People of colour are worried they will be racially profiled if they wear homemade face masks

Kena Betancur/Getty ImagesA man wears a double mask as he walks in Times Square on April 6, 2020 in New York City.
  • Activists and academics have voiced concerns over the CDC’s recommendation to wear homemade face masks as protection against the novel coronavirus.
  • They worry that people of colour wearing cloth or bandanas as masks will subject them to racial profiling.
  • US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told CNN that he’s working with the NAACP and other advocacy groups representing people of colour to address these concerns.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Activists and academics fear that people of colour will be racially profiled if they wear homemade face masks in light of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation to make masks from cloth or bandanas when medical-grade masks are unavailable.

“We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of black men in general,” Trevon Logan, an economics professor at Ohio State University who won’t following the CDC’s recommendation, said in an interview with CNN. “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.”

“This is in the larger context of black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on,” Logan said. “It looks like almost every criminal sketch of any garden-variety black suspect.”

In an op-ed in the Boston Globe and tweets covering the same issue, educator Aaron Thomas, from Columbus Ohio, said he feared even wearing a homemade mask to the grocery store.

“I do not trust that I can walk into a grocery store with my face covered and not be disturbed. I do not trust that I will not be followed,” he wrote for the Boston Globe. “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.”

And it’s not only makeshift masks causing anxieties among people of colour. On March 18 two black men in Wood River, Illinois, said they were escorted out of a Walmart for wearing surgical masks.

Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells told The Telegraph that the incident happened before the majority of people were wearing surgical masks.

Cyntoria Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University, told CNN that bandanas – which many people are using as face masks to protect themselves amid the coronavirus – are largely associated with gangs, and thus adds another layer of concern for people of colour.

ReNika Moore, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program called the decision to wear a bandana for protection a “lose-lose situation” for people of colour.

“Not wearing a protective bandana goes against CDC recommendations and increases the risk of contracting Covid-19, but wearing one could mean putting their lives at risk of getting shot or killed because of racially-biased targeting,” she said.

The concerns around face masks come after government data showed that African Americans seem to be dying of the coronavirus at higher rates.

According to the latest figures, black people make up 39% (1,824) of deaths in Chicago, 42% (129) in Illinois as a whole, 40% (298) in Michigan, and 81% (22) in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee County.

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams on Tuesday told “CBS This Morning” “many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID.”

“That’s why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread,” he said.

Adams told CNN that he’s working with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and other groups for people of colour to address concerns about racial profiling and wearing face masks.

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