being a young Black man in particular, and a marginalized person in general. Standing applause, thank you *very* much.

Also, while there isn't anything in there that's specifically about nonbinary gender, I did notice that he repeatedly and consistently said "all genders" "other genders" etc. and NOT "both genders" "the other gender" etc. I really appreciate that and many self-declared feminist thinkers do not actually do this.

I would love a sequel - he only briefly mentions some events at the end that happened later in his life that I would absolutely want to read more about, so maybe he's already planning one.

I would like similar books by people of all sorts of genders, too. E.g., he is very much aware that his heroes were all men and he discusses this explicitly, but I'd also like to read a memoir by someone whose heroes were Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, etc. (This probably already exists, I just don't know about it?)
Profile Image for Kayle.
153 reviews14 followers
August 17, 2016
As the memoir progressed, I was obliged to revisit recent history through his eyes and remembered the confusion brought by LeBron and "The Decision", hope with Obama, and hurt and anger with the murder of Trayvonn Martin and too many black men whose names were familiar and unfamiliar to me. I admire the author's willingness to share how insufferable he was in his adolescence even while he was grappling with important issues to himself, his community, and America.

The writing is uneven (said trying to suppress any comparisons to Coates), but I choose to think it belies the messiness of growing up black and trying to understand life as it is and how it could be. I hope Mychal gets to write his iterations of the book at 39, 49, 59, and more.
Profile Image for Donna Bijas.
903 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2019
4.5 stars. This a keeper and also a sharer. Heartbreaking even knowing about so many Black deaths and the hoops Black people have to jump through to stay alive. I was fortunate to hear Mr. Smith at a book event recently. His book is written for young Black men; however, it meant a great deal to this older White woman trying to find a way to help bc voting doesn’t seem to work. Mychal Smith asks “As black men, must we always choose? Can we not live free, with our humanity, sanity, and integrity intact, even as the world watches? Are we destined to forever be the Invisible Man?” This one is a keeper.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 371 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.