Black ExperienceStacy M. Brown

Should Black Men Be Afraid to Wear Face Masks?

Aaron Thomas, a Black man who lives in Columbus, Ohio, wrote an eye-opening op-ed in the Boston Globe that likely hit home with many African Americans.

“I’m a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive,” Thomas wrote in the essay that carried the headline, “Why I don’t feel safe wearing a face mask.”

Thomas, who couldn’t be reached by NNPA Newswire for comment, noted that Black men and women in America have been “killed for any and everything. A child with a toy gun, a young girl sleeping in her family home, a man buying an air gun at Walmart. Knowing all that, I just don’t feel safe. Even in a time of pandemic, the discrimination does not stop.”

Thomas added that he would not wear a mask until he’s able to track down one where police and others won’t mistake him for a criminal.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that people wear face masks in public. The guidelines from the CDC say that medical-grade masks should be reserved for health professionals, who are facing a shortage of supplies. The CDC suggests that Americans use T-shirts, scarves, handkerchiefs or any other spare fabric to make homemade masks to protect themselves from the disease.

However, Thomas has declined to adhere to the CDC’s recommendation.

“It’s not that I don’t trust the CDC. What I do not trust is the innate biases and lack of critical thought about the implications of these decisions,” Thomas remunerated.

“I do not trust that I can walk into a grocery store with my face covered and not be disturbed,” he said. “I do not trust that I will not be followed. I do not trust that I will be allowed to exist in my Black skin and be able to buy groceries or other necessities without a confrontation and having to explain my intent and my presence. I do not trust that wearing a make-shift mask will allow me to make it back to my home.”

A March 4, 2020 report by NewsOne noted that 76 Black men and boys had been killed by the police already this year. The report stated that police shootings and killing Black males “is all but a centuries-old American tradition among law enforcement in the U.S.”

With policies around the country such as “stop and frisk,” and “stand your ground,” African Americans have overwhelmingly felt the brunt of race-driven attacks.

In 2012, a young Black man in “a dark hoodie, a gray hoodie” was a “suspicious guy,” according to George Zimmerman, just before he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman acted as the neighborhood watch captain in the community where Trayvon’s father lived.

During a televised interview with Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, Zimmerman said he targeted Trayvon because of the hoodie attire that many young African Americans wore.

Rivera then warned parents not to let their children wear hoodies. He claimed wearing the hoodie sends a sinister signal.

“You cannot rehabilitate the hoodie,” Rivera said. “Stop wearing it.”

In its report, NewsOne noted that shootings of African Americans by those in authority is an apparent rite of passage.

“It is still thriving in 2020 and only seems to be gaining momentum — and not slowing should give any American citizen pause as an increasing number of Black people — especially males both young and old — continue to be added to a growing list of victims with what seems like a new shooting every week,” NewsOne reported.

An April 6 report by the Center for American Progress (CAP) noted that “Inequality is magnified in times of national hardship. Perhaps nowhere is this clearer than in communities of color, which have long endured inequalities across American economic, social, and civic systems.”

Amid this major public health crisis, the compounding effect of existing inequities puts people of color in an increasingly precarious situation, author Connor Maxwell wrote for the CAP.

As federal, state, and local officials consider sweeping initiatives to address the human and economic cost of COVID-19, they must center America’s most vulnerable communities, Maxwell noted.

“It is crucial that lawmakers understand why and how this crisis could disproportionately harm people of color and take steps to mitigate the effects of entrenched structural racism and promote health equity for all,” he said.

For individuals like Thomas, it’s all the more reason he won’t wear a face mask.

“Until I receive a mask, I will get to live out my childhood dream of being on ‘Supermarket Sweep,'” Thomas mused. “And yes, I will attempt to get everything I need into my cart and to the checkout in three minutes or less.”

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