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For black men, wearing a mask means opening oneself up to the danger of being seen as a threat

Coronavirus is a legitimate clear and present danger to all of us. It has upended our lives in such profound ways that we now think of the world as before and after COVID-19. In the “after” world, we’re familiar with the ways we can protect ourselves and each other. We need to wash our hands often, practice social distancing, and wear masks.

But in some ways, the world before coronavirus hasn’t changed. We still live in a world where wearing a mask in public is different if you are a black man in America.

If you’re a black man in America, wearing a mask in public isn’t so simple. It’s not as easy as protecting myself and others from a virus. I open myself up to a new danger: the danger that I may be seen as a threat, because I am a black man in America.

Mask seen differently

When I wear a mask, some people don’t see a husband, a father, or a man trying to protect his neighbors. They don’t see my mask is a sign of safety and assurance. It doesn’t matter where I go, even just grocery shopping for my family. I am still a black man in America.

I grew up in a happy and supportive African-American neighborhood in Cincinnati. Things changed dramatically for me once I left home. I was frequently pulled over for “driving while black,” and was once interrogated by police for hours after being falsely accused of assaulting someone in my apartment complex.

Now, over 20 years later, I’m a successful attorney, small business owner, and candidate for Congress in Minnesota running against Rep. Ilhan Omar. I’m all too aware that regardless of what I might accomplish in life, some will still only see me as a threat.

Antone Melton-Meaux
Antone Melton-Meaux
Based on what I’ve experienced, I understand why so many black men aren’t wearing masks — because for too many black men, the choices are to risk spreading coronavirus or risk being racially profiled, putting their lives at risk. Because according to a new study conducted by Rutgers University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Michigan, in America today, black men are 150% more likely to be killed by police than Caucasian men.

It shouldn’t be this way, but it is

All of this was running through my mind as I stood in our bathroom for 10 minutes with the mask on, deciding whether to wear it. In the end, I wore the mask. Wherever I’m in public, I’m watchful for the looks of suspicion, and I feel my own fear in these moments. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. We must acknowledge in 2020, black men in America are still assumed to be dangerous.

But coronavirus is a real danger. It’s an equal opportunity killer, especially for low-income people and communities of color who are contracting and dying from the virus at a disproportionately higher rate. According to data compiled by APM Research Lab, black people specifically are 2.4 times more likely to die from coronavirus than expected based on population.

So I’m asking my fellow black men to wear your masks. You’ll be protecting your family and everyone around you. As for everyone else, I’m asking that you check your biases and assume that anyone wearing a mask is doing it for the same reason you are.

Antone Melton-Meaux is an attorney, mediator and progressive Democrat. He is running against Rep. Ilhan Omar in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 05/19/2020 - 09:07 am.

    So did the author stop and ask white folks if they thought he was a bank robber when he was Wearing a mask or just assume? Telling other people what they are thinking is so presumptuous. I’m not sure Antone Melon-Meaux, being an “attorney, mediator and progressive Democrat” has special powers to know what other people are thinking?
    Wear the mask or not, I don’t care, that is your choice. Speaking only for myself, I assume everyone (no matter skin color) wearing a mask feels they are protecting themselves or others. I also think wearing a mask outside and breathing back in in CO2 you just exhaled, making your body more acidic and vulnerable to disease, is silly…. But that is just me. This is still America, do what you feel is best for you.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 05/19/2020 - 10:21 am.

      Mr. Melton-Meaux has submitted his own voice to Minnpost, and shared his very personal experience. As a person who has two family members of color, I am sensitive to the disrespect and outright violence against our fellow citizens by bullies and bigots– some of whom are law enforcement connected.

      Antoine says, “Based on what I’ve experienced, I understand why so many black men aren’t wearing masks — because for too many black men, the choices are to risk spreading coronavirus or risk being racially profiled, putting their lives at risk. Because according to a new study conducted by Rutgers University, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Michigan, in America today, black men are 150% more likely to be killed by police than Caucasian men.”

      So, Mr. Smith, he has provided the reason he is senstive to how he is perceived in public, as a matter perhaps of simple self-awareness.

      Your response seems to disregard his point, and why a mask might be an issue in the town where several Black men have been gunned down.

      I think Joe, you should compose your own “viewpoint” for Minnpost, rather than discounting this man’s sharing of his experience. I don’t think you have walked in those shoes, and I suspect you live in an area in which your ethnicity and appearance is majoritarian.

      Sometimes you can’t appreciate someone else’s viewpoint because you don’t share the same experience. Where’s the love?

      • Submitted by lisa miller on 05/19/2020 - 07:56 pm.

        I agree. Mr. Melton-Meaux provided what he sees as his experience(and by the way Mr. Smith, have you been in stores in high crime areas or observed men of color with a mask going into the late night cornershop in a predominantly white area that is affluent? And why don’t we hear about so many mistaken right to carry people shooting white people or more cases such as the Damond case yet so many of men of color mistakenly shot and the person starts out by saying, ‘I thought….’ You are right we can’t read minds and that is one of the tragedies of racism–we don’t know–but please do not assume your experience is that of Mr. Melton-Meaux. I think he sounds like a strong candidate and hope to hear more from him.

    • Submitted by Susan Maricle on 05/19/2020 - 02:02 pm.

      Expecting the author to ask passersby “Do you think I’m a bank robber?” is, to put it mildly, ludicrous. All you have to do is look at body language. Moving one’s purse to the other side. Widening eyes. Reaching for Mace. Take his word for it.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/20/2020 - 11:08 am.

      Ask your black friends (or acquaintances, or people who work at the stores you go to) how often they get pulled over by the cops.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/19/2020 - 09:59 am.

    1) Alas, my humble opinion is that in some areas, and among some people, it’s not necessary for a man of color to wear a mask in order to be perceived as a threat. Prejudice is, ipso facto, not based on reason. Mr. Smith’s critique of Mr. Melon-Meaux’s mind-reading powers seems on-target, at least on the surface, but strikes me as sophistry, since there’s a mountain of evidence from hundreds of cases in cities and states across the country over the past century and more that underlines, as I suggested, the fact that, among some people and in certain areas, the mere fact of being a man of color is enough to generate suspicion, dislike, the donning of KKK paraphernalia, and in far too many instances, being murdered by Caucasian fellow-citizens who’ve convinced themselves that being a man of color more or less automatically means you must be up to something nefarious. It’s the same sort of mind-reading – jumping to conclusions – that Mr. Smith finds objectionable from Mr. Melon-Meaux.

    2) Mr. Smith continues to loyally present the notion that individual “freedom” is more important than any concept of “public,” as in “public health.” Right wing propagandists can rest assured that they have at least one member of an ideologically-sympathetic audience with whom they can work.

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/19/2020 - 11:44 am.

    As someone who is immunosuppressed, anyone I see out in public wearing a mask qualifies as a good guy, while those who could wear masks but cannot be bothered to put one on in in crowded spaces are a threat. When there are really serious threats out there is a perfect time to engage your brain and discard your prejudices.

  4. Submitted by Ron Quido on 05/19/2020 - 10:11 pm.

    I wish people would stop assuming people who don’t wear a mask are putting others in danger. Very little evidence that wearing a mask reduces the spread of COVID19.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 05/20/2020 - 08:50 am.

      Au Contraire!

      It is spread by aerosol droplets from an infected person. Sneezing, coughing or even loud speech will suspend those droplets to a distance of up to 10 feet and persist in still indoor air for up to 20 minutes.

      It will persist on hard surfaces, but would need to go from touching that surface to one’s eyes nose or throat.

      Some of us must keep ourselves from exposure because we care for people who live alone and need support.

      It’s not just about you. Try to be understanding of others who may pass a deadly infection to a loved one. The mask is just a small effort when many have given much more from this epidemic.

      China has a new outbreak now with an evolved version of the virus requiring 100 million people cooperate to stop it. France opened, then closed their schools with 70 new infections in a day.

      This is not just an inconvenience.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 05/20/2020 - 11:06 am.

      Actually, its not only people who don’t wear masks who put others in danger, but people who spread false information like this.

      There is plenty of evidence about the efficacy of mask-wearing. But somehow in this country it has become a partisan issue.

      • Submitted by Ron Quido on 05/21/2020 - 10:24 pm.

        Please provide some links to reputable sources supporting your contention. I haven’t found any, other than saying masks are not a substitute for social distancing, hand-washing, keeping hands away from face (tricky to do when putting on a mask). Really, let’s see some evidence on how much the risk is reduced and how effective home-sewn masks are.

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