Wearing a mask to protect yourself during the Coronavirus-19 pandemic can protect you from disease, but the sad truth is, those masks can’t protect you from racism.
The CDC’s guidance on wearing masks outside comes with an added burden for minorities. If you’re a person of color, you can’t just wear a mask.
Many people of color, particularly Black men, had grown accustomed, well before the coronavirus outbreak, to adjusting the way they present themselves in public so they don’t appear threatening to law enforcement or their white peers.
Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent guidance that all Americans should wear “cloth face coverings” outside to curb the spread of COVID-19, came with added considerations and fears that makeshift masks, especially bandanas, could intensify already widespread racial profiling in communities of color.
From walking with their pets and children, to only wearing medical masks, to forgoing masks all together, Black Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the global pandemic and others, are taking precautions to ensure that following the CDC’s recommendation doesn’t put them at further risk.
According to Mark Anthony Neal, chair of the department of African and African American studies at Duke University, bandanas have historically been associated with violence against people of color and wearing certain colors “in the wrong context” has gotten people killed.
These fears about wearing homemade masks come as government data shows the outbreak is more concentrated in major US metropolitan areas, like New York City and in the Southeast, where greater percentages of African Americans and Latinos live.
Anxiety about mask-wearing is yet another factor complicating COVID-19’s already devastating impact in America’s Black communities. The lopsided death toll is likely due to longstanding healthcare inequalities, higher population density and other factors that have made Black and other minority communities more vulnerable to the outbreak. The pattern that we’re observing with COVID-19 is not surprising. The degree of the difference is great concern.
While many American cities remain under varying states of lockdown, the time will eventually come for a gradual return to normal. Some people are worried that, if mask-wearing remains part of everyday life, it could result in a spike in racially-motivated incidents as more people are out together in public again.