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Character Clearinghouse

Florida State University

The Art of Unmasking

Reviewed by LaToya Eaves, Middle Tennessee State University

The art of unmasking: Peeling back the layers to maximize personal and professional an audiobook tool by Dr. Atira Charles, Assistant Professor of Management at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida. The Art of Unmasking operates as a guided journey towards understanding and managing identities to live authentic lives. Charles is the creator of The Mask Project, an initiative to support the professional and personal success of women of color. Charles collects mixed media narratives that comprise a storytelling vehicle for the psychological, emotional, and physical stresses in the lives of women of color. Charles has adopted the metaphors of “masking” and “unmasking” in order to describe and assess the multiplicity of identities that one person can inhabit. The idea of unmasking is inspired by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”, a post-Reconstruction era poem that uses the metaphor of masking as a means of survival for Black Americans.

The ideas that are communicated in this audiobook connect to key questions, itemized on Charles’ website as follows:

  • Have you ever struggled with presenting your authentic self at work?
  • Have you ever felt like you have to wear a set of masks in order to navigate your personal and professional lives?
  • Has the performance of different selves weighed on you emotionally, psychologically, and/or physically?
  • Are you interested in sharing your experiences with other successful women of color?
  • Would you like to participate in a national initiative to highlight the identity narratives of successful women of color? (original emphasis, retrieved from

The_Mask_ProjectThe Art of Unmasking is divided into twelve tracks on a compact disc. Each track is thematically separate and focus on different aspects in the “unmasking” journey The tracks encompass a linearity of listening although each one can be referred back to as necessary. Some are grouped here for similarities in the progression of the book. The first track, “The Dilemma of Unmasking”, provides an introductory invocation into examining the self and identities. The second track, “The Inspiration”, is Charles’ reciting the words of Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask”. Tracks three and four – “The Meaning of Identity” and “The Two-Sides of the Mask” provide background information for self-assessment on our identities and the multiplicities of meanings behind them. Tracks six through eight, entitled “The Conflict of Multiple Identities”, “The Psychology”, and “The Barriers to Unmasking” respectively, provide empirically-informed and subjectively-based analysis and guidance through the psychological, emotional, and physical perspectives that balancing multiple identities can bring. The four tracks that complete the audiobook – “The Pathways to Unmasking”, “The Solution”, “The Strategies”, and “The Mantra” – are designed to equip the listener with tools for success, affirming the need to make choices along the path of self-discovery and identity management.

Charles’ work is useful for the moral development of college students in multiple ways. Primarily, the ways that students enter college and navigate their identities and self-development varies and can be physically and emotionally taxing. Charles asserts the following question in the audiobook: “How do I begin to think about the masks and identities that I wear in a way that allows me to authentically and effectively navigate my personal and professional life?” She encourages the listener to ponder this question regularly. This is particularly important as identity management can be more cyclical than linear, meaning that the reflection is important for students to engage and discover themselves alongside academic and social life on campuses. Charles points out that it is important to balance who we think we are, who we want to be, and what our social circles believe us to be. By promoting a meditative and self-reflexive practice, students can achieve a more holistic and balanced understanding of themselves and their communities.



About the Character Clearinghouse

Character Clearinghouse is an online center of information about research, curricula, and practices relating to the moral development of college students and features resources such as program descriptions, interviews, and other types of articles. […] Find out more »