(This is something that I started writing but it is not finish. These are just my initial thoughts)
There is something strangely suspicious about love. When I say love, I am not talking about love in a concrete form but more around the notion of how it is used rhetorically. How, sophomorically, we offer it as a last resort or a fleeting salutation? This variety of cartoonish love makes for self-aggrandizement that is similar to masturbation— really only serving the one given the performance.
Love is an institution that has been transversely weaponized to simultaneously free the oppressor and the oppress. Therefore, love performed as mere rhetoric ceases to capture the cacophony of emotions that are mandatory for the detailed work of what we call love. It no wonder James Baldwin so eloquently wrote, “Love takes off mask we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” ( Fire Next time, 95) This quote from Baldwin is the amalgamation, I suspect, of Paul Laurence Dunbar and 1 Peter 4:8. In Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask, we are introduced to the infamy—the mask.
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!
– Paul Laurence Dunbar, We Wear The Mask
This is important because Dunbar isolates the issue as a singular event. From the title alone, it appears as if we all wear the same mask which undoubtedly leads to the same place— “dream(s) otherwise.” The mask is not simply serving as a covering but the mask is doubling as a farce and a con. The mask is preserving evil as a representation of nostalgia, this emblem of sacred duty. The mask has rendered itself as “[t]his debt we pay to human guile…” Dunbar envisions the mask as a vital part of the who we are yet he wrestles with how this mask will produce the “dream otherwise.”