Be Aware of the Masks You Wear

Masks have become an essential part of life these days. From grocery stores to workplaces, most of us are wearing masks whenever we’re around others (if you’re not, please do!).

But of course, there are different kinds of masks, and we have all been wearing masks throughout our life, whether we realize it or not. We present ourselves differently in different situations, and around different people; not just in how we choose to dress, but in how we act, and how we speak. Language you feel comfortable using at home you may not feel comfortable using in the workplace. So you “code switch” to be understood and respected. Pieces of your identity that feel key to who you are you might choose to keep secret around colleagues, or even around family members. So you “mask” who you are, and pretend to be someone you’re not in order to fit in. In a culture that is built around a historically-white majority and treats white people as the norm, people of color have experienced code switching and masking a painfully necessary part of life (the movie Sorry To Bother You explores this with the Black main character finding success using his “White voice“). And similarly, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other marginalized groups find that they are accepted more when code switching and masking. But of course, these come with a cost; a dismantling and even a loss of respect for our own true identity. When we hide what makes us unique, rather than expressing it, we are ultimately only suppressing ourselves and reinforcing the absurd idea that the straight, white male is the ideal, which robs us of the enormous contributions others can make to what’s possible for our teams.

This Week’s Tip:

Take some time to reflect on code switching and masking in your own life. How do you act differently, and speak differently, in different situations. Then take a small step this week. In a situation where you would usually keep quiet about some aspect of your identity, speak up, and take a risk. Maybe it’s telling someone something they don’t know about you. Let people get to know you a little more in a way that respects everyone’s unique identity. Doing that at work will open up space for others to do the same. 

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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