This poem conveys the idea that African Americans wear a figurative mask to hide their true feelings, sorrows, and identities from white Americans to survive and, perhaps, to keep something of their own. The speaker claims that this mask hides the eyes of black Americans, though it leaves their mouths visible so that they can convey "myriad subtleties," perhaps to one another and perhaps to white people. Though their hearts are "torn and bleeding" by the injustices and prejudices black Americans suffer, they smile anyway. Black Americans, the speaker suggests, only allow themselves to be seen by white Americans while they are wearing the mask so as to prevent "the world" from becoming "over-wise" and knowing all. Ultimately, black Americans have "tortured souls," and though they "sing," they are weary from the years of suffering. However, the speaker says that these wearers of the mask are content to let the "world dream otherwise," and so they wear the mask. A mask can function as a kind of protection; the person who wears the mask is in a position of relative power because they can see others but others cannot see them. One can more adequately hide one's true feelings while wearing a mask. This mask, then, allows the people who wear it to hide their true natures, to prevent others from really knowing them, perhaps to preserve or protect qualities for themselves.