Don’t Play the Mask Shame Game
Even though it feels good
The ferocious surge in new coronavirus cases across the United States has thrust the importance of mask-wearing back into the spotlight. States, counties, and cities have made masks mandatory again. Doing so has increased tensions between those who support mask-wearing and those who don’t.
It isn’t correct to frame the question of whether we should be wearing masks as a debate because there’s no question that masks work. The question we’re actually debating is whether people should have to wear masks. The controversy is ideological, not scientific, and that’s why it’s so hard to manage. It doesn’t matter that masks are scientifically proven to be protective if some “knucklehead” (New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s words, not mine), or the president, has decided that wearing a mask is just “not for me.”
Many factors underpin this divide, including the argument that mask mandates violate civil liberty and the perverse idea that wearing a mask is emasculating. Some people who don’t agree with these arguments have taken to “mask-shaming” — publicly humiliating people for their belief that they don’t have to wear a mask. While it’s clear that mask-wearing should be enforced to curb the spread of Covid-19, experts caution that doing so by shaming people may actually be counterproductive.
Last week, a video of a California woman who freaked out at Trader Joe’s staff after she was confronted for not wearing a mask went viral on Twitter. “These cult members are insane,” read one reply. Yesterday, the mayor of Houston, Texas announced a public “wall of shame” listing bars and restaurants that don’t comply with social distancing guidelines. In response to videos of unmasked crowds at Jersey Shore bars, Gov. Murphy said: “We all want to be out. But there’s no reason to be a knucklehead.” Mask shaming has become so divisive that in North Carolina, some restaurants have posted signs advertising a “no mask-shaming” policy. On the flip side, California taco chain Hugo’s Tacos has become so fed up with customers harassing its employees for wearing masks that it has shut down to give employees a break.
When we get made fun of, we react defensively. And that’s the concern with mask-shaming: Rather than encouraging people to change their minds…