Remove the Mask!

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“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

By now, you may have heard of Colin Kaepernick.  He is the American football player who has protested against police brutality and injustice by kneeling on the football field while the American flag waved and the anthem played.  Reactions to his posture have drawn commentary from supporters and detractors.  Supporters have been impressed by Kaepernick’s willingness to use his peaceful protest to shine a spotlight on multiple police shootings of unarmed people of color with impunity.  However, Kaepernick’s detractors have not been impressed and have argued that he is disrespectful to the military and the entire country by protesting during inappropriate times, at NFL football games.  Surely, protests are considered inconvenient, inappropriate, and inconsiderate to entities, institutions, or persons being challenged.  That’s expected.

While this issue played out, I taught high school students American literature.  I haven’t spoken to them about Colin Kaepernick except through the actions of Arthur Miller and his McCarthyism protest.  Yet, I’ve watched and listened to people on television, at church, and in restaurants.  I’ve read articles and social media posts.  Much of it was disheartening.  The President of the United States called his own citizens “sons of bitches.”   That hit me hard and has stuck with me.  To imagine that in a few years that someone. anyone would call my students such despicable names . . . that’s difficult.

Recently, I read Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.”  It was published in 1895, a year before the Supreme Court upheld racial discrimination in Plessy v. Ferguson (“separate but equal” public facilities).  In this divisive climate, America wants to put on the masks of unity:  the flag and the anthem.   However, this nation was not built on unity.  Enslaved citizens have worked and died.  Civil rights leaders have marched and died.  Soldiers have fought and died.  NFL players have entertained the nation.  However, when one of them, an American citizen, chose to put an issue on the table to be addressed, he was shut down by people waving the United States flag as a mask and silenced by the national anthem.  That’s unfortunate.

Dunbar’s poem is over a century old.  I can’t help but reread his poem with a desire to revise it just a little to address how I’ve felt about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest.  So, with much despair, here is my humble revision of Dunbar’s poignant work.

We've removed the mask that grinned and lied,

It hid our cheeks and shaded our eyes--

We've paid our debt to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we've smiled,

And mouth with myriad subtitles.
By now America should be wise,

We've counted our tears, we've yelled and cried;

Not afraid to let you see all the while

          We've removed the mask.
No more smiles, O Father, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise

We've sung the anthem, but the clay is still vile

Beneath Colin's knees, and still long the mile

Let not the American flag cover your eyes

         Remove the mask!

Unfortunately, my revision isn’t much different than Dunbar’s original poem.  And I am sad about that.  America looks really ugly right now.   However, waving the flag higher and singing the anthem louder won’t make us look better.  Remove the mask.  Have the difficult conversations.  That’s all we ask.






Dunbar, Paul L.  “We Wear the Mask.” National Humanities Center, Paul Laurence Dun. National Humanities Center,

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1850










Writing Advice from Young Authors

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“If you really love writing, follow it with all of your heart. Try your best to become an author.  Even if you write your first book  and it turns out to be a flop, you just keep going, and maybe it will become a movie!”  —young writer from Creative Write-it Workshop

           Before my morning coffee, I watched a video to help me write a post I struggled with and subsequently deleted the day before.  The video began with excited kids rushing into a room with smiles on their faces and writing materials in their hands.  The studio had huge picture windows that invited nature in to be an inspiration.  There were open shelves filled with books, a shiny wood floor, and tables with kids already seated and writing.   The kids are participants in a writing workshop.

         Then, one cute kid plopped down in a chair with a sign that read, “Author Chair.”   He begun by stating that he’d been a writer for 2 1/2 years.  He appeared to be about 8 years old.  A little girl shared that she had been writing since she was 4; she looked about 6 years old.  I was captivated right away because some of these kids knew when they first started writing, more specifically, when they became authors.   The video was made and uploaded by Creative Write-it  (, a writing workshop that combines the passion for writing with the love of working with young children.  Here is the link to the video (

          I ran the video twice at home and again once I got to work to share it with my high school students.  We’d been reading stories from the Realism period and trying our hands at writing.  I wanted to infect them, and myself, with the confidence exhibited in the video.  After viewing the video several times, I realized that I had something in common with the young authors.  I loved writing as a child.  I would write on envelopes, on loose leaf paper, in journals, in margins of books, on church programs, and on menus.  Writing was a constant in my life then as it is now.  They even enjoyed writing when they’d experienced difficulties such as running out ideas.  I wish I had seen this video 24 hours earlier because I’d written a pretty good essay.  However, after driving home and thinking about it, cooking dinner and thinking about it, and rereading it once more, I deleted it.  I regret it now.

Hearing the excitement in the voices reminded me that I am supposed to enjoy writing.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, I don’t always feel confident about my writing.  But, girl, get over yourself!  Post something already!   In closing, here is what I learned from watching the video of the young authors at Creative Write-It:

  • Say “you’re a writer.”  The kids confidently claimed that they had been writers for long periods of time.  The kids themselves decided they were writers, not an audience.  I must declare that I am a writer even if no one reads my writing.
  • ideas are everywhere.   A few kids shared that ideas are usually right under your nose.  Some of them found inspirations in their dreams; others used their imaginations to dream up stories.  I must realize that every day a story is story presents itself.  I dream, I imagine, and I observe.  I need to follow that up with writing.
  • Writing can be difficult.  One kid admitted that sometimes she just runs out of ideas while writing and it makes her want to scrap the entire project (I know the feeling).  However, she keeps going because she wants to meet the deadline.  First, set goals and deadline to provide guidance and to reduce the need to perfect my posts.  Second, when I want to scrap a piece of writing, just keep going.  Maybe I can use the draft some other time.
  • Know why you write.    One kid shared that she has to write her feelings on paper.  She added that if it is in head, she just had to get it out by writing to create a little more space.  Another kid shared that he is always thinking of different characters and places and writing is the easiest way to [do something with them].  A third young writer resolved that she just had to practice her handwriting and her letters.  When she was in writing class, she had no choice.

The video ended with a young writer encouraging others to follow their hearts if you love writing.   I am encouraged.