Does the coronavirus care?
The debate over the effectiveness of masks and whether the government should be forcing people to wear them has raged for weeks. The extremes on the two sides are either sure that non-mask wearers are going to kill everybody’s grandma or that the masks are a tool of government control aimed to curb every freedom in ‘Merica.
One Oregon county, apparently not content with the standard screaming matches over requiring face masks, decided to officially insert another divisive topic into the debate: race.
What did they do?
Lincoln County, which is on Oregon’s north-central coastline, declared last week that everyone has to wear a mask — except non-white people who are nervous about being harassed because they’re wearing a face mask.
The directive, dated June 16, from the Lincoln County Public Health Administrator and Lincoln County Health Officer orders “all individuals” in the county to wear masks at all indoor public settings and any outdoor public settings where they can’t keep at least six feet from other people not from their household.
The directive makes the usual exceptions for children and people with health conditions or disabilities. And then it adds one more exception: “People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public.”
Why the exception?
A CNN report from April offers some help: Many black leaders and ordinary citizens are concerned about possible racial profiling when it comes to wearing masks.
Ohio State University professor Trevon Logan told CNN, “We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general. And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that … can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to black men.”
“[Wearing a homemade mask] seems like a reasonable response unless you just sort of take American society out of it. When you can’t do that, you’re basically telling people to look dangerous given racial stereotypes that are out there,” Logan added. “This is in the larger context of black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on. It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is also concerned. After the Centers for Disease Control issued guidance on masks along with a video of U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, who is black, showing how to make a mask out of a bandana, shirt, or scarf, the ACLU said the government isn’t taking minorities into account with its guidance.
ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young said the CDC’s information and video on masks is nothing more than “racial insensitivity.”
ReNika Moore, who heads up the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program said, “For many black people, deciding whether or not to wear a bandana in public to protect themselves and others from contracting coronavirus is a lose-lose situation that can result in life-threatening consequences either way,” CNN reported.
“Not wearing a protective bandana goes against CDC recommendations and increases the risk of contracting COVID-19, but wearing one could mean putting their lives at risk of getting shot or killed because of racially-biased targeting,” she added.
After complaints from minority groups rolled in, Dr. Adams sent a statement to CNN, saying:
Health equity, and the complex interactions between race and health, have always been an area of emphasis for my office. I understand the concerns communities of color would have about being racially profiled, and am working with the NAACP, the NMA, and other organizations representing people of color to ensure no one is unduly harmed by COVID-19, or our response to it.”
Is the mask order enforceable?
For Lincoln County, this may all be a rhetorical exercise anyway — one that has appeared to only exacerbate the mask fight.
Near the end of the directive, the county officials say the “directive is self-executing” and that there will be no repercussions for not following the order to wear masks.
It is designed simply to “induce voluntary compliance” and notes that “no person shall intimidate or harass individuals who do not comply.”
Author: Chris Field