Black people across the country are balking at a new recommendation from the CDC urging people to wear face coverings when they go outside, noting the long history of being attacked, arrested and killed for simply being perceived as dangerous.
While some online have joked about white newscasters hilariously demonstrating how to make face coverings with bandanas that resemble gang regalia, the issue is now having serious implications since the CDC issued the new recommendation.
In an interview with CNN, Ohio State University economics professor Trevon Logan said the Black community has "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."
People have taken to social media to discuss the issue, highlighting how just the act of wearing certain clothing can get Black people killed because of racist assumptions.
I was just saying this the other day….exactly why I ain’t doing it unless I find a real mask. Any excuse will do to racial profile or kill a black man…I’m not giving you a reason https://t.co/9qTpZ8AXpt
— KJ (@Kjdakidd84) April 7, 2020
I get it. The other night I was out getting medicine for my sister-in-law. I was wearing a black mask that wasn’t even homemade and ended up in a car chase. https://t.co/570UyoEsaX
— Manases ???????????? (@JogaManases) April 7, 2020
I am a black man in America. Entering a shop with a coronavirus face mask might get me killed
I trust the CDC’s guidance. But my fear of being mistaken for an armed robber is greater than my fear of coronavirus, writes Aaron Thomas https://t.co/5enUzwrgGi
— Socialist Voice ???? (@SocialistVoice) April 7, 2020
If you think “just wear a mask outside” is simple for Black folks, you haven’t been paying attention. https://t.co/LOosFvm6jf
— Phillip Atiba Goff (@DrPhilGoff) April 7, 2020
Any other BIPOCs afraid of fashioning a bandana as a face mask outside for fear of your life?
The dominant culture already portrays black/brown bodies as criminal/violent/threatening. Add a bandana over the face and that just makes targets of us when we simply want to stay alive
— The Nasiona (@TheNasiona) April 7, 2020
Remember the hoodie issue. Now, the mask. They always think black people are going to rob the place.
— Brother tyrone X (@tyrone_brother) March 26, 2020
I don’t feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn’t CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive.
— Aaron Thomas (@Aaron_TheThomas) April 4, 2020
So until I get a proper and official face mask ima have to run the grocery store like it’s 1993 and I’m on Supermarket Sweep ????????♂️
— Aaron Thomas (@Aaron_TheThomas) April 4, 2020
Believe me, I am muslim and that was our immediate reaction as a community. If we cover our faces it's a crime, if black people cover their faces they're a threat, but white people get to do it and be good citizens.
— Remy (@Exillior) April 5, 2020
Thousands of comments under Aaron Thomas' post echoed his concerns about wearing masks as a Black person.
In a follow-up op-ed for the Boston Globe, Thomas eloquently explained his fears around wearing a mask outside.
"On Saturday I thought about the errands I need to make this week, including a trip to the grocery store. I thought I could use one of my old bandanas as a mask. But then my voice of self-protection reminded me that I, a Black man, cannot walk into a store with a bandana covering the greater part of my face if I also expect to walk out of that store," he wrote.
"The situation isn’t safe and could lead to unintended attention, and ultimately a life-or-death situation for me. For me, the fear of being mistaken for an armed robber or assailant is greater than the fear of contracting COVID-19," he added.
He went on to say that he does not trust that he can walk into a grocery store with his face covered and not be accosted by white people.
"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," he said.
Unfortunately, these fears have already been confirmed by real-life incidents.
Jermon Best and Diangelo Jackson were wearing masks while walking through a Walmart in Illinois on March 18 when a Wood River Police Department officer demanded they take off their masks before following them as they left out.
Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells said in an interview with The Telegraph that it was "one error" by the police officer and that the officer "was mistaken when it came to the store’s policy prohibiting mask.”
“I don’t know this guy personally. We just want to shine some light because this happens so often. I don’t know if he was having a bad day. I’ve never said that the guy was racist. All I’m saying is that his actions were suspect,” Best told The Telegraph.
Che Johnson-Long, an employee with the Racial Justice Action Center in Atlanta, told CNN that she was forced to go out of her way to say hi to people and travel with others to keep herself safe. In addition to those measures, she said she would always notify others when she was going out and "do all the things I would do if I was afraid of being stopped by the police anyways."
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams released a video on face coverings and said in a statement to CNN that he was aware of the issues Black people may face when having to wear masks outside.
"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," Adams said.