The CDC has officially recommended that people in the U.S. wear some type of mask to cover their nose and mouth when they are out in public, specifically in places like stores where it is harder to maintain at least six feet of social distance. And Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker will make that recommendation a mandate come May 1.
This mask requirement has made some people uneasy, as those wearing masks are often erroneously seen as threatening. That's why the Village of a Thousand Elders has teamed up with local law enforcement to create a safety initiative they call "Tip Your Mask."
According to KQWC, "When you go into a store or building, you're now asked to 'tip your mask' by lowering it slightly so the business owner can see your face." Reverend Wonder Harris, the founder of the Village of a Thousand Elders, said, "If people were to commit a crime, they wouldn't tip the mask because they'd be caught on camera."
He continues, "Crime comes in all colors. You can't just say that just because they're a particular color, they'll commit a crime. So it's something all of us have to do." Reverend Donald Willian Johnson explains that the "Tip Your Mask" initiative is meant to "eliminate and dilute and stop any sort of confrontation."
Minorities are much more likely to be profiled and confronted while trying to shop. Many people in those communities are understandably concerned about being perceived a certain way when they have a mask on. Pastor Darryl Thompson told KWQC, "It’s really an adjustment for me. It brings anxiety and frustration because I know in my subconscious, in mind, and heart what it kind of represents in our community."
Still, many others are wondering how the action of tipping your mask squares with the WHO recommendation not to touch your face with your hands once you're wearing a mask, unless you have the opportunity to wash them, and to wash your hands as soon as possible after touching your mask.
Several local police forces have united around this initiative, which they see as an effort to prevent racial biases, but it's a health risk that goes against the recommendation of the WHO.
Accoring to KWQC, the Village of a Thousand Elders say that they worked with local health departments on the initiative to make sure that they were executing it in the safest possible way.
Still, while "Tip Your Mask" might have the right thinking behind it, it also doesn't actually work to solve the problem of racial bias. It seems like just another step people of color are supposed to take to mitigate others' unfounded fear and prejudice against them.
Maybe instead of being suspicious of certain people without cause, everyone can all keep their masks on and store owners and workers can learn not to automatically discriminate against those who have historically been unfairly discriminated against. Everyone should feel safe enough to wear a mask; the onus should not be on the discriminated against to make others feel comfortable.
Now is the time to be extra vigilant about how we interact with each other. Masks should in no way invite prejudice or discrimination. Wearing a mask these days is a sign that someone is taking the health of others into consideration.
It is hard to interact with strangers we meet when we can't see each other's faces. This is all new. But we can wave hello or nod or gesture in any number of ways to let others know that we see them, we respect them, and we're only there to shop.
The effort to implement "Tip Your Mask" absolutely illustrates a real problem that people of color have to deal with. But it may not be the most comprehensive, effective, and safest solution to that problem.