My Secret Identity

It has often been said of Batman and Superman that their “alter-ego” is the truest form of the character. For Bruce Wayne, the tragic killing of his parents before his young eyes spawned perhaps the most bad-assed non-super superhero ever to have existed. It inspired him to train and raise his crime-fighting and deduction skills to near superhuman level. However, the anger and hatred for criminals it inspired in him drives him ceaselessly. It has consumed the once-innocent boy he was, and turned him into a man more comfortable jumping from rooftops and battling the underworld of Gotham. His carefree, playboy lifestyle as Bruce Wayne is the mask he uses so no one suspects he is the Dark Knight.

Similarly, Superman, or rather Clark Kent suffers from the same dilemma. He is a super-powered alien who must constantly reign himself in for fear of hurting those around him. He adopts the bumbling, glasses-wearing persona of Clark Kent to disguise his physique and powers. He is most naturally comfortable as Superman.

“Why the Hell do I care about superheroes blog-writer guy? I came to this site to read about race relations and find out if you guys knew of any more Popeye’s buffets.”

Relax blog-reader. I used the above examples not only because I am a nerd, but because they are a metaphor for how we as Black Folk often operate in graduate education and Corporate America. A personal anecdote will explain.

I have a classmate named Tatiana. Love her to death. She is Cuban and Colombian I think. A person of color, but not Black. The other day, she was talking about Twitter and inquired whether I had one.

An older Dora the Explorer captures her essence.

Naturally, in that split second I was faced with the dilemma we all face. I had to figure out whether to tell her the awful truth. I mentally assessed my options:

Option 1: “Yeah, my name is @suchandsuch follow me!

Option 2: “No, Twitter is not my thing”

Option 3: “Yes I have a Twitter, but I don’t feel comfortable with you following because my alter-ego will be revealed.”

Option 1 might be the most logical choice for most people. But honestly, us Black Folk reveal our truer selves on social networking sites. We are often “friends” with people we knew in college or “followed” by a cadre of young, black professionals or grad students. Either way, these people tend to be ethnically and culturally similar to ourselves. They speak our language. They like the music we like, and “get” us more than our non-Black colleagues. Many times our coworkers or classmates are of different races. We code-switch, adjust hand gestures, and generally “mask” certain aspects of who we are to facilitate cross cultural interaction . . . and we are good at it.

Option 2 is the easiest way out of the dilemma. We just deny that we have a Twitter and keep it moving feeling safe in knowing that we won’t have to reveal that we do enjoy fried chicken buffets and actually have seen the new Tyler Perry Movie.


This writer in no way endorses anything Tyler Perry has ever or will ever make or star in. He almost ruined that new Star Trek movie for me by being in it for 19 seconds. 

"That's how you feel . . .?"

Yes. That is how I feel.

Option 3 is the most honest and forthright response to the question. But it is the one we least-often choose I think. Drawing our non-Black friends into the “circle of trust” that is Twitter only invites them to peer into a world where Glenn Beck is a douche (the real world as far as I am concerned), words like “nigga” are used as often as glitter is at a GaGa concert, and AAVE abounds. You can imagine the repercussions for your professional persona.

All of a sudden, because your coworkers now follow you, your true feelings about the Kenny G being played in the office are felt. Your hesitance to eat the hummus at the last potluck is explained not by allergies but by the truth. They know that you do listen to Tupac and you really abhor when they use the word “ghetto” to refer to something run-down or urban.

What we have here, my good people, is what I was talking about earlier when I was rambling about superheroes. Many times, our social networking sites, especially Twitter, shows our true selves. The side we show at the office is the neutralized, White-folk-friendly, homogenized, pasteurized, gluten-free, hypoallergenic side. Like Batman and Superman, the side we show at the office is the side we show so that they never catch on. When “Otis” comes on the iPod when we’re in the elevator, we must manage the intensity of our head nod. We put our hands in our pockets so that we might not scare the White Folk with our emphatic clapping. Our locs are kept “neat” and “clean,” facial hair: trimmed. Daps become handshakes and so on ad infinitum.

Bruce Wayne is really an angry badass who wants to beat criminals to a pulp. Clark Kent has the strength of a God but must pretend to have poor vision, be a lame in front of Lois, and stumble around so no one is ever the wiser.

For us, well, we will just have to continue to obscure our secret identities until this country becomes truly tolerant to the various cultural norms that make us proud to be African American.

I will leave it up to you to guess which Option I chose.

Continue to question the world around you.

2 Responses to “My Secret Identity”
  1. PoliBohoGlam says:

    Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)
    We Wear the Mask

    WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
    We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
    We wear the mask!

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