Masks and white privilege

by Wade Rathke

Monday, August 24, 2020

New Orleans   Out and about, it’s hard not to notice patterns and paradoxes among the masked and unmasked marauders among us in this crazy pandemic time.

In Mississippi recently along the Gulf Coast, there’s been real progress over recent weeks as the governor and other politicians have had to take the virus more seriously and order masks in public and restaurant settings. Voluntary compliance stops community spread, as most of us must know by now, since it is one of the few items of public health consensus that even the president has adopted, so it makes sense.

What increasingly stands out are the outliers. The wannabe rebels who seem silently and stubbornly committed to withstanding the community consensus or do so more obnoxiously and arrogantly.

Picking up something at a Tractor Supply, big and tall, short and small, overall-wearing farmers and t-shirted workers, trooped in masked up, and we stood in line following the hash marks on the floor. Then there was one guy, wearing blue runners that perfectly matched his blue polo shirt and blue slacks, standing off to the side of the line without a mask. There was not way to not wonder who the heck did he think he was?

At a Walmart recently, I noticed a guy in shorts come strolling in maskless who for all the world looked like his only purpose in coming into the store was to prove that he could do so without a mask. Ten minutes later, I saw him leaving empty handed. At a restaurant that was packed out along the Jourdan River, the tables were spaced but a surprising number of fellows were standing in line waiting for their tables without masks even as other family members and their female companions wore them. What’s up with all of this?

My mind wandered, as I watched. What did all of these folks have in common other than being men? You guessed it. They were all white of course. What else did I notice? The stores and restaurants said nothing, not a word. They had multiple notices on the doors of their establishments saying that they would not serve anyone without a mask, but they did nothing to back up what they claimed was their policy. Walmart is especially curious to me. They have someone stationed at the entrances, so it is easy for them to add something to the printed signs, but their policy for their workforce is actually NOT to enforce the mandatory mask requirement. I get it. It might provoke some conversation, even confrontation. Nonetheless, how is saying nothing the right course of action. The businesses also seem to know that their lack of enforcement will be overlooked by the authorities as well.

I also noticed in multi-racial retail settings, Blacks and Latinos, were all wearing masks. They seemed to understand that even though there might be no mention or service denial to these white renegades, they were unlikely to catch the same break, and of course any confrontation could be tragic.

It’s not enough that some of these rebels without a cause might become ill and even die for exercising their paltry white privilege. If the community understanding is really that there are no adverse consequences to endangering their neighbors and that restaurants and stores, even the mighty Walmart and national chains, are glad to let them act out their lame public health protest with impunity, how will we ever get back to safe and normal?


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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