"Minstrel Man" is an extraordinarily poignant poem about the pain that can be hidden behind a smile. Minstrel men were popular performers in the 1900's, and generally performed in Blackface. These minstrel shows were also called "Blackface Tradition".
Blackface was a popular performance tradition for nearly 100 years in the United States and Britain, beginning around 1830. Unfortunately, Blackface proliferated racist images and social perception worldwide which is wholely unacceptable, but this exquisite poem stands alone as a universal expression of masked pain.
Minstrel Man, by Langston Hughes
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
My mother has always been an example of reaching out to people who are suffering, even if they put on a happy face. Somehow she has a sixth-sense and knows when to call a person at the moment they need it, or when to put an arm around someone who needs tender loving care in that instant, even if they are a stranger to her.
I hope we can become more aware of the people around us who are silently suffering. I was just reading, "What you see on the outside does not always reflect what is happening on the inside. A smile does not necessarily express happiness or pleasure. Sometimes a smile is a mask used to hide the pain within." (Bridget R. Cooks, Ph.D., untitled essay referencing "Minstrel Man").
Let's try to forget ourselves a little today and look at the people around us. We may be surprised by what we notice and how we have the power to help someone ~ even with just a smile.
If you are hurting, I pray that someone you know, or even a passing stranger, will sense what is behind your smile and offer you the kind word, the gentle touch or the hug that you need. You are lovable and deserving of every good thing.
[a Dr. Cook wrote an essay about this poem, if you would like to study it more].