“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...”
-from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”
Life is not easy, nor fair. There is beauty and pain in that truth. The beauty in this statement is that overcoming lack of ease and injustice develops an armor of strength and refinement. The pain lies in the revelation that the same armor can entrap our inner turmoil, leaving many of us to suffer in silence.
I am sorry that I never heard of Karyn Washington before reading about her suicide. I regret not knowing about her uplifting blog and foundation, For Brown Girls, or The Dark Skin, Red Lip Project that she created to fight back against colorism within our race. She was a phenomenal activist. Yet with all of the strides she was making in championing thousands of women to love themselves, at the promising age of 22, death became her only resort to put an end to her emotional pain. From what has been disclosed, she lost her mother after a five year battle with cancer back in September of last year, and suffered with bouts of depression. These factors alone would drive someone over the edge.
The common thread I am certain Karyn, myself and most black women share is our ability to shoulder the burdens of life with an air of grace and determination, all the while never sending out distress signals that sometimes we are in full blown crisis. Crises in our love lives, motherhood, careers, financial obligations, racism, sexism, and the bombardment of messages implying that we aren’t good enough weigh us down. Many of us are seen as strong, and though most times it’s true, the stressors of life have many of us on the brink of sharing Karyn’s fate if we don’t relent .
Several years ago, I went through a devastating divorce that left me broken. Outside of God’s compassion, if it weren’t for my family and friends intervening, I would have contemplated ending it all. The best thing for me was to stop lying to myself and others. Stop creating facades that all was right with the world when it wasn’t. When someone asks the simple question, “How are you?”, the better you know them…the more honest your response should be. If someone offers their shoulder, drop your pride and use it. Seek treatment and therapy if you can’t find your way out of a dark hole. We have to erase the stigma of weakness, shame and a lack of spiritual faith attached to depression and other mental illnesses. Rainbows won’t always be enough, but we can’t stand to lose anymore brown girls like Karyn Washington.
Tanya Tatum is the opinionated host of “The Tatum Talks,” a live Blog Talk Radio show focusing on African-American interests. Feel free to join in on the weekly madness every Wednesday night from 9-10p EST at www.blogtalkradio.com/thetatumtalks and daily at www.facebook.com/thetatumtalks. Follow her @TheTatumTalks on Twitter.