The Pleasant, More Positive Narrative

The pressure to look and seem positive can be proven by societal expectations and through literature. The pressure to uphold a certain facial expression or narrative is consistently forced. One example of seeming positive can be shown when telling women to smile. Journalist Jess McHugh states, “You should smile more” isn’t just an annoying catcall; it’s a social demand.”

By enforcing a positive facial expression, it removes the honesty of true raw emotion. McHugh continues to discuss, “women of color, on the other hand, have to cope with the additional burdens of racism and a culture that promotes that archetype of the “angry Black woman.” Not only are women pressured to seem and look positive for the “benefit” of a patriarchal society, women of color are facing a stereotype that is detrimental to their persona. By not taking account of people’s real feelings and emotion, marginalized groups are continuously pressured to hold and have a positive narrative for the benefit of the privileged groups in society.

A reading in class that reminded me of this particular pressure was “A Post-Racial Anthology?” by Amiri Baraka. Baraka exclaims, “We don’t want to hear all that stuff…make up a pleasanter group of beings with pleasanter, more literary lives than yourselves and then perhaps we will consider it art!” The pressure to be and seem positive is detrimental to marginalized groups to the point where their art isn’t even considered credible.

The pressure of putting on a facade links to not only artwork but to the poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The entire concept of the poem discusses the symbol of a mask and the purpose it serves as a way to hide honest emotion. Specifically, the fifth line in the first stanza reads, “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile.” This is showing how the mask serves to help hide pain, when externally, a smile is put on as a facade. The pressure to “put on a smile” is demonstrated through the poem as marginalized groups are pretending to seem happy in order to benefit and please the privileged groups in society. The symbol of the mask serves as a lie, as it lacks showcasing one’s true emotion.

Referring back to Baraka’s “A Post-Racial Anthology?,” he refers to June Jordan through her statement: “Poetry is a political act because it involves telling the truth.” Dunbar attempts to unveil the truth behind the “mask” and the facade that is portrayed. He is stating that the fact of pressuring people to uphold a certain behavior is to please and comfort privileged groups in society with this sort of “fake happiness.” By putting on a mask, it helps push away any sort negativity or conflict. But by doing so, it erases the truth which essentially deteriorates communication between various privileged groups and effects the ability to express struggles accurately.

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