Oscar Wilde, the Irish dramatist, once said, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Occupying a minority status in any society, at any time in human civilization, has always required wearing a proverbial mask to ensure your basic survival, your invisibility was your saving grace.
Frantz Fanon conveyed this in his book Black Skin, White Mask, masks can be imbued with a double meaning, a barrier that at once empowers and disempowers – conceals and reveals. For many of us moving through spaces that we perceive as unsafe, the self-imposed invisibility may create a false perception of safety. Sadly, in the short term, wearing a mask may protect us from bodily harm, long-term, the mask does not ward off the lesions and wounds seared into the soul.
Fanon conveyed it well. Wearing a mask perpetuates a double consciousness that while appearing to serve as a protective shield, gradually disintegrates into the face, melting into the soul of the individual wearing it. The clear lines of where the mask begins and ends are no longer easily perceived.
While masks have been worn by various civilizations and cultures for collective self-expression and individual self-protection, they were always meant to be worn temporarily. For these tribal cultures, masks were worn during rituals, both to convey shifts in consciousness, for example, good or evil, to ward off evil spirits or even take on and become the embodiment of a spirit. Through the mask a person could be both disempowered and empowered, at once, stripping the self and subsequently absorbing the power of an “esprit” spirit to connect with a source greater than oneself.
However what happens when a person who has been wearing a mask for so long, truly believes the mask is good for them? What do you do when the mask is no longer an accessory but becomes a necessary coverup that must be worn daily? When the person wearing the mask deeply believes taking it off would cause more harm than wearing it?