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.
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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