Lately, “We Wear the Mask” a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, repeatedly stays etched in my mind. The first stanza is as follows:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheek and shades our eyes,-
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties,
This poem really resonates with me in this moment in my life and the moment we are in as a country, as I’m sure it does with many other Black people. Our survival depends on wearing the mask that grins and lies. With torn and bleeding hearts we grin and bear it when either intentional or unintentional racism spews from the mouths of whites and Non-Black People of Color (NBPOC) at work because we don’t want to be perceived as the “angry Black person”; or when we are the only Black person at a gathering full of White people who don’t even acknowledge the structural violence Black people face daily.
This is why Kendrick Lamar’s new single from his anticipated second album, “I”, has been a godsend to me. When I’m in my private space where the mask is torn away, the chorus’s refrain of “i love myself” is the black self-love mantra I need to constantly keep on repeat in a world that hates people like me. Lamar’s story-telling of oppression and violence and loving himself regardless is almost spiritual. It’s not hyperbole to say the world hates people like me; Black and Woman (and queer, poor, trans, etc.). Police violence and community violence makes me tired; I occasionally want to run away to a secluded island with nothing but food, alcohol, music and books. I can’t do that, so I have continue resisting and organizing to rid this world of white supremacy, hate, and violence. I LOVE MYSELF!!!