Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Masking Up in a Racist Country 

Black people in the United States face a dilemma. They can wear masks and be harassed — or they can not wear masks and still be harassed on top of the possibility of catching coronavirus. In the end, there’s no protection against racism in America except for organizing and fighting back. 

Julia Wallace

April 14, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
Picture: Adam Gray / SWNS

Update 04/27: Since this article was published, a 25-year old Black man in Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery, was gunned down by two white men while he was on a run in a suburban neighborhood, wearing a bandana. No charges have been filed yet against Travis and Gregory McMichaels, the men who murdered Ahmaud, “mistaking” him for a robbery suspect.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the racist nature of U.S. capitalism blatantly obvious. Black people are dying at incredible rates. In St. Louis, every COVID-19 death was a Black person. In Chicago, Black people make up 70% of the death toll. In numerous cities around the country, Black people are overrepresented in the number of deaths linked to the virus.

Black people have disproportionately high in COVID-19 infection rates, and this is not because, as the Trump-appointed U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams suggests, Black Americans should “avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs.” The reason is that Black people have been deprived of adequate healthcare and access to healthy food and clean water. (Flint still does not have clean water!)

Drugs and alcohol have been brought into the Black community to destabilize communities which had been radicalizing in the 1970s — especially crack cocaine. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have consciously attacked social services, closed hospitals, and slashed budgets in Black neighborhoods. On top of that, Black people are blamed for what has been done to them by capitalism and imperialism. 

Still, Black people must survive, and many are still working in jobs as fast food workers, grocery workers, and healthcare workers. But when we leave our homes, there is the perpetual fear — and now the question: mask on or mask off?

Mask on

Many cities such as Los Angeles are ordering people to wear masks when they leave the house to lessen the spread of the virus. Clearly this includes Black people. However, when Black people do wear masks, the risk of harassment increases. Social media is filled with stories of Black people being followed around in stores and hassled for wearing a mask. There is already a history of Black people being stalked in stores for unfounded suspicions of stealing. Furthermore, being Black and wearing a mask on the street can be extremely dangerous because of the itchy trigger fingers of racist cops. 

Mask off

At the same time, Black people have been harassed for not wearing a mask. The consequence is often not just a simple fine or a warning from law enforcement but brutal repression. In Philadelphia, a Black man was forcibly dragged off the bus for not wearing a mask. There are numerous other stories of Black people being attacked by police for not masking up. 

In other words, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t — nothing new for Black people living in a racist society. So what should we do? Mask up and organize! This virus is deadly, and there is no protection from the bosses, the capitalists, or the government. We should organize in our unions, workplaces, and communities.

We need to continue to build a working-class fight against racism. We aren’t the only victims — there are also increased attacks on Asian, Native, and Latino people just for existing in the U.S., a country founded and fueled by racist violence. All oppressed people would do well to link our struggles to build a common, worker-based, anti-capitalist fight. We need workers of all races and ethnicities to defend each other. We need to protect each other from racist attacks and from COVID-19.  

Facebook Twitter Share

Julia Wallace

Julia is a contributor for Left Voice and has been a revolutionary socialist for over ten years. She served on the South Central Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles and is a member of SEIU Local 721. Julia organizes against police brutality and in defense of LGBTQ, women, and immigrants' rights. When she's not actively fighting the patriarchy, white supremacy and/or capitalism, she enjoys many things: she loves Thundercat, plays ultimate frisbee and is a founder of the team, "Black Lives Hammer."

United States

A NYPD officer arrests a masked pro-Palestine protestors wearing a kaffiyeh while other cops and masked protesters look on.

Attacks on the Pro-Palestine Movement Are Attacks on the Right to Protest

As the movement for Palestine against Israel’s brutal military invasion of Gaza and attacks on the West Bank continues at a lower intensity than last fall, the State is cracking down on the leaderships of the movement and rolling back gains made by the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020. The movement must grow in order to fight back against repression and protect our democratic right to protest.

Carmin Maffea

February 10, 2024

When Columbia Students Are Under Attack, We Must Stand Up, Fight Back!

On January 19, two Columbia University students who are former Israeli Defense Forces soldiers attacked students with a chemical-based weapon called “skunk,” at a campus protest against the genocide of Palestinians. Students must unite with workers to defend our movement; from Palestine to Low, the attacks have got to go!

K.S. Mehta

February 2, 2024

Six Ideas to Advance the Movement for Palestine

Nearly four months into Israel’s genocide in Gaza, what will it take for the movement to continue forward and impose its demands?

Luigi Morris

January 28, 2024
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a primary election night party in Nashua, N.H., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

New Hampshire Shows Trumpism Hasn’t Been Stopped as the Crisis that Created It Rages On

Donald Trump cruised to a victory in the New Hampshire primary. His strength in the primaries shows that Biden wasn’t able to resolve the crisis that gave birth to Trumpism.

Sybil Davis

January 28, 2024


With Rafah in the Crosshairs, the Working Class Can Stop the Genocide in Gaza

As Israel prepares an invasion of Rafah, workers’ organizations around the world must take action before it's too late.

James Dennis Hoff

February 21, 2024

“Antideutsche”: The Aberration of Germany’s Pro-Zionist Left

As Germany persists in its unwavering support of Israel and the total denial of its genocide, the German Left is conflicted over the issue. While leftists all over the world are showing solidarity with Palestine, a segment of the German Left is historically pro-Zionist. How did this movement, the so-called Antideutsche (Anti-Germans) come to be?

Seb Zürcher

February 21, 2024

Why German Media are Lying About the Palestine Solidarity Movement at the Free University of Berlin

A rally in front of the Free University of Berlin had as many journalists as demonstrators. This is yet another example of the international campaign to defame all protests against Israel's genocidal military campaign.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 16, 2024
CUNY workers at a demonstration hold a banner that reads "STRIKE TO SAVE CUNY."

CUNY Workers Launch New Strike Campaign

As Governor Hochul proposes another $528 million in cuts, workers at the City University of New York are fighting back.

Olivia Wood

February 12, 2024