The Masks We Wear
I wear my mask of civility, of patience, of fear, all so I can ask for my life, please sir. I can’t breathe.
I wear this mask to protect them, to make them feel safe
protected from the fear you they’ve decided not to face
But it’s not the virus they hate, it’s not the sickness they flee
What I’m protecting them from is the fear of me.
I can’t breathe
My Black brothers and sisters, mi familia, aren’t protesting the masks,
’Cause we’ve been wearing ’em since they brought us here in clasps
Brought in boats, chains forged by their ignorance and hate.
Getting whipped, beaten and killed, our only hope escape
So, to save our lives we wore masks of obedience and deference
’Cause we blindly thought our allegiance would make a difference
That if we looked liked we feared them, they would let us be.
But those masks couldn’t hide our pain, when it was hung from every tree.
I can’t breathe
We still wear masks. Some wear masks of anger, some of hate
From still being beaten, imprisoned by the millions, at a much higher rate
Than our White neighbors, especially those who cry “All Lives Matter”
While kneeling on our backs, on our necks, to climb their own ladder.
Others of us wear masks of pleasantness, and the moral high ground
To seem like we are above the fray, but we are drowned
In the sea of Black and Brown faces on the screen
One after another, jailed or killed, yet they remain unseen
By those who hate them the most, just a blur
Their best description of us almost always a slur.
And I know most of you,
Want to do
Help us through
Struggles till we’re all black and blue
And please know
I love you, though
I still can’t breathe
Through my mask of fear, my soul is weighed
Down by thoughts like, “Will I be unmade?”
Walking in a park, jogging, buying candy,
No crime is too small for my life to be
Snuffed out like a black candle summoning back
The demons of our past, the whip’s crack
Echo through my bones. So I wear my mask
Of civility, of patience, of fear, all so I can ask
For my life, please sir. I can’t breathe.
I just want to breathe.
And be free.
Say their names. They deserve to be heard.
This poem started as a unit I’m teaching in my class for Slam Poetry. I showed my students several examples and then they had to write their own. And whenever I do that, I always write one too, because if I expect it out of my students, I should be able to do it too. But the events of the past week, the death of George Floyd, and before that Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, made me all but silent. I couldn’t find the words I wanted to express.
But today they came out, and it’s only the beginning. So I taught my lesson, and I wrote my poem, and now I’m here, yelling into the void.
But don’t forget that while you’re screaming into the darkness, you are merely looking into your own shadow, that you’ve turned away from the light, and you just need to turn around to find your light again. I’m going to find my light again.