Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
With participants from Bahrain, Calgary, Massachusetts, Northern Ontario, Norwich, England, Pennsylvania, San Francisco and more, we began by looking at a video of Maya Angelou reciting –or more accurately, performing her poem, “We Wear the Mask.” The video begins with her explaining that the poem was written to honor a maid she routinely encountered on a city bus, whose seeming-laugh Angelou recognized as “that survival instinct.” Her poem draws, she explained, upon Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1892 poem of the same name. Despite the wonkiness of the video reception on Zoom, we were all deeply affected, as we went on to read the poem silently to ourselves. Participants remarked on Angelou’s moving and emotional presentation, noting their initial reticence to react, which was perhaps due to the personal and emotional impact of the piece, a deference to or in reverence of the recitation, or the feeling that one needed to “meet the challenge” of its presentation. As we proceeded, the responses to both the performance and the written word took us into the complexity of laughter as a human response, how it can express irony, submission, defiance, self-protection –and what it can conceal. The on-goingness of racial suffering and the presence of generational trauma expressed in the poem were observed, “There in those pleated faces/I see the auction block,” as was and the poem’s final note of gratitude to those who wore a mask of submission, “From living on the edge of death/They kept my race alive”.
The responses to the prompt, “Write about the last mask you encountered,” were stunning in their depth, and seemed to answer the poem in a way. Participants bravely experimented in their writing and gave voice to both individual and community experiences, of feeling marginalized and adjusting personal behavior, to navigate spaces that at times may not accept their identities. It was a remarkable session!
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
Please join us for our next session Monday, June 15th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.
We look forward to seeing you again soon!
We Wear the Mask BY Maya Angelou We wear the mask that grins and lies, It shades our cheeks and hides 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 my God, our tears To thee from tortured souls arise. And we sing, but oh the clay is vile Beneath our feet, and long the mile; But let the world think otherwise, We wear the mask! When I think about myself, I almost laugh myself to death, My life has been one great big joke, A dance that’s walked, A song was spoke, I laugh so hard, I almost choke, When I think about myself. Seventy years in these folks’ world. The child I works for calls me "girl"; I say, “Yes ma’am,” for working’s sake. I'm too proud to bend And too poor to break, So, I laugh, until my stomach ache, When I think about myself. My folks can make me split my side, I laughed so hard, I nearly died. The tales they tell, sound just like lyin', They grow the fruit, but eat the rind. I laugh, until I start to cryin', When I think about myself, And my folks, and the little children. My Fathers sit on benches, Their flesh count every plank, The slats leave dents of darkness Deep in their withered flank, And they nod, like broken candles, All waxed and burnt profound They say 'But, Sugar, it was our submission That made your world go round.' There in those pleated faces I see the auction block, The chains and slavery's coffles, The whip and lash and stock. My Fathers speak in voices That shred my fact and sound, They say, 'But Sugar, it was our submission And that made your world go round.' They've laughed to shield their crying , They shuffled through their dreams They step 'n' fetched a country And wrote the blues in screams. I understand their meaning, It could and did derive, From living on the ledge of death, They kept my race alive. By wearing the mask.
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