Brothers and sisters, it’s that time of year: the season when Halloween pop-up stores appear on every corner. Popular costumes range from the princesses in Frozen to Donald Trump and zombies—which are, I believe, the same outfit.
People go nuts about Halloween. That made me start thinking about the psychology behind the celebration. Halloween is actually an ancient Celtic holiday on which people believed they needed masks to protect themselves from bad spirits that roamed the earth on all Hallows Eve.
Thousands of years later, people are still wearing masks. They hide behind anything from a false smile to Dr. Dre headphones to my personal favorite: people who wear dark glasses in the subway—and these people aren’t celebrities.
Then there are the emotional masks, the masks we hide behind because of fear. For example, if we are insecure, we might hide behind the mask of name-dropping. If we are unsure of our power, we can hide behind mask of being a bully. If we don’t think the world loves us, we can hide behind mask of anger. We mask the debt we’ve incurred to pay for lifestyles we can’t afford; we pretend things are fine at work, when our jobs are on the line; we pretend things are okay in our marriages when there is distance.
What masks do you wear?
One of the most common reasons we wear masks is what I think of as Imposter Syndrome—the fear that the world is going to find us out. I’ve heard it described as feeling like a fake, like you don’t really belong, or like you aren’t really successful, but are just posing as such. It’s like my Halloween costume at age seven: I dressed up as a zombie gypsy—something I believed to be terribly scary, until my next door neighbor yanked off my mask and said, “Oh, it’s just you.”
One of our greatest fears is that if we show our true selves, the world will say, “Oh, it’s just you.” But being just you is actually the best and most perfect thing you could ever be. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Or if you are interested in the spiritual perspective, the psalmist wrote, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”.
There are three practical reasons why we should shed our masks. The first is to live into our potential. We have to bring all of who we are to what we do. There are numerous people who have our same skillsets, or maybe an even better one. But none of these people bring the same personality, creativity, and spirit to the job that you do. That’s something they can’t match. The irony is that we often mask that part of ourselves at work and lose our greatest potential.
The second reason is relief. It is exhausting to live an inauthentic life. You put on a mask or two or ten, then take a few off, then put a couple more on … It’s exhausting! Worst of all, you start forgetting who you really are. As comedian and actress Fanny Brice explained, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?”
The third reason is healing. When we wear masks, we carve a piece of ourselves out— withholding parts of ourselves as unworthy. But in relationships, especially in our spiritual relationships, we can’t be truly healed unless we offer up all the pieces. It’s like handing someone a broken vase and asking him or her to fix it but holding back two or three of the broken pieces. As one of the pastors of Hope City Church in Indianapolis, Indiana explained, “Masks make shallow what God has intended to be deep...Everything in our lives get cheated when we choose to hide ourselves behind our masks.”
We weren’t born with masks. We put them on, so we can take them off. Start with this simple exercise: Think about a negative messages you have held onto. Ask yourself whether it is true? More than likely, the answer is no. And if it is not, then you have to ask these questions: Why am I carrying that message? If I put it down, what would happen? Probably nothing. The main risk we face is the world’s reaction. Opening yourself up threatens others; it invites them reevaluate their own lives. Many times, it forces them to realize that they too have the power to change, but they haven’t.
Don’t let that stop you. Don’t pull your mask partially off then let the world scare you into putting it back on. As the poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”
Think about the masks you wear and commit to taking them off. Hold your gifts out to the world—no apology, no shame, no regrets. As the old saying goes, every creature has its rightful place, and in that place it becomes beautiful.
This blog was also delivered as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City.
We Wear the Mask
- Length: 579 words (1.7 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
“We Wear the Mask”
There are times in life where we are forced to do something we do not really want to do. There are certain situations like this that come to my mind. Every so often, my family gets together. As a teenager, I do not want to be confined. I realize some of my relatives are a lot older than me and I should spend as much time with them as I can. When my family gets together, I frequently am forced to go to these events and put a smile on my face. I am acting. I am putting on my “mask” and pretending that I am happy. This artificial face is the subject of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.” Dunbar expresses his feelings on what African-Americans were forced to do a century ago. People thought they were happy doing the work they did for the white culture. In reality, they were not. That is the point Dunbar tries to explain to his readers.
I have never published a poem attacking what my family makes me do and how I put on a joyous face. Dunbar wrote “We Wear the Mask” in 1903, at the peak of resistance to the Jim Crow laws. Granted, being forced to go to a family reunion is so trivial compared to climbing out of slavery. Fortunately, for African Americans, the turn of the 20th century was when they started to come out from behind the masks. “We Wear the Mask” was as important to the freedom movement as the TV was for advertising, or the car was for transportation.
Dunbar uses irony to express what the mask really is. As the poem opens, I for one was confused at what it was about. With no prior of Paul Laurence Dunbar, I had no idea what to expect. The opening lines of the poem read “We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” My first thought was this poem was written by an avid actor. I believed he was explaining the difference between himself on and off stage. It turns out I was totally wrong after reading through the rest of the poem. The mask is a symbol. It is a symbol of the heartache each African-American faced in the 19th century. The heartache they rarely displayed because of the fear of what would happen to them if they began an uprising against the white culture.
How to Cite this Page
| The Language of the Black Condition and All Conditions: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” - Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear The Mask” cleverly talks of the black condition in a language so universal that it could apply to any race of people that tries to hide their emotions from the world in order to survive. Dunbar argues for the reality of the black man’s plight in America, the black man's struggle for equality in the world, and the struggle for peace within. These are circumstances of the poet’s life that influenced his writing of the poem. PARAGRAPH 2: Background information on your author or document.... [tags: Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear the Mask, ]|
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| Analysis of We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar Essay - Analysis of We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a renowned piece of literature that has been the subject of various literary criticisms over the years. Because of the poem’s indirectness and generalized ambiguity, the interpretation of the “we” that wears the “mask” and why they do so is left unanimously undisclosed. It is up to the interpreter and the support given by the interpreter to produce a valid representation of the meaning that lies beneath the mask.... [tags: Slavery Racism We Wear the Mask Essays]|
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|We Wear the Mask Essay - William Shakespeare once proclaimed that “the past is prologue.” Are we really bound by history. Is our present a mere continuation, a monomorphic continuation if you will, of the novel that is our existence, or can it be developed in a bifurcated fashion. Paul Lawrence Dunbar, prominently noted as the "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race" (p 905) is a prime example of how the past can be depicted in a multifold manner. His two works " We Wear the Mask" and "An Ante-Bellum Sermon" illustrate the double-consciousness that Dunbar was most notorious for.... [tags: Literary Analysis, Paul Laurence Dunbar]||1759 words|
| We Wear the Mask Essay - Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” is a lyric poem in which the point of attraction, the mask, represents the oppression and sadness held by African Americans in the late 19th century, around the time of slavery. As the poem progresses, Dunbar reveals the façade of the mask, portrayed in the third stanza where the speaker states, “But let the dream otherwise” (13). The unreal character of the mask has played a significant role over the life of African Americans, whom pretend to put on a smile when they feel sad internally.... [tags: Literature]|
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| We Wear the Mask Essay - Paul Laurence Dunbar, dispatches the cold troubles of African Americans in the lyrical poem, "We Wear the Mask." In this poem, Dunbar links imagery, rhythm, rhyme, and word choice to in order to institute a connection to the reader. From reading the poem, one can infer that Mr. Dunbar is speaking in general, of the misery that many people keep concealed under a grin that they wear very well. But if one were to go further and take the time to research Mr. Dunbar’s selection of this piece and the era of which this poem was written, one would come to understand that this poem focuses entirely on Paul Laurence Dunbar’s viewpoints on racial prejudice and the struggle for equality for the African-... [tags: Literature]|
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| We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar Essay - ... The devil and the mask are similar because both are not always what they seem. The devil is a representation of evil, and can hide itself. The mask can be a representation of evil because it essentially is a casket of the lies, pain, and suffering that black people are forced to hide. Dunbar’s family roots trace back to slavery, and religion. He manages to incorporate his religion, and slave roots into both poems which emphasize how God is prevalent in the lives of blacks, and a helpful source to come to in time of need.... [tags: poem analysis]|
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|We Wear The Mask: Our Different Masks Essay - “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes […]” (Dunbar 249). In the poem “c,” csuggest that many people wear masks that conceal their true identities and emotions. Dunbar believe that hiding one’s true feelings and identity behind masks can become torturous. Many people have different masks that they wear throughout their everyday lives. There are many possible reasons why people wear masks. There are those who wear masks to hide things are seen as socially unacceptable.... [tags: Paul Laurence Dunbar ]||1079 words|
|We Wear the Mask Essay - “We Wear the Mask” There are times in life where we are forced to do something we do not really want to do. There are certain situations like this that come to my mind. Every so often, my family gets together. As a teenager, I do not want to be confined. I realize some of my relatives are a lot older than me and I should spend as much time with them as I can. When my family gets together, I frequently am forced to go to these events and put a smile on my face. I am acting. I am putting on my “mask” and pretending that I am happy.... [tags: essays research papers]||579 words|
| Figurative Devices: Comparing "We Wear the Mask" and "Theme for English B" - Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes were considered to be early black poets during the twentieth century around the period of civil right movement. “We wear the mask” and “Theme for English B” were written in 1895 and 1951 respectively. Even there is approximately 50 years gap between these two poems, the theme that these two poems address is somewhat similar. Even though Dunbar uses symbols as figurative devices while Hughes uses Irony, they both have the same goal, which is to point out the racial issues within American society.... [tags: poetry, African-American literature]|
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| An Ubiquitous Poem, We Wear the Mask by Paul Lawrence Dunbar Essay - We Wear the Mask, written in 1886 by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, is a ubiquitous poem that has a copious amount of interpretations; nonetheless, one of the most prevalent interpretation of the poem is that of Paul Dunbar’s background. Paul Dunbar was an African American who grew up during the time of slavery; consequently, We Wear the Mask is conceived to be written as an exemplification of the grievances faced by African Americans, during the period of slavery. Though We Wear the Mask was written over a century ago and for a reason – life for African American, during the period of slavery – it can be applied to numerous social situations faced in our present society; one of them being domestic ab... [tags: slavery, victims, bullied]|
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Wear Mask Family Reunion Jim Crow Laws Paul Laurence Dunbar African-americans
They were unable to show any emotion.
The third and fourth lines of the poem are very powerful, particularly the fourth. It reads, “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile”. Immediately, my thoughts went to family members and close friends of the dead at a viewing. When someone close dies, we know everything will not always be ok, but we like to tell ourselves that it will be. We all walk up, passed the family and tell them how much we loved him and her & say “It was his/her time to go.” We try to lift the families spirits up. We try to peel back the mask they are wearing, pretending that everything will be fine. They cannot behind the mask or they will never get over the passing. They will never admit that the family member died. It is better to release emotions, no matter what the consequences. Some African-Americans wore the mask, while others like Dunbar expressed their discontent in literature.