Social and revolutionary movements can usually be represented by a single member who encompasses, believes, or can at least demonstrate some ideals of the organization. The Brotherhood in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man exposes Ellison’s overall disgust with “social justice” organizations, exemplifying the use of individual members as mere tools of an oligarchy. The Inivisble Man (to be henceforth referred to as "IM") encounters members whose hypocritical alterior agendas influence the system, leading to his disillusionment with the organization. The Brotherhood systematically suppresses and brainwashes the individual, challenges race interactions, and keeps women subservient, all of which further the objectives of the white ruling class.
The Brotherhood exists for whites as a simple, systematic, organized means of oppressing inner-city blacks, meant to distract and occupy those who might try to instigate change. IM is told that the Brotherhood works “for a better world for all people”, and he is asked if he wants to “be the new Booker T. Washington” (who many people saw as an active Uncle Tom). He is not allowed to be himself, and is forced to take on the ideas and even the name of someone else. IM “was not hired to think”, because “the committee does the thinking for everyone.” Brother Jack, a main leader, has taken a role as “the great white father”, claiming that their job is “not to ask them what to think, but to tell them.” Most of the committee is white, exposing their motivation to brainwash the blacks and keep them distracted and demoralized.
The committee believes that they know blacks and therefore know what is best for the race. IM sarcastically exclaims that the white Brother Tobitt “must be practically a Negro” himself since he is “married to a fine, intelligent Negro girl” (he doesn’t even refer to her as a woman). IM is “forced to ride race”, and as the whites say they want equality, all they do to achieve this goal is make speeches. The lack of real action exposes hypocrisy in the system, reinforced by the white’s refusal to work with the blacks as equals.
The Brotherhood’s treatment of women outlines a glaring gender separation. The equality “for all people” does not include women, apparently, as IM is assigned to “The Woman Question”. The Brotherhood is only asking what to do with women in order to keep the status quo. They don’t have or propose a solution or answer, something they have no intention of producing. Even the name, “Brotherhood”, emphasizes men over women. The woman with whom IM has an affair with (ch. 19) thinks the Brotherhood is “too vast a philosophy to grasp immediately”, which is exactly what they want her to think. Within the Brotherhood, the Brainwashing committee must “keep the biological and ideological carefully apart”, therefore keeping women of any race subservient to men.
The Brotherhood is a hypocritical organization controlled by whites. IT runs under the façade of working for the equality of all people, but in fact, only keeps blacks distracted and oppressed under white rule. Women are given even less of a chance, not even considered as part of the organization’s doctrine. The Brotherhood suppresses individuality, destroys race interactions, perpetuates the inequality of women, and systematically oppresses blacks, fulfilling goals held by the white ruling class.
All quotes cited from:
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Random House, Inc., 1952.