By Treva J. Marshall and Sibille Hart Pritchard
Treva and a colleague collaborated on a poignant story about racism in America, published in the Orlando Sentinel.
The discourse about wearing masks has unfortunately been reduced to a tug-of-war between science and politics. The decision to mask or unmask is as much a matter of political pontification as it is personal protection.
However, as the debate continues, something momentous is simultaneously unfolding in the foreground, and it’s forcing many to unmask far beyond the N95. The death of George Floyd and the reprise of the Black Lives Matter movement have challenged many to remove the masks they have worn every day, the mask of racism or the complicity which comes with turning a blind eye to what was happening just before us.
A 10-minute video, one of countless examples of the injustice so many African Americans have endured, caught the attention of the world. And it set it on fire, literally and figuratively. Suddenly, what was once looked at as their issue or as an indictment on American principles by taking a stand against it, has now transformed into a new awakening long overdue in America.
Finally, the masks are being removed. Corporations, organizations and everyone from prominent individuals to everyday women and men are being open and honest about the guilt resulting from apathy and even complicity about what is clearly an American tragedy, racism.
Paul Laurence Dunbar issued this call to us as far back as the 1800’s in his poem, “We Wear the Mask.” Luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr., C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis marched, fought and advocated right in front of us… Still, we never listened.
The unmasking of America is a tug of conscience, a beckon to human decency, a platform to finally do the right thing.
The only way for this to end well is for us to continue to unmask. We must continue to ask ourselves how we might have been part of the problem, contributed to the chaos – whether by action or inaction – by just looking on or by looking away. We must ask how we can now be part of the solution.
We unmask to see that right is right, wrong is wrong and to reconcile with the fact that accepting responsibility moves us to a higher place. We unmask for an unobstructed view of where the root of racism lives. We must rip off the mask to heed the call that it’s time for America to move to a higher standard and it’s not un-American to say so.
If honesty really is the best policy, then we should continue to be candid about race in our society and what we can do to obliterate it. If we reduce it to season, a moment in time, or a political platform, if we start to look away again, if we do nothing, we’ll simply be just putting on another mask.
We wear the mask for human life, but we rip it off for humanity!