We wear the mask that grins and lies,/It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes —Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask”
I want to be an honest man and a good writer. –James Baldwin
Okay, I guess it is time for me to end my vacation from blogging or any other meaningful and constructive pursuits. This holiday season I simply did nothing but rest and relax, enjoy the company of my wife and children, and get my mental together.
Though I am usually annoyed by inactivity and idleness, this season of unproductiveness seemed so much different; it allowed me to step back from the usually relentless fast pace of my life and put engage in a bit of self-examination and put a number of things in perspective.
A week or so ago I wrote a post highlighting President Obama’s propensity toward compromise. However, in thinking things through this week, I realized, or was finally willing to admit, that I share that same propensity.
Perhaps, it is all those years being the only or one of a few African Americans in majority white institutions. Perhaps, somewhere along the way, I found the path of least resistance to be the most desirable path. Perhaps, I learned that to move forward, I must necessarily present myself as none-threatening and subdue my voice in such a way that it does not offend.
But perhaps my acquiescent attitude arises out of past privation. I have tasted the metallic emptiness of hunger and want before, and I do not wish to go back. I cling tenaciously to my precarious station in life.
Nevertheless, over the years I have developed a repertoire of masks that I skillfully and seamlessly slip in and out of given the situation. There have been some days that I have changed masks so frequently that I have to stop and remind myself just what mask I was wearing. And with each change of masks, I can only question whether or not I leave a bit of myself clinging to the innermost surface of the mask.
During this holiday season, I happened to find myself at a little impromptu get together with a number of friends and colleagues, some of whom I have known since grad school or as far back as undergrad. We were having a good time, and I let my guard down and really cut loose.
However, on the periphery there was one young lady who I don’t know very well but who I have met and spoken to on occasion. But this whole time she is staring at me with this perplexed look on her face. Finally, I just had to give in and ask her just why she was staring at me in this manner.
She shook herself out of her trance and told me that she had never seen me like this before. She had never seen me so animated. She had never seen me so full of life. Then someone else spoke up and said, “Well, this is the real Max. This is the one we all got to know back in the day but who rarely comes out anymore.”
And someone else chimed in: "Yeah, just during holidays and when we are by ourselves."
Then everyone fell silent for a minute and looked around as if some accusation had just been made.
The real Max? This hurt me, threw me for a loop. Then all those other Max-es are fake? If this is so, then I spend most of my time being something I am not simply to appease others, to appear less threatening, to go along just to get along? The real Max, huh?
But this is my one New Year’s resolution: I will drop the masks, and I will begin to take risks. I will not continue to abdicate my strength because this abdication has become my weakness. I will endeavor to push onward, ever upward toward my goal of becoming, just as Baldwin wished, an honest man and a good writer.
And just what do you propose to do differently in the up-coming year?