Why must "we" wear the mask in Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask"?

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In the poem "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the speaker uses the image of wearing a mask to speak to the struggles of African Americans forced to navigate a racist American society. The speaker is referring to how many black people survived the oppression of slavery and post-slavery society by not showing their true emotions or feelings to white people or state institutions responsible for their oppression.

It could be, according to the speaker, a tactical decision to not show one's true emotions while working to undermine the oppressive system. Not showing your intense suffering at the hands of the oppressor can also be considered a form of rebellion and resilience. The speaker also suggests that if the true emotions of oppressed people were actually displayed then those responsible for this oppression would refuse to acknowledge it.

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