Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet and a storyteller who reflected Black life through pain, yet with keen perspective…even while wearing “the mask.” We still wear the mask, desperately trying to cloak our grief, while hoping for a little relief.
We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar
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!
The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, )