We Wear the Mask
WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
– Paul Laurence Dunbar
We Real Cool
The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
It’s like those moments when you are hearing a sermon and you say: “Well, the preacher is talking specifically to me” (so you think). That’s what happened yesterday as I listened to the President’s impromptu speech on the Blackmans racial burden. It was amazing to see the POTUS weigh into what is perhaps the deepest part of the American cultural pool; the true section of (sorry fellow Star trek fans) the Undiscovered Country we Black men live in, every moment of our waking lives. I often imagine the amount of violence against our fellow White Americans that would occur if we were not able to channel many of these non-physical dangerous events into humor. Pretend to not see what we clearly see. The daily slights if taken in straight doses, would simply drive a brother insane. For too many of our young Black men that violence is indeed released; although it is visited solely upon other Black young men; and thus the absence of a national concern. However, if and when the Trayvons’ of this nation start to “stand their ground”, and shoot first; there might then be a national effort in support of integrating young Black-men into the promises and possibilities of our nation. I do know that presently, any Blackman in America who is unable to “manage” an insult will fail in the workforce (common laborer or management), will be unable to take care of their family, will be soon dead, in a mental institution or in prison. Managing an insult means that you decided when your death (physical or psychological) has meaning. If you are engaged in a mission of service to others; you must weigh and decided (often in seconds); if your death (right then) serves a selfish-personal, rather than a group purpose. I have always counseled young Black men to: “Look, let’s just live to fight another day”; this calls for a different, and more difficult type of courage; but it is born in the idea that you have a unique purpose and calling in life; and therefore you can’t just decide to end that life because of one of the many slights you will encounter as you navigate this nation as a man of color; for the slights and insults will never end. And yes; to get through this life you may at times need to engage in politically conscious humor; for the ultimate reality of our Blackness is forever inescapable. I thought back to the 1990’s, when as a NYC principal I was vacationing in the Caribbean. I walked pass the hotel pool and a White gentleman (with an American accent) ask me to: “bring him some fresh towels”. Utilizing my ability to instantly produce a Caribbean accent (my heritage); “Right away sir!”, I said. I then proceeded to the laundry room. My sudden appearance startled and worried the ladies who were working there, as they thought something must have gone terribly wrong for a guest to show up in their workspace; and they were right, something had indeed gone very wrong. I greeted them and assured them that nothing was wrong, but I needed their help. They all showed signs of relief. But their relaxed mood was short-lived as I introduced what was to be their second and perhaps, greatest shock. I asked for some gloves and a stack of towels; I then proceeded to drag the white towels on the wet floor until they were clearly filthy. The women in the laundry room had a look on their faces (but did not say a word) that said: “Now, we have heard (and perhaps seen) some crazy acts performed by American tourist but this…” I then carried the wet filthy towels back to the pool and threw them on the reclining sunning American tourist. “Your towels sir”; I announced. As I walked away toward the front desk, and the hotel exit. He followed behind me, and I could hear him say agitatedly to the young lady at the desk: “I want to report one of your workers; that man……”. But as I exited through the door I could hear her saying: “But sir, he is not one of our employees, he is a guest at the hotel”. For the rest of my stay I would receive an “our champion” smile from every employee I passed in the hotel; the restaurant staff and bartender absolutely refused to accept any money from me; and no one else ask me for towels.