07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Masks: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hi everyone! I am YA author B A Binns , writer of contemporary and realistic fiction for teens. My tagline tells you what I am about - Stories of Real Boys Growing Into Real Men - and the people who love them. 

This month, I join the genre-istas in talking about Masks.

Many of us wear them, sometimes even me. (And no, that is not me in the picture, just a friend doing cosplay).

But I do put on a mask almost every day of my life.

My mask is not made of paper, or plastic, or even makeup. I put my mask on every day and go out into the world to convince people life is great and that I’m happy to be among them, and yadda-yadda-yadda. Most of the time, I am successful and my mask hides my pain. 

My work-in-progress, one I have tentatively titled Family Reunion, deals with a young girl wearing the same pretend mask. She puts it on so no one will know how scared she is. Not her mother, or her aunt who is also her best friend, or her brother. 
Certainly not the father she adores who is an officer deployed overseas by the Navy.

Then she meets a boy and gets a glimpse inside his mask. Suddenly neither of them is quite as frightened anymore.

If that sounds like a romance—it isn’t. The girl and boy are only ten. She’s a black child whose family just moved into a predominantly white small town struggling to find acceptance in the school’s top girl clique who call themselves the Fabulous Five. She’s willing to do anything the leader wants to be invited in. He’s a White boy with hemiplegia, a lifelong condition that leaves him unable to control his left arm and leg and has him in a wheelchair. He tries to remain invisible to escape the bullying led by his own cousin, the leader of the Fabulous Five. When the two kids finally learn to see each other and remove their masks, it’s magic.

The same kind of thing can happen in the real world. Only last week I read about some police sitting down and having a heart-to-heart with a group of homeless kids. The discussion got off to a rocky start, both sides were defensive and untrusting. Then one cop admitted that his father was in jail, and the ice began to crack. Another cop angrily noted how bad the kids smell, as if he thought the stink was directed at him, or at least at law-abiding citizens. A kid explained that smelling bad was a deliberate strategy for keeping sexual predators away when you are homeless and have to sleep on the streets.

Not an act of rebellion or an attempt to push good people away. Another mask, worn for protection.

After the police absorbed that shock, a lot of honesty came out on both sides. When we look under the masks we usually find our common humanity.

I admit masks and play acting can be fun and entertaining. That’s the appeal of Phantom of the Opera (I loved Gerard Butler in the movie). It’s the joy of cosplay and the love of Halloween (my personal favorite holiday).

But sometimes we need to use masks to help us survive in a hostile world.

And, unfortunately, the way the Internet can be used to mask identity is a large part of the popularity of social media. A screen name and a phony avatar provides users with a level of anonymity, an Internet mask, that lets them call people like Leslie Jones, Serena Williams and Michelle Obama "monkeys." Masks can enable cowards to attack with impunity and write things they would never say if they knew they would be discovered.

The truth is, I have long been a stranger in a strange land. A black student in a predominantly white college - majoring in Biochemistry and Math, no less when people expected me to be in social work or nursing. I needed a mask, and to practice selective deafness as well. Then a Black woman in a field dominated by White faces. Now a Black author attending mainly White writer's conventions and living in a predominantly White neighborhood. So I have indeed perfected the art of putting on my mask every day before stepping outside my doors. But the mask has been slipping lately. Maybe because constantly pretending is infinitely tiring.  I truly admire the young people of today who feel strong enough to eschew the mask and release their true thoughts and feelings.


Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing your story, B.A. I've read or heard several stories about police and kids finding a path to communicate. Those stories inspired me to have Cameron, the hero in the last book of the original Sacred Women's Circle series, find ways to connect with some young men in a pick-up basketball game.
Finding that underlying humanity is the key.

I'm glad you see yourself as stronger and also see RTG as a place to slip off your stranger in a strange land mask at least for a little bit.

Sarah Raplee said...

Hiding one's true feelings and ignoring bigotted remarks or just ignorant-but-well-meaning ones must be extremely exhausting. No wonder when one person cracks because they can't stay quiet any more, many more join them! For those on the outside who don't understand the situation, it seems that everything is fine and then a bunch of angry people act out. From the inside looking out, there is courage and strength in numbers. Anger at injustice that has simmered and been suppressed for years rises to the surface.

Open dialogue where common ground is discovered can lead to understanding and unity. We have to remember that most of what people do is not about us, it's about them coping with their situations. Once we understand the situation and the logic, it makes sense.

Family Reunion sounds like a thoughtful and poignant Book of the Heart.

Michelle Monkou said...

A timely subject for adults and children. We are communicating with each other without regard the soul that lies beneath the exterior. I've shared this blog with my reading group. Thank you.