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Masks and Veils

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

“Whadup, Junior Boyd?”

“I’m doing just fine,” Semple Johnson.”

“I see you out here in front of this bar. You know it’s closed.” A few passersby with uncovered faces sauntered along the avenue. Semple thought someone was going to get shot soon in a mask dispute.

“I take a habitual evening stroll that leads me in this direction. It’s a behavioral pattern, I suppose.”

Semple stepped around Boyd, kept about six feet away, and peered through the window of the bar and at the clock up on the wall. It was going on seven. “I don’t know all that stuff you talking. I just got a jones for the place.” He stepped backward, looked up and down the avenue, where the stream of unprotected foot traffic seemed steady, and turned back to Boyd. “You think social distance the right words?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m saying folks been had social distance. I stand right next to a lot of people and we socially distant. So maybe folks is confused when they say maintain what we already got.”

“That’s an interesting perspective on semantics,” Semple. “But I think the advice, even exhortation, is for people to put physical distance between social interactions.”

“Why not say physical distance then? But I guess there ain’t no way completely around confusion if we using words. Only clear word is no. That’s why babies learn it first and never let go.”

“I cannot speak for babies any longer,” Semple. “But enough precision in language exists for us to be functional. You are wearing a mask. You understand that command.”

“Only because I translated it. My mind said wear facial covering.”

“So mask wasn’t good enough?”

“It’s just a lot of work to figure out the meaning. I mean, we wearing masks all the time.”

“You mean metaphorically.”

“I mean for what it’s worth. Dunbar said we wear masks. Trick people with smiles. Fugees said something like that, too. Tryna get through the day.”

“I remember that. Interestingly, the literature of psychology contains parallels, black masking seen as part of post-traumatic stress syndrome.”

“Stress in the home? No doubt masking can get you some of that. Can’t get the right view. I stare straight at my daughter sometimes and swear I don’t see her. Something blocks me. I’m sure I’m a whole lot less of a puzzle.”

“I believe you. It’s related to what W. E. B. Du Bois said. Your veil is the source of distortion.”

“Now Boyd, you way over my head bringing in W. E. B. I never went to a school that went that far.”


“It’s all in the Souls of Black Folk.”

“Well, I think maybe Du Bois could get my soul. They say he was sharp.”

“Perceptive, I would say, Semple. He theorized the veil to be the way the color line plays out in our psyches. We can’t get a good look at our own selves, so to speak. The veil was there when he taught schoolchildren in Tennessee. He had to deal with it in Atlanta. He thought of the veil when his infant son died, glad the boy was above it. The veil leaves you with this sense of double consciousness all the time.”

“That double-consciousness part kind of loses me. I got enough trouble keeping up with my one consciousness. But that veil thing makes a lot of sense overall. I definitely see the whole racial thing playing out that way. Seems veils and racism got everybody screwed up in some way.”

“Du Bois was saying that, too.”

“Even the Ult White.”

“You mean the Alt Right.”

“No, I mean Ult White. Ultimate White people. Some of these people passing us on this avenue is ultimate.” The foot traffic seemed to be picking up. “You know, folks without facial coverings and the whole world got a mask on. The whole planet. Aliens drop down and the first thing they’ll see when they approach is a mask. Might even be more to it than that.”

“Are we going to talk climate change? Don’t hear that so much on the news these days.”

“Next time, Junior Boyd. Only change I’m gettin into now is outta here. It’s weird out here. It’s like my uncle would have said. They don’t really tell us all the things that masks mask. I’m going home to catch me one of them reality shows on television. I need a break.”