The Additional Coronavirus Risk Faced by Black and Asian Americans
Fear of discrimination makes mask-wearing a fraught choice
There’s no question that wearing a mask can prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Experts have been saying it for months. Today, finally, even notoriously mask-ambivalent President Trump changed his tone and said he’s “all for masks,” likening his own masked reflection to the Lone Ranger.
But unfortunately, a wealth of data and a late co-sign from the White House doesn’t mean masks are becoming mandatory everywhere, which is sorely needed as cases skyrocket in 38 states. Many policymakers and citizens continue to view mask-wearing as a choice, rather than a matter of personal and civic responsibility. This has opened up new opportunities for discrimination against people who choose to wear one.
The greatest burden of this discrimination has fallen on Black and Asian Americans, suggest the results of a Pew Research Center survey released yesterday. The survey, which involved about 9,600 participants, was meant to investigate American’s experiences and opinions about racial and ethnic discrimination during the pandemic. Among its many eye-opening findings, one of the most concerning is that 42% of Black Americans and 36% of Asian Americans surveyed said they worry a “great deal” about other people being suspicious of them if they wear a mask. Twenty-three percent of Hispanic adults and 5% of white adults feel the same way. The survey also found that about 40% of Black and Asian adults have felt as though people have acted like they were uncomfortable around them because of their race or ethnicity.
Their feelings are rooted in the wave of racist events that have destabilized this country. A recent controversy in Oregon, for example, illustrates all too well the effect of racism on mask-wearing and policy: In mid-June, Lincoln County commissioners issued a mandate to wear masks, with an exemption for “People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public.” But due to heated racist backlash against the exemption, the county removed it a week later.
Black Americans and Asian Americans have dealt with especially unique circumstances over the past few…