Reflection on Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Poem We Wear The Mask

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About this sample


Words: 1011 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 1011|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Paul Laurence Dunbar was an astonishing African American Poet from the nineteenth century. Dunbar was born in 1872 and died in 1906, he was born to ex slave parents following the Civil War, which influenced his writing greatly. According to his biography in the McMichael Leonard anthology, “Even with his impressive academic credentials, Dunbar, because he was black, was unable to find professional employment in Dayton and was forced to settle as an elevator operator” ('Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)'). Dunbar’s novels, essay’s, short stories, and poems are still well known in the twenty-first century and should remain a part of the American Literary Canon. I chose Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask”. This poem was written in 1895 and formally published shortly after. The “We” in the poem’s title refers to African Americans. The poem speaks for many unheard voices of African Americans for several reasons.

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Although slavery was abolished by the thirteenth amendment in 1865, this did not mean that discrimination against African Americans automatically stopped. In Dunbar’s poem he writes, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes”. When I read this I think of how society today still hides their true selves behind a mask. We hide our true feelings in order to not show our weaknesses or to draw attention to ourselves. We put on a fake smile and pretend as if discrimination and racism is not everywhere around us. We hide our pain and suffering not only physically but as well as emotionally. We pretend as if everything is okay to hide our true feelings. The world is always on the go and not many think to stop and say hello or smile when passing someone on the street, instead we put our heads down and look at our phones in order to avoid contact with others.

When in reality races are still divided today but it now includes issues with immigrants such as Hispanics, Asians, Muslims, and Europeans. My family migrated to Illinois from Poland in the late 1980’s legally and at times we do not feel like they do not fit in because they are not United States Born Citizens. Although I was born in Chicago and raised here people still at times look at me strangely because of my accent and when I speak in my native language to family members. I feel that Dunbar and his family along with all the African Americans of the 19th century felt as if they do not fit into America’s image of only white people being wanted. In order to fit society's standards, you have to wear a mask in order to not stand out and fade into the distance in order to not draw attention to yourself. If you do or say anything out of the ordinary of society's standards you are automatically labeled as different.

Dunbar, through his poetry spoke for many African American’s that were afraid to speak up for themselves. He impacted many people, and this is why his poetry still lives on and I believe that it will always be around for more centuries to come and should stay in the American Literary Canon. Dunbar moved to Chicago to gain work in the early 1890’s and became a historical landmark in Dunbar park in Chicago. There is a statue sculpted of him there where many people can visit and admire. I love Chicago because it is a melting pot with cultural diversity. We cannot change history, but we can play our part in racial equality. We must socialize with everyone around us and not pick and choose who fits in our same bubble because of how they look.

As I stated above earlier, although Dunbar had impressive academic credentials he was discriminated against because of his skin color. The United States now has the Equal Employment Opportunity Act that prohibits an employer to refuse to hire an individual based on sex, race, religion, age, and disability. Even though this is a law that protects citizens when seeking employment, I believe there is still discrimination in some workplaces. It took us a long time to get to where we are now when it comes to equal employment. We are still faced with some struggles such as women having lower wages than men. Women also face rejection if the hiring manager thinks the woman may be pregnant. Dunbar’s writings made an impact on the laws and regulations we have in workplaces now due to his persistence in writing about racial injustice.

In my line of work I need to have cultural diversity working with individuals with various backgrounds and most importantly minority groups. I believe every individual in the world needs to take classes in cultural diversity and know history, so it does not repeat itself. Without speakers such as Dunbar we would not be where we are today. If we all wore a mask because of our skin color, we would all hurt deeply and not make an impact on the here and now of our time on Earth. With Dunbar’s poem we can think of when, why, and how we put on a mask. Humans are intellectual and we have the power to change the way we think, act, and feel.

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After reading and analyzing “We Wear the Mask”, I was able to think about the oppression African Americans faced in the nineteenth century as well as how it relates to the twenty-first century. I believe as time goes on discrimination will lessen due to time passing on. We will all still wear masks to hide our true selves, but this will be due to the ever so changing standards of society. One day we will welcome all people no matter their race, religion, gender. The voices of African Americans will be heard.

Works Cited

  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask.” The Anthology of American Literature, edited by McMichael, George and James Leonard. Tenth Edition, Volume II, 2011, pp. 963-964.
  • “Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)”. The Anthology of American Literature, edited by McMichael and Leonard, Tenth Edition, Volume II, 2011, p. 963. 
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Reflection On Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Poem We Wear The Mask. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from
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