The coronavirus pandemic has created life-and-death dilemmas for people all over the globe — and a particularly devastating one for black men living in America: Wear a mask for protection against COVID-19? Or go without one, simply to lower the risk of being perceived as a criminal?
This specific quandary comes amid some key factors: reports about black people dying of the coronavirus at disproportionately high rates, recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all adults to now wear cloth masks in public, and, taking effect this week, a New York State order that everyone must wear a mask in public if social distancing is not possible.
That all leaves black men, many of whom have grown accustomed to monitoring their appearance so as to not look “threatening” in public, between a rock and a hard place.
“The criminalization of blackness has spread during this pandemic,” Ashton Woods, co-founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Houston, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s disheartening that CDC and our leaders told us that we didn’t need to wear masks in public, only to reverse course without providing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to the general population. Now we have to wear whatever is available to us as the data continues to show that black people are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.”
And adding insult to injury, Woods says, “We have to contend with protecting ourselves while possibly being forced into going the extra mile to explain our intentions for shopping with a face mask on.”
— Charles Lane ⚓️ (@Charles_Lane) April 21, 2020
The dilemma has been getting more and more attention in the press, including locally, such as in Toledo, Ohio, where ABC affiliate WTVG addressed concerns. Activist Willie Knighten said that black men expressed fears of being racially profiled if they were to wear homemade masks in public, explaining, “It has a lot to do with the relationship, or a lack of relationship, that a lot of young black men have with our police department.” Still, said Toledo Police Chief George Kral, “If anyone should be religiously wearing a mask, it’s members of the African-American community. And I encourage that.” He added that officers are expecting to see people in all sorts of masks, and that they go through diversity training.