As we delve further into the semester, I find myself continually thinking about the concept of the mask and the veil. When thinking about the concept of the mask of the veil within African American literature, I am forced to think about the idea of seeing someone clearly when they cannot fully see you. I can relate this back to the day in class when we straddled the lines in the hallway and tried to walk without stepping off the lines on the floor. This was possible, but with immense difficulty. I recognize that this action was used as a symbol to show the ways that many people, specifically African American’s, have to straddle their lives. It may come down to who they are trying to become and what they are learning in life along with their roots and family life. I couldn’t help, but think about how the concept of the mask or the veil relates to this. In one life you are covered from your other life, one that the people around you may not see, but it is always there and vice versa. This being said, one may put on a facade of a person to the outside world, yet people can not see inside the veil to know exactly what a person’s life is like.
Relistening to The Fugees’ song, “The Mask,” I feel as though it has brought a greater insight into the fact that it is possible that African American’s feel as though they have to put on different masks or facades for different aspects of their lives. I am aware that I can not speak on behalf of anyone in the Black community, as I am a white woman, however, the lyrics in the song allowed me to empathize. The Fugees sing, “Put the mask upon the face just to make the next day,” and “Yeah everybody wear the mask but how long will it last?” Although it sounds cliche, one can truly never know what someone else is going through. As Beth put it in class, “judge less, think more.” For all we know, people around us may be feeling things or have a history that we do not know anything about. Empathy is important because we never know what two lines someone may be straddling as we can only see the side that the person chooses to present.
This being said, empathy can also be very dangerous. When I studied abroad in Dakar, Senegal, we read a book called Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman which chronicles the story of an African-American woman trying to trace back her African roots. From this book and my travels, I learned both the power and the dangers of empathy. So often we are told to see things from other people’ points of view or to “walk a mile in their shoes.” But what we so often fail to realize is that if we want to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes we must take the shoes off of their feet and make them our own. Empathy can be dangerous as it often comes with assuming someone else’s situation or their feelings about the said situation. Perhaps the people who wear a mask do so for a reason. Perhaps that reason is to protect themselves. I believe that we should “judge less and think more,” not by making someone else’s situation our own, but by respecting the individual and their right to feel and show whatever they feel comfortable showing.