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“We Wear the Mask”

September 18, 2016

I want to “read into the record,” i.e. the narrative, this poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar (pub 1896) and the Facebook post by Morgan Robinson that reminded me of it, because they make such a basic point, and explain so much, with such eloquence:

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 oh 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!

Morgan Robinson  (9-12-16)

“So, something has clicked for me since Hillary’s stumble yesterday. 
I must confess, as devoted democrat, I was nonetheless having a lot of trouble getting revved up about supporting Hillary. Support her, yes. Get revved up about it, no. Sure I phone-banked. Once. I planned to phone bank again…. at some point. I think I’ve donated $25 at this point. By this time in Barack’s campaign I had donated as much as I could possibly muster and was definitively planning to head to Philadelphia to knock on doors. But this election, like a lot of democrats, I’ve been having trouble connecting with Hillary, trouble feeling like the person I’m going to volunteer for and give money to is a real person.

“That just changed for me, for two reasons. First, on Friday I saw Hillary’s post on HONY — Humans of New York, in which she very frankly admits that in her life she hasn’t been able to act on her first impulse (like waving her arms when she’s excited) because when she does, people are intimidated. Women are held to different standards in this country, and as a trailblazing female politician, for decades Hillary’s had to walk a very, very fine line in order to both garner people’s approval and also wield power.

“Reading the HONY post I realized that her solution to this balancing act has been to fashion for herself a mask that is as bulletproof as possible against the constant attacks she endures from both the right and the media, many of which are somehow related to the fact that she’s a woman. This mask has served her fairly well up until now, but I fear there’s a chance it could cost her the election. I believe that In order to trust her, in order to connect with her, people need to catch a glimpse the real Hillary. They need to see the real woman who made such a strong mask, rather than the mask itself. For me personally, if I’m going to bust my chops and volunteer for her with gusto, I need to see — even for a minute — around the mask’s corners to the actual woman who wears it. I doubt that I’m alone in this.

“Then she got sick, collapsed, and had to be hoisted into a car and whisked away. The doctors announce she has pneumonia, and she has presumably been hiding this from the public.

“Clinton did not want us to see that moment. She did everything she could to hide it, to appear strong — to keep the mask pulled over her face. But the mask slipped away and clattered on the pavement — if only for a second. And in that second, I must say for the first time I felt as though I’d seen the real woman. She didn’t want me to see her then, but I saw her. And who I saw is a 68 year old grandmother carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, a brilliant, tireless politician and public servant who is in the fight of her life against a hateful narcissist to become the first female president and the leader of the free world. A woman in a sprint to power where the nuclear codes and the supreme court and climate change and basic human decency all hang in the balance — and she did not want me to see her stumble. Why? Because she’s a fighter, a gladiator, and she knows the political cost of weakness.

“But Hillary, in that moment when you stumbled, I became one of the secret service guys who picked you up. I became that stone pedestal you were leaning on. You don’t have to be perfect to be our president. There are a lot of folks just like me who will pick you up even if you stumble — in part, because you stumble, because you’re human. Let’s start a new world where you can be an imperfect woman in power. Let’s start that world now, together. And maybe when you win and that world gets stronger and stronger, you won’t need to wear that mask as much anymore, and neither will my mom, my sister, my fiancée, my female friends and every woman who has ever sought to wield power in this country and beyond.

“So no, you don’t need to be perfect. In fact, in this particular election, you can be far from it. But you do have to win. And to do that, you’re going to need my help, and a lot of other folks as well— despite your imperfections, and despite our misgivings. So my request for those who have struggled to connect with Hillary: meet her halfway. Understand that she’s a flawed person in a flawed society whose political survival has required her to hide both her weaknesses and her strengths. Has any male politician had to hide his strengths? I can’t think of one. So armed with that understanding, let’s do everything in our power to help her win. Why? Because she’s going to be one heck of a president — and way better than that loser she’s running against.”

[Update 9-24:  this article shows how complex this can be, beginning in girlhood, in the case of a public person/persona such as Hillary Rodham Clinton.]

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