African Americans and Esther
The book of Esther provides a deep explanation that dissimulation is a legitimate technique by which a marginalized population can gain access to political power. Steed Vernyl Davidson suggests that dissimulation can be defined as concealing cultural identity in order to rise to political power. When Esther concealed her identity in Esther 2:10, she in essence unlocked her future. She was able to thwart the extermination of the Jews by Haman, and at the end of the book was heralded as influential within society. Esther essentially gained access to power by hiding her identity.
Many African Americans over time have used this concept of dissimulation to gain access to White American political power. Based upon my experience as an African American male, America constantly presents barriers and obstacles that make it difficult for African Americans to advance. Furthermore, concealment is often necessary for cultural survival because it eases those oppressive barriers.
Many marginalized individuals deem that the social system is not designed for the minority to gain political power. To some degree that is accurate because there seems to be this notion of the “richer getting richer and the poorer getting poorer.” Even though a marginalized person has access to education and various resources, there has to be some level of dissimulation to fit into a societal mode of success and power.
In the book of Esther, it was imperative for Esther to conceal her identity in order to advance and survive in society. In both the African American community as well as the book of Esther, political power and influence is not an easy concept. For example, if Esther maintained good work and optimism as a minority in Persia, the Jews may have ultimately been killed by the decree of Haman. However, it was their strategic mindset that allowed them to conceal their Jewish identity in order to avert death and ultimately gain access to political power within the royal court. It could also be suggested that Mordecai believed that the Persian Empire political system was designed to keep provinces, especially those populated by Jews, from advancing in power.
The book of Esther provides an important concept of identity that can be delineated in other social realms. Through my cultural experience as an African American male, I am able to see convergence between the rise to power in Esther as well as my own community. Some African Americans are constantly hiding their “trueness” or “blackness” in order to fit into the larger mold of society. One could suggest that dissimulation is similar to W.E.B. Dubois’ notion of double consciousness because both ideas wrestle with dualism of identity. Like Esther, African Americans who dissimulate into power have to deal with keeping their “trueness” as well as adapting to a different cultural framework. Several African Americans conceal certain aspects of their cultural identity in order to gain status and acceptance in certain power structures. I suggest that this concept of dissimulation is a means to gain power, but it is essential that an individual maintains their “trueness.” It is vital to always remember who you are regardless of your achieved level of status.
Lawrence is a second-year MDiv student at Candler and a student ambassador. He is a licensed minister in the American Baptist Churches (USA) and has served as a youth pastor for several years. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Artwork: “Queen Esther Revealing Her True Identity,” mosaic by Canadian artist Lilian Broca.