In 1895, Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote a song titled, “We Wear The Mask”. The song was a chilling metaphor of post-slavery America. It spoke to the fact that, while slavery had ended, there was still hardship faced by Black Americans. The “mask” in the poem represented putting on a happy face to hide the suffering of the wearer. It says the mask “grins and lies” because of the uncertainty of the time and the future for Black people.
Fast forward to 2020, and a deadly pandemic has Black Americans still facing uncertainty about our future. The virus has disproportionately affected our communities, with death rates being at least 2.4 times higher than that of Whites. For a group representing only 13% of the US population, dying from a new, untreatable disease could have a disastrous effect on our community and economy. How can we reverse this trend? How can we save our grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, etc. from dying unnecessarily? Paul Laurence Dunbar told us in 1895.
Wear a mask…
Now, if you’re anything like me, wearing a mask over your face is the last thing you want to do. It’s cumbersome, makes it difficult to breathe, and doesn’t match anything I wear. All that, and there are other more serious considerations, like making White Americans more uncomfortable because they can’t see my entire face. Wearing a mask is already hard enough. Wearing a mask while Black can lead to another unnecessary hashtag. #WearingAMaskWhileBlack
So what do we do? Do we ignore one danger because of the potential of another? Or do we stand up for ourselves and each other and wear a mask? One of the things I have learned over my life is caring for yourself is paramount to caring for others. Those two things cannot be separated even though one sounds self-ish, while the other sounds self-less. My response is this: