Will masks become the new class and race divide?

New Orleans It is no secret that opening versus stay-at-home from state to state and nationally has now, somewhat amazingly, but unsurprisingly as pandemic combines with polarization in the United States, become equally politicized. Having recently returned from my monthly commute from Louisiana to Mississippi to Arkansas and back, I can’t help but reflect that this experience may be more divisive than simply red states versus blue states, although that is going to be hardcore as well, no doubt. There is every sign that we will be able to see the masks as new markers of racial and class division.

In Greenville, Mississippi as I drove through this small delta city on the way to WDSV, the noncommercial radio station, we help manage, I saw literally no one wearing a mask in this working-class, agriculturally-based, largely African-American town. At the station, my partner and programmer there was wearing a homemade mask, and that was the first I observed. A woman up the hall from the station had one around her neck. In Mississippi, the stay-at-home and shutdown had already been lifting. Restaurants in some cases had two lines for customers, one that said take-out and the other separated by a rope in one case I observed, indicating eat-in. Tables were spaced out from each other. I had a mask on as I looked in, and I noticed, as I was leaving, that the counter server had put on a mask after seeing mine.

In southern Arkansas on the other side of the Mississippi River, fewer restrictions had been lifted, but the same no mas no masks seemed to exist. Stopping for gas from place to place, there were some changes. Plexiglass shields had been hung with string. Workers weren’t wearing masks behind the shields though. Customers weren’t either.

Lake Village, McGehee, and Dumas, Arkansas, black and white, no masks. Lake Providence, Tallulah, and Hammond, Louisiana, black and white, no masks. I saw one family waiting to get in the restroom at a gas station in Vicksburg, Mississippi, who were all wearing masks. I’m afraid, they, like me, were just passing through.

Even in New Orleans, peeling my eyes along St. Claude and Franklin Avenues and out in East New Orleans, people were lining up at snoball stands and walking the streets. Very, very few masks, if any, from what I could see. Across from the office recently a group of twenty young, African-American men on the corner. No masks. No distancing. Riding bikes along the Crescent City Park in New Orleans next to the Mississippi River, a haphazard spray of masks here and there.

I think we can see the future weeks pretty clearly. There’s a geographic, racial, and class divide emerging. It is hard to believe that masks for the masses is going to be part of the post-pandemic.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International

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