Month: May 2013

Well “F” You Tzu!

Sun Tzu

wait wait wait… I mean:

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu, often referred to as the father of Taoism. (Citation)

There was a time where I didn’t know how to express myself very well. It was back in middle school, and I was awkward. Poetry gave me wings.

Lao Tzu (Laozi) was a philosopher during the Zhou Dynasty. This was approximately 6th century BCE. While some give him this form, a common thought is that Lao Tzu was not truly a man, but an idea that sowed the seed of T(d)aoism. He is often given many names as well, creating a sense of power and mysticism behind his teachings.

Who cares? Apparently Paul Beatty did. In his novel, the White Boy Shuffle (1996), Beatty uses a lost black soul to encapsulate the ideas that he wished could be more well known.

Although often confused with Sun Tzu, Lao Tzu has forever been considered a legend in ancient Chinese culture. There are stories upon stories about the Daoist master, and he was often revered as a god in the Han dynasty. Much like the traditional Christian bible was thought to be the word of God, Lao Tzu was said to have written the Daodejing; however, just as with the Bible, there are those who debate the true origin of the teachings in the Daodejing.

Beatty wanted to give the reader an understanding of what the protagonist, Gunnar Kaufman, knew about the world. Beatty wanted people to understand that black people can be both educated and athletically gifted. He wanted to reflect the poetry of the writings of Daoism in the intricacies of Gunnar. All of the cursing was simply a reflection of the poetry of today’s society. Beatty showed the difference between acting like you know everything and knowing the things that you need to know.

“I don’t know, the cool tantric type. Shaolin monk style. Lao Tsu, but with rhythm.” (Beatty, 79)

Beatty gave us a Black Jesus.

It’s true. Looking into the White Boy Shuffle more and more, I continuously see the signs. The sacrifices, people willing to die for him, die for the cause. Beatty pulled a fast one on all of us and through all of the vulgarity and hypocrisy outlined all of the culture in one man.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

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Old Dogs Can Still Learn Tricks

Started from the bottom, now we here.

Started from the bottom, now we here.

The saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks;” John Oliver Killens had something to prove.

The above picture is a representation of the Harlem Writers Guild. The Harlem Writers Guild was started in 1950, by a group of black authors, including: Rosa Guy, Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Willard Moore, Walter Christmas, and our very own John Oliver Killens.

Killens was a man of many hats. He began his life in Macon, Georgia with parents who focused on education and an appreciation of black culture. The path that Killens took to becoming a founding member of the Harlem Writers Guild was not the path that most novelists take. Before World War II, Killens ( who was born in 1916), John Oliver bounced around the education system after graduating from one of the only black secondary schools in Georgia. Killens made stops at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida; Morris Brown College in Atlanta; and Howard University in Washington, D.C. before he dropped out of Robert H. Terrell Law School before his final year.

After serving 4 years in WWII, Killens was awarded the position of master sergeant. Then came the writing. Killens had a lot of experiences, and had a knack for putting them onto paper in story form. When he, along with his friends living in NYC, started the Harlem Writers Guild, Killens wrote about maintaining black dignity and securing rights. Youngblood (1954) was practically written by the Harlem Writers Guild, as most of the work they did was in a small apartment.

Then Killens wrote another novel about being black in the military. And Then We Heard Thunder (1963) was often thought of as Killens’ autobiography. This novel delved into the hardships of war and the acts of racism that occurred even between brothers in arms.

In 1971, Killens comes out with The Cotillion or One Good Bull is Half the Herd. This novel unlike any of the novels that Killens had written previously. After years, nay, decades of writing novels about the hardships of blacks in a white society, Killens decided to write about something that was being greatly overlooked.

The dichotomy between those in the radical black power movement and those attempting to further their careers and lives through running with the “in crowd” proved to be a very interesting one within the black community in the 1960’s. The Cotillion was a deviation from the norm for the Harlem Writers Guild. Killens had seen enough of the changing black society and wanted to make sure the world knew of it. He chose to use satire to depict the social construct of black society in the 60’s. Killens also chose to write from the perspective of a woman. Yoruba, the protagonist in Killens’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel, gives a good perspective of both the socialite climbing of her mother, while also respecting the militancy of her “Captain.”

Killens changed the style in which he wrote because of the fact that he saw situations in society that he needed to address. I think that he used satire because a book that was too harsh on either movement (social climbing v. militancy) would have been deemed “against the cause.”

“Harlem Writers Guild.” N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2013.

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Permed/Relaxed? Natural? What’s the Solution? The Critique of Black Hair

I Am Not My Hair by India Arie

The texture of hair is a commonly discussed topic within the Black community, especially for women. Most Black women see hair as their crown and glory; something that is worthy of pride, however there’s much critique. This critique of appearance is readily seen within the community, and even in the Black Arts and Post Soul eras.

In the song, I Am Not My Hair by India Arie, there is a portrayal of this common theme surrounding hair and its texture. The song opens open up with women laughing at Indie Arie because of what she had done to her hair. The song develops with Arie’s journey of her different hair styles, eventually going into the choir which simples states “I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am not your expectations no” her response to the fact that hair is such a determinant. The women talking and laughing continues with some women agreeing with her hair choices, while other criticizing. The second verse describes how the writer feels about society’s view of hair and about a woman who has lost all of her hair because of chemotherapy, but performing in front of the camera confidently.

Growing up with my mom and grandma owning a hair salon, I can really say that I understand the views of women regarding their hair. Hair within the African-American (especially Black Women) community can also be linked with privilege. Regarding Arie’s song, women are very critical about their hair, no matter how it looks. Being nappy or natural to some is very unappealing to many because of the amount of work it takes to maintain.  India Arie’s own journey travels not only through time but also through hairstyles and stages in a female’s life. Within the transitioning of this song the author realizes that it is not the importance of the way the hair looks, but about what is beneath; what lies within. She speaks of a woman who has lost all of her hair, yet performing in front of thousands on television. This type of confidence deters from physical appearance, and moves to the whole individuals.

Within John Killens’ book, The Cotillion, the main character Yoruba is seen being put through very crazy practices in order for her to be the perfect black woman in her mother’s eyes. Her mother is very infatuated with not only “keeping up with the Jones’” but being better than many of her “lower” counterparts. Yoruba’s mother portrays this societal view that appearance is everything, which is true to an extent. Her mother leaves no room for Yoruba to actually embrace the fact that she is black, and to embrace all of being black, and being one with her people, which at times she struggles with.

From hearing India Arie’s I Am Not My Hair, it can be noticed that black women can wear their hair in an array of fashions: straight, curly, an afro, or natural. There’re varying views regarding hair and exactly what “Good hair” is. There are individuals who feel that those who use perms to straighten their hair have “good hair.” Others also think that individuals who wear their hair in its natural state have “good hair.” Having naturally good hair within the Black community is something that most want; hair free of tangles and nappyness. Urban Dictionary states that good hair is “A popular term in the African-American community, used to describe a black person’s hair that closely resembles the hair of a typical white person (i.e. soft, manageable, long, as opposed to “nappy” or “bad” hair). The closer your hair is to a white person’s, the “better” your hair is.”

In 2009, model Tyra Banks aired an episode called “What is Good Hair?” on the Tyra Banks Show. This episode featured many different Black women and children and their differing views on what it means to have “good hair.” She episode shows the critique that African-American women have for their own hair. Along with the critique, there seems to be so much controversy within the African-American community about women wearing their natural hair, as previously stated. View the videos below as they show some very important facts and startling information behind children’s perception of their own hair and the history of black hair within the African-American community.

Video clip from the Tyra Banks Show, episode: What is Good Hair?

The history relating to African-Americans texture of hair is actually quite startling. Not only were the roots of the situation regarding heritage, but it was about survival and opportunity for many African-Americans with the 19th and early to mid 20th century. Tyra Banks also invited the Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps, the authors of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair, who gave some historical insight on the way that African-American men and women.

The term “good hair” did not originate as a term of beauty, contrary to popular belief; it was a term that was derived as hope for survival. This term, good hair, evolved out of slavery, women and men who had silkier hair, like that of the master’s were more likely to end up in better situations. These individuals were more likely to be freed upon their master dying or being a house slave, which gave them more opportunities to better resources and things that they weren’t permitted to do such as education. Byrd and Tharps remark in their closing that once slavery ended, these terms and behaviors were still embedded within our cultural psyches and reason there is a lot of controversy today.

Video clip from the Tyra Banks Show, episode: What is Good Hair?

In this link above, we hear some startling information. Tyra brought children and their mothers which proved to be very interesting conversation. (For the whole episode, click HERE) All of these children were beautiful and arguably have “good hair” however there was once child who preferred to wear here Hannah Montana wig because she felt as though people liked her better with it on. Prior to this clip, the mother’s were on the stage, and her mother talked about how she tells her daughter that she is beautiful, and that she does not need to get her hair relaxed. She has a tighter curl in her hair, though when straightened is very long.

Video clip from the Tyra Banks Show, episode: What is Good Hair?

This issue of hair may seem very simple and unimportant to people that are not of cover, but like aforementioned, it is something that is embedded into our psyches, and passed down through many generations. It appears that this, the struggle of black hair, and the critique that African-Americans specifically women, are affecting them psychologically from early ages.

One of the children, Malia (who is half African-American and half Latino), said that when she sees someone with hair like that (pointing to an afro wig) it makes her think of someone of lower class. This is extremely startling, no child that is 5 years old should hear anything like that! It indeed has a great psychological contribution because her mother made up at the age of 11 that she would have a child with a man of another race, due to hair. Her reasoning behind this was the fact that she was teased, picked on and called names such as “bald headed” and “nappy headed.”

Though we see that there is a lot of critique regarding natural hair, having “good hair” is not always a great thing. Kalayshia, age 5, appeared saying that she wants her mother to cut her hair off so that the children at school will stop teasing her. By just looking at her hair, you can notice that it is very long, to her waist and not seemingly course. Her mother even professed the fact that not only does her daughter come home from school crying because of being picked on, but she has also had other students to pull out handfuls of her hair.

In Danzy Senna’s, Caucasia, the two sisters, Birdie and Cole are completely different. Cole is of a brown complexion with courser in comparison to Birdie’s light complexion and “good hair.” Birdie and Cole were of mixed race, and due to complications the family split up, with each parent taking the child that looked like themselves. The mother had no knowledge of black hair and the daughter walked around looking like a mockery because of the mother’s lack of knowledge. However, there is an emphasis that is put on the connection between hair and race. Hair is also a form of identity, as can be determined through my various resources, even Caucasia. Birdie resents her father because of having to pass as a Jewish girl with her mother. She strongly embraced her roots, both White and Black, because they were apart of whom she was holistically.

When typing in the term “African-American hair” there are many results that come up. Some individuals with straightened hair, some chemically others heat, there are individuals who have natural hair exposed. All of these women are smiling or have a fierce countenance. The pride of being African-American and black exhumes from them, also the freedom of choice. These women look happy that they are able to take pride within themselves. As seen in the previous media, we are now in an age where African-American women are allowed to express their own unique beauty, instead of conforming to the Eurocentric hairstyles.

Trailer for Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair

There is no way that I can begin to even speak on the topic of hair, without mentioning Chris Rock’s famous documentary, Good Hair. Chris Rock travels all over the United States interviews individuals about what it means to have “good hair.” An interesting thing about this trailer is that not only does Rock interview everyday people, but also celebrities. Famous individuals such as Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Maya Angelou, Raven Symone, and others help him along his journey of discovery regarding hair. This document speaks of the many processes that African-American women undergo in order to get “good hair.” There is also critique within this documentary as Rock goes around California trying to sell individuals natural, African-American hair with no success. There were even beauty supply storeowners that mentioned how no one wants nappy hair; it is all about the straightened, processed hair.

Throughout history and time, the Black Arts Movement and Post-Soul, there is a steady critique of African-American regarding their hair. It seems to be very questionable whether or not this natural hair is the glory of a crown or worthy of a perm.


Works Cited

Killens, John Oliver. The Cotillion; Or, One Good Bull Is Half the Herd. New York: Trident, 1971. Print.

Larsen, Nella. Quicksand. New York: Negro Universities, 1969. Print.

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What is the impact of searching your true identity when society labels you based on stereotypes?


Finding one’s true identity can be difficult when exposed to stereotypes that define their ethnicity and being a mixed child. This has to do with society focusing on the criticism on an individual’s appearance. He or she is forced to act differently based on stereotypes and someone’s perception of that person.

In the Invisible Man, the narrator describes the meaning behind his invisibility. “The invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality.” (Invisible Man, 3) In other words he is saying that people are classifying him as someone who is not important because he’s black and looking at him as if he was in a dream where he didn’t exist. In connection to invisibility, the narrator discusses a time where he bumped into a tall blond man who insulted him. This resulted in the narrator wanting to slit his throat with a knife only to find out he’s blind.  “Poor fool, poor blind fool, I thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!” (Invisible Man, 4)

In the article, American Nightmare: Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ at 60, Ellison provides some background on the imagery of invisibility. “I am invisible; understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass…you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare …”

In an attempt to find his true identity, in the Invisible Man the narrator ultimately struggles with stereotypes such as social prejudice. “It was the cabin of Jim Trueblood, a sharecropper who had brought disgrace upon the black community” (Invisible Man, 46) Black people who were in a higher social standing decided to disown Jim Trueblood in order to conform to the example of a model black citizen that was expected by the white board of trustees. The narrator was forced to see that even among black people there was tension between those in the upper class and those in the lower class. This symbolizes an instance where the Invisible Man had difficulty finding his identity because he knows that he’s black, but where does he belong in terms of social standing? Most importantly, he wonders why there’s so much tension between black social classes when they are fighting oppression.

Stereotypes go beyond social prejudice and The Invisible Man also experiences racism when he arrives at Liberty Paints to work. “Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you’d have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove that it wasn’t white clear enough” (Invisible Man, 217) This quote exemplifies Ellison’s use of the Liberty Paints plant as a metaphor.. The main property of Optic White, Brockway notes, is its ability to cover up blackness. This dynamic evokes the larger notion that the white power structure in America, like the white paint, tries to subvert and smother black identity. Prejudice forces black men like the Invisible Man and women to assimilate to white culture, to mask their true thoughts and feelings in an effort to gain acceptance and tolerance. It forces the narrator to remain invisible and adapt an identity that society creates.

According to American Nightmare: Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ at 60 the synopsis that summarized the main idea of Invisible Man came from Ellison in a letter sent to his literary agent in 1946 as he was beginning to write the novel. “The invisible man will move upward through Negro life, coming into contact with its various forms and personality types; will operate in the Negro middle class, in the leftwing movement and descend again into the disorganized atmosphere of the Harlem underworld. He will move upward in society through opportunism and submissiveness. Psychologically he is a traitor, to himself, to his people, and to democracy … He is also to be a depiction of a certain type of Negro humanity that operates in the vacuum created by white America in its failure to see Negroes as human.

In order to combat the labels of racism that society placed on the narrator, his identity was completely transformed into a clean slate. “But what of his psychology”? “Absolutely no importance!” the voice said. “The patient will live as he has to live, and with absolute integrity. Who could ask for more? He’ll experience no major conflict of motives, and what is even better, society will suffer no traumata on his account.” (Invisible Man, 236)  Ellison uses imagery that compares the narrator with a newborn child. He wakes with no memory, an inability to understand speech, and a wholly unformed identity.  This rebirth, doesn’t include any recollection of his parents. The lack of mother or father recalls the veteran’s advice that the narrator should be his own father that is, create his own identity rather than accept an identity imposed on him from the outside.

In the following YouTube video The Invisible Man and its Impact on the American Lexicon it explains how Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man provided the foundation for the beginning of black identity. This was expressed through the progress of World War II and how African American’s were returning to a society infested in Jim Crow laws. Something Ralph Ellison capitalized on was the fact that in Europe many famous African American artists such as Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker saw for the first time equal treatment among them. This was Ellison’s inspiration for writing the novel as he was on leave from the Coast Guard in 1946. Most importantly, Ellison saw that writers during the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston laid the mental seeds for change in the minds of the Negro.

Ellison’s novel influence gave rise to many political and social organizations in Harlem for the attention and vibe of the black community. Among these groups were the Nation of Islam, Communist Party affiliate groups, the NAACP, and militant Civil Rights organizations which brought a change in the Lexicon of America and provided a voice for all African Americans who felt that they had no identity. In addition, the nomenclature of black changed thanks to the influence of the novel. Ellison addressed how he transitioned from Nigga to Negro to Black Man as a representation of the changing times. During the 1930’s it was not accepted for an African American to be called black it was considered a “slap in the mouth.” civil rights groups such as the NAACP used the word Negro while more radical civil rights groups like the Black Panthers used the term Black to promote “Black Power”

A search for someone’s true identity can be seen in a person who was born a mixed child. For example someone who is of mixed decent often times struggle with knowing where they would be accepted in society. In other words, its understanding whether or not to embrace both races equally or have a stronger connection with one race over the other. For many individuals who are mixed it all depends upon how they are raised by their parents and the any customs or the culture that was influenced on them the most. Beyond the scope of learning whether or not to embrace both races or have a stronger connection there’s a difficulty with people questioning mixed race people about how they should identify themselves. Overall, it’s those challenges that mixed race people face that makes it a lot more complicated to search for their true identity.

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In the novel, Caucasia Birdie has no name, her identity is shaped and formed by how others see her. The confusion Birdie feels with her identity is not only due to the shame she feels between her body image and her physical body which most adolescent girls deal with, but she also feels confusion regarding the mixed messages she receives from the “white” and “black” communities because of her white skin. The characters of Birdie and Cole are both bi-racial, however others including their own parents see Birdie as “white” and Cole as “black”. It was because of her childhood being raised in the strong black identity that she felt out of place and not fitting the black image because of the color of her skin. To make me feel that the differences were deeper than skin” (Senna,91). Birdie begins her identity quest by attempting to disappear, to become invisible.

In order for her to try to find an identity, Birdie goes through a series of events that involved many stereotypes that forced her to become someone she’s not.  The hostility of the other children toward Birdie in particular, at the all “black” school forces Birdie to “wear the mask” and put on a racial performance for her schoolmates in Nkrumah and she even begins to learn to speak in slang to better fit in. The character of Birdie resembles that of a chameleon, constantly taking on the color of those around her in an attempt to become invisible. This racial performance shifts through Birdie’s journey as she attempts to fit in with the “white” teenagers in New Hampshire. Birdie begins to act, talk, and dress like the New Hampshire teens and as a consequence begins to disappear into “Caucasia” the white nation and her falsified identity of Jesse Goldman.

In conjunction with the book Caucasia, the YouTube video above  called Racial Documentary “Other” Mixed Identity goes into detail on a few individuals who were born mixed and the challenges that they have to go through on a daily basis with identity. In many cases these individuals understand the misconceptions that many people including their friends have made as a result of being mixed. For example when it comes to the question of what race do these individuals most identify with they automatically assume that based on the color of the individual’s skin that defines what race they associate with the most. While parts of this argument may be true, most of the individuals in the video do acknowledge that it made them feel very uncomfortable and felt as if they were forced to be defined based on appearance. Phrases such as, “you’re not black enough” are a great example.

Furthermore, the individuals in the video do appreciate many aspects of their mixed cultures. For example, there was one individual whose mother is a full German and his father is half Brazilian and half Italian. He mentions that he has a strong appreciation for his father’s Brazilian heritage, but not as much as his mother’s heritage only because he spends more time with his mother rather than his father. In terms of referencing themselves, some identify themselves as just black or just white. The individuals in the video stressed the fact that at one point, they wanted to fit into a specific race when they were younger, but as they got older they learned to embrace bi-raciality and the great things that each heritage has to offer. Although the individuals in the video did say that they felt forced when checking off being a minority for scholarships and other opportunities.

Not only did the individuals discuss the challenges of being mixed, but they also shed some light on the positive aspects. All of the individuals said that they didn’t allow their friends to make their identity for them, instead they expressed their optimism for being mixed. Expressing that there is nothing wrong with being mixed and that does not make anyone different from the rest. The individuals in the video attributed their parents as the main sources of inspiration and guidance when it came to identity. From their parents’ guidance, they learned very quickly that being mixed should not define them as souls wandering their lives for acceptance or their identity. It is based upon being proud of where you come from, as well as the appreciation for diversity.

In conclusion, finding one’s true identity can be difficult when exposed to stereotypes that define their ethnicity and being a mixed child. It forces individuals to hide behind a mask and assimilate to a formulated culture. Through proper guidance, culture, and appreciation of heritage is the formula for identity.

Works Cited

Invisible Man. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2013, from Spark Notes:

kash, T. (2012, February 3). Hub Pages. Retrieved May 13, 2013, from “Lost in Caucasia”: an essay on the novel Caucasia by Danzy Senna:

Rich, N. (2012, June 28). The Daily Beast . Retrieved May 13, 2013, from American Nightmare: Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ at 60: The Invisible Man and its Impact on the American Lexicon Racial Documentary “Other” Mixed Identity


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The Mask: A man, a culture, a people


In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the main character is described as invisible. Not invisible as in impossible to see, but invisible in the sense that people chose not to see him. The motif of the mask is used throughout Ellison’s masterpiece.

The primary source that I am using is Jim Carrey in the Hollywood film, The MaskIn the film, Jim Carrey portrays a character named Stanley Ipkiss. The name Ipkiss somewhat symbolizes the “butt-kisser” that Stanley is. He is too nice. He is invisible to those around him. Ipkiss is so non-confrontational that he gets overlooked by everyone in his life.

Stanley Ipkiss finds a mask of Loki, the Norse god of mischief. When he puts it on, Stanley takes off his mask of meagerness and his real character comes out. This character is wildly confident and does not shy away from excitement.

The reason that I chose this primary source was because of the dichotomy between this Hollywood version of a mask for a timid white man vs. Ellison’s depiction of the black youth having a mask from the beginning.

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. – IM (Ellison, 3)

This dichotomy intrigued me because of the clear difference of what a mask would be for a white man as opposed to our black protagonist in Invisible Man.

On one hand, we have Ellison’s use of the mask as a protective tool. Whether it be Dr. Bledsoe putting on his mask for protection within the school or the mask that is innately on IM throughout the novel, the mask is used as a tool of blending in. It is a mask of innocence, worn because of the thought that the world would not need to look at him anyway.

And then we have the mask of Ikpiss. The Loki mask gives Stanley the ability to become seen. He is lost in the mundane working world and his life is getting swept away. From getting noticed to getting the girl, Stanley is using the mask to get away from the self that he feels is a pathetic being. Not only does he indulge the wacky being inside of Jim Carrey, he realizes that even though the mask gives him magical powers, he has most of the power within him the entire time.

The mask is an escape in both cases. For IM, it is an opportunity to pass without being antagonized by a society that does not fully understand who he is. It is a crutch that is needed because of the years of turmoil that his people have been through. It is not something that IM wants to wear; it protects him from a world that often jumps to drastic conclusions.

For Ikpiss it is a release. It is an escape from the dreadful dreary days of being unnoticed. Being an average white man with an average job, an average apartment and a less-than appealing lifestyle, Stanley uses the mask to show the world what is really inside of him. Outside of the super powers and preposterous stunts, the mask gives him the opportunity to create himself again.

While both characters are sporting masks, the fact that one is beneficial and one is detrimental speaks volumes to the realities of the times.

“The Mask – 1994.” The Mask 1994. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013.
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