Mask Protection, But Not While Black

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Apr 10, 2020

As if the fear of COVID-19 itself weren’t enough, Black people are reporting that they are afraid to wear masks in public, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggestsand several news outlets are reporting (see: The Root, CNN and NBC News).

“The CDC coming to you and saying ‘put a bandana over your face, walk out and that will make you more safe,’ as a black man in New York City, it’s like them saying put on a hoodie and walk behind a white grandma. That’s not how life works for us,” comedy writer Greg Iwinski told NBC News in an article published April 9. “I already have people crossing the street to avoid me when I’m wearing my Warby Parker glasses and I sound like this. I’m very white-comfortable and even I’m thinking about: ‘Oh, am I wearing all red? Am I wearing all blue?”

And it’s not just Black men who are mindful of outward perception. Che Johnson-Long, who works for the Racial Justice Action Center in Atlanta, told CNN that her awareness of her Blackness is always with her. "I will be wearing a mask because it can protect other people from what I may potentially have," Johnson-Long told CNN. "But what I will also do while wearing a mask is all the things that I’m already doing as a Black person in Atlanta. I will text people before I leave the house so that someone knows where I am. I’ll make sure to travel with someone that I know or to let someone know when I get back home.

While coronavirus cases rise exponentially for Black Americans and health officials have started to call for data on race, two young Black men in Wood River, Illinois, reported being accosted by law enforcement and then kicked out of a Walmart for wearing protective masks, the Telegraph reported on April 7. Watch the video below, courtesy of Jermon Best/Halo Dale, who shot the video: