Masks have captured the global consciousness as images of nations fighting COVID-19 ricochet around the world.
But in the U.S. the mask has come to symbolize partisan fissures and ultimately injustice as Americans fill the streets mid-pandemic to protest systemic inequality.
Images earlier this month of Democratic lawmakers wearing masks contrasted starklywith bare Republican faces. Now, in ubiquitous images of demonstrations sweeping the globe, viewers see masks emblazoned with phrases like “Won’t Be Silent” and “I Can’t Breathe.” Their placement makes them especially potent canvasses.
But for Black men in America, wearing a mask can be fraught.
Many Black men are more concerned about being singled out by police for wearing a mask than contracting coronavirus. A Florida physician who was helping test homeless individuals for coronavirus was recently arrested in his front yard while wearing a mask.
At the same time, seven police officers pulled a Philadelphia man off a bus for not wearing one.
Health experts like UCLA’s Vickie Mays, who has been tracking harassment of Black men wearing masks, are advising them to wear “non-threatening” masks with bright colors or patterns for their safety.