Telling Us to ‘Tip Our Mask’ Is Racist
We are living in a world where Black people in masks are racially profiled, but Whites with guns are not
By now you have seen the images of heavily armed, angry White mobs storming government buildings around the country. Their overly dramatic handwritten signs are printed with sayings like “Give me liberty or give me death,” “Down with fascism,” and “Sacrifice the weak.” Despite the content of their messaging, what they are really protesting is their own health and wellness, while also flaunting their White privilege. Aside from the stupidity that involves leaving their homes decked out in American flags to protest an invisible virus that has killed tens of thousands in just two months, their brazen contempt for authority is infuriating. What’s becoming evident during this global pandemic are the stark differences between why different communities in this country protest and how each is treated by authorities.
When White people protest in the United States, they come armed as if they are extras in the movie Platoon. As of late, we have seen them dressed head to toe in what resembles military garb, complete with ammunition, AR-15s, and gas masks that obscure their entire faces. The goal here, it seems, is to not only intimidate but also showcase their White privilege as the protesters walk up to police officers and scream in their faces while slinging their weapons over their shoulders. They are so completely secure in the currency of their Whiteness that they know the likelihood being jailed, let alone shot, is damn near nonexistent.
When White folks here protest en masse, it is almost always tied to what they believe is their right to harm and oppress others. Think about it. Anti-choice protests are about the right to control another person’s body; pro-gun protests are the right to inflict harm and fear in others no matter the number of mass shootings; the White supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, was about the right to spread hate and stoke fear. Today, the Covid-19 protests are about the right to spread a deadly virus and kill off vulnerable populations. Liberty for White people isn’t about freedom from oppression—it’s about the freedom to oppress.
We have watched as this president celebrates White terrorism by referring to both the Nazis in Charlottesville and the angry White mobs protesting stay-at-home orders as “good people.” Yet, if you recall when former NFL player Colin Kaepernick was peacefully taking a knee to protest police brutality, Trump called him “a son of a bitch.” Fox News has also done its best to stoke racial animus by painting Black people who protest against White supremacy and police brutality as unpatriotic, while lifting up the “rights” of White terrorists.
It’s no wonder now, as we begin to adopt the new normal, that Black people are the most likely to be hit hard by the coronavirus, but we are also the most likely to be racially profiled for wearing government-mandated face coverings to protect us from said virus. Why? Because in America, armed White people in masks are considered good patriots, while unarmed Black people in masks are perceived as a threat.
Just recently, a series of actions was taken by both legislators and activists around the country to protect Black people from police brutality and harassment for wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) in public. Senator Kamala Harris and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to both Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray urging them to provide anti-bias training for law enforcement in the midst of the global pandemic to ensure the safety of Black people wearing masks in public. This action was necessary because in early April, two Black men were recorded being escorted out of a Walmart by police for wearing protective masks inside the store. That same month, a Black doctor in Florida who was treating homeless people was handcuffed because police thought he looked suspicious in his PPE.
This group is urging people to pull their mask down slightly so business owners can see their face and ease their mind that the person is wearing the mask as a point of protection, not as a criminal.
Some municipalities are also taking actions, but I wonder if the new approach isn’t just as bad as being profiled in the first place. In Illinois, a local group called the Village of a Thousand Elders, in coordination with local police departments, started a campaign called “tip your mask.” This group is urging people to pull their mask down slightly so business owners can see their face and ease their mind that the person is wearing the mask as a point of protection, not as a criminal.
In theory, this seems harmless enough, but the fact that a Black patron must do this and risk making contact with droplets hanging in the air places this community at risk while doing nothing to deal with the bias that is leading to this action to begin with. A recent New York Times op-ed titled “For Black Men, Fear That Masks Will Invite Racial Profiling” tells the stories of several Black men who are scared to leave their homes — not because of the virus, but because of CDC mask guidelines.
The coronavirus has disrupted our lives in so many real and tangible ways, but it has also exacerbated differences between White and Black America. This is the tale of two separate and extremely unequal Americas. While most of the country remains on pause as we figure out how to live with the threat of the coronavirus, we should take this opportunity to figure out how to eliminate the consistent and persistent virus of racism and injustice as well.