As a Black Man, Here’s Why I’m Afraid to Wear My Mask

Deciding to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19—or not—puts Black people between a rock and a hard place.

Living in America while Black feels like the real-life adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game, a 1932 film about a deranged hunter who arranges for a ship to be wrecked on an island where he plots to pick off passengers one by one. Black people are killed for wearing hoodies, having a cellphone in our hand, accidentally paying with a counterfeit $20 bill, playing video games in our house, sleeping in our bed…and the list literally goes on. And on. And on.

So, who do I look like walking around in public as a six-foot-tall black man with a big afro, a cellphone in my hand, and a mask on my face? I look like a target. I personally try to limit my interactions with the police so that I don’t end up with a number of “warning” shots in my back.

Now, to be fair, I can’t blame police without looking at the history of policing and how it plays into the systemic nature of oppression towards Black people and other people of color in this country. Policing was originally called slave patrol in the late 1600s and early 1700s, which, as the name suggests, was a group whose job was to find, punish, and return runaway slaves, as well as incite terror among slaves among other things.

Fast forward to today, slavery has been traded for the Prison Industrial Complex, and police are still inciting terror and killing my people all the same. I understand the history of policing and the effects of policing, so, again, I personally won’t be subjecting myself to more interactions with them if I can help it. These 15 books can help you understand more about racism in America.

Location matters

I’m a director/actor/musician originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia, but I recently relocated to Austin, Texas to pursue a directing degree at UT-Austin. Interestingly enough, I felt the most discriminated against when I was briefly located in Maine for undergrad at Colby College. I think this is because in the south, for better or for worse, you tend to know where you stand with everyone. In Maine (and I believe the north in general), things will seem fine and safe until its 4 a.m. and you’re at a gas station filling up before a road trip and the store employee yells at you from inside the store, “your kind isn’t welcome here…leave!” In the south, I would have just known places to avoid. This is just one example of the everyday acts of racism that don’t get talked about enough.

Discrimination is alive and well

When you’re on a movie date at the local movie theater and the same employee who took your money for your ticket, questions if you have paid and asserts that you snuck into the movies. (I’m saying your, but this is a real experience that I had living in Maine.) And, my date and I were the only two people there for the movie (the employee even had the nerve to say that there were only two people registered for the movie….yeah it was us), and his accusations happened not even five minutes after he took my money for the tickets in the first place.

Imagine if I were wearing a mask while all that was going on…

Flash forward to today…

I shouldn’t have to think “Oh, I should wear really bright colors, so I look like less of a threat, so I’m in turn safer-looking even if I’m wearing a mask.” Really, deciding to wear a mask or not kind of puts Black people (and POC at large) between two almost impossible situations. I understand that there are people who are terrified of catching COVID-19, and that makes total sense! I have a compromised immune system myself, so I truly get it. But I’m also of the mindset that I will have a better chance of recovering from coronavirus than a gunshot.

It is in my best interest to not have any more dealings with police officers than I need to, so when the mask mandates in Texas came out I definitely got a few masks and would wear one on the rare times I left my house. Although, I can’t say I would be too surprised by being approached by the police just because of the Black body that I live in. I don’t think there is a specific situation where I feel totally safe wearing a mask, but I do so anyway because if I do contract the virus and don’t know, I don’t want to spread it to anybody. I have to be hyperaware of my actions as a Black man and just as aware of what the consequences may be. But, it shouldn’t be like this.

Next, read on to learn 14 small ways you can fight racism every day.

For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].

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