(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.”
Angela Davis, Freedom is a Constant Struggle
She writes, “Progressive struggles . . . are doomed to fail if they do not also attempt to develop a consciousness of the insidious promotion of capitalist individualism”. Dr. Davis, unmistakably, identifies that anything or anybody threatens the sanctity of white supremacy there will be consequences. Therefore, she is very certain that activist, organizers and abolitionist must never allow their movements to be co-opted into a singular individual. The importance of communal strength is important “in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever expanding community of struggle.” Throughout the text it remained imperative that people understood their power and agency. Dr. Davis denotes, “Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements.… Many people are under the impression that it was Abraham Lincoln who played the major role, and he did as a matter of fact help to accelerate the move toward abolition, but it was the decision on the part of slaves to emancipate themselves and to join the Union Army – both women and men – that was primarily responsible for the victory over slavery…. When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements – anchored by women, incidentally – that pushed the government to bring about change.”
It is one thing to talk about freedom but it is another thing to live the life of an abolitionist. What Dr. Angela Davis does in this text is demonstrate what active abolitionist work resembles versus symbolism and rhetoric. Her life becomes the canvas through which we begin to see how freedom is a constant struggle. As she so elegantly articulates, “she took on the government and won.” That alone is enough to garner one’s attention.
One thing that became extremely clear was her intentionality of reshaping how we view the criminal systems that continually labeled folks as criminals. When a system is unjust it is incapable of rendering a just verdict of any kind. Dr. Davis is clearing the hubris of white supremacy that lingers from years of injustice within the criminal justice system.