To celebrate Black History Month, I thought I’d share some of my favorite work by Black poets.
I’ve had some uncomfortable conversations recently about race — really, are there any conversations about race that are not uncomfortable? And yesterday, I was reminded of this poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar.
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 oh 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!
I’ve loved this poem as long as I’ve known about it. It is forever connected to my understanding of dissemblance and double consciousness. Double consciousness, a concept coined by W.E. B Dubois, refers to the jarring experience, for oppressed people, of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of the oppressor, while at the same time, seeing oneself through one’s own eyes. A lot of mental aerobics there.