The other day, I was in a writing group with friends when someone mentioned how horrible it was that some businesses were not allowing people wearing masks to enter. “Not allowing them?” I asked incredulously. “That’s insane.” My friend shared stories of people not trusting people of color in masks because they might use this as a way to commit a crime or of the wearing of a mask to connote liberal tendencies. Masks as political indicators tells me that Trump and his cronies have sunk this country into such levels of ridiculousness it would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so deadly.
Masks are not a political statement. They are a public health one. They are a necessity that are here to stay – at the very least until a vaccine is developed.
I get it. Masks aren’t easy to wear, especially for those people that work in places where they have to wear them 8, 10, 12+ hours a day. It’s hard to breathe in them. The loops begin to hurt your ears. It’s hard to function. But, it would be harder to get sick… or to make someone else sick.
Let’s try to reframe how we think of masks. In countries where the COVID19 rate is flattening, there is a common denominator that is not about restrictive governments or policies. The common denominator is centered around SOCIAL GOOD and collective care. In these countries, there is no struggle to get people to wear a mask because they understand that it’s not just for themselves, but to protect others. Two years ago, I taught classes at Beijing Normal University. I had to wear a mask with a filter because of the extreme pollution as did my students. No one made a big deal about it. It was just something you did. It was hard getting used to, but I eventually did because it protected me. Now, not only are masks protections for ourselves, but for our families, our communities. Oh, did I say that already? I thought we could hear it again.
Maybe masks aren’t the worse thing if it means that we can take walks, sit across friends from six feet and have a conversation or go into stores and other places where we will encounter others. We could think of masks as an incredible new fashion statement. Living in LA, where what you wear can be a way to show who you are, there are a plethora of masks designs from trademarked characters like Harry Potter and Star Wars to school spirit and athletic team loyalties. I know it’s just a minute before we start to see luxury brands- an LV to match your LV?
Plus, the innovation around masks is also at an all-time high- with designers creating clear masks so that our expressions aren’t lost, masks with buttons so you can eat through them and a multitude of filters and fabrics.
For me, the best part of this reframe is for us to think about masks as a way to show love. At the beginning of the quarantine, one of things that happened was that so many people with sewing machines, even at the level of the garment industry started to make masks. They made them to fill the shortage of PPEs (personal protective equipment) that even some hospitals had. Masks were donated by the thousands to essential workers like grocery stores, social workers, nursing homes and others. Masks were given to vulnerable populations like the homeless, the elderly and the poor. Not everyone is a nurse, a doctor, a respiratory therapist or a scientist and most of us had to stay home anyway. So, the making and donating of masks were one way to take direct action. And now, we can all take direct action just by wearing a mask. How easy is that? Let’s reframe – wearing a mask is saving the world. Really.