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Hey Mr. Trump, some of us can't wear scarves as masks. It would put our lives at risk.

People of color have long been profiled for what they choose to wear. Trump's suggestions to wear a scarf or bandana as an alternative to a mask is therefore risky and unfair.

Hey Mr. Trump, some of us can't wear scarves as masks. It would put our lives at risk.
Image Source: (Top) White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing. WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 03. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images) (Bottom) JamilSmith / GettyImages

During United States President Donald Trump's Coronavirus briefing on Thursday, he suggested that American citizens use scarves instead of masks as a temporary form of personal protective gear, CNN reports. While most of us understand that the supply of masks is far too low to meet demand during this public health crisis and that an alternative may be necessary in the interim, some of us don't have the privilege of wearing scarves or bandanas as masks. Why is that? A simple reason: race. For decades now, black and Latinx folks have been racially profiled because of their clothing. Trayvon Martin is a prime example of this. At a time when police patrolling has increased, the last thing a black man, for instance, wants to do is walk into a store wearing a bandana covering half his face.



"Why do you guys make everything about race?"

Before we analyze Trump's laissez-faire attitude towards replenishing depleting stocks of Personal Protective Equipment - both for citizens as well as healthcare professionals on the frontlines - you're probably wondering what race has to do with wearing a bandana. If you're privileged enough to not know, here's the answer: everything. People of color have been profiled based on their clothes for years now. Their intentions are judged based on whether they're wearing a hoodie or a suit. Ask yourself this - would you feel threatened by a Latino man walking past you if he had a visibly expensive suit on? Probably not. Now, how would you feel if he were wearing a hoodie and chains, or had a bandana wrapped around most of his face? Answer honestly.



The Intersections of Illness and Race

In 2001, researchers conducted a study on the differences in infectious disease mortality between black and white patients. Jan H. Richardus (MD, Ph.D.) and Anton E. Kunst (Ph.D.) discovered that infectious disease mortality among black folks was higher than among their white counterparts. Their study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that socioeconomic factors contribute greatly to why this statistic is true. The researchers affirmed, "Increased mortality in blacks compared with whites must be explained largely by socioeconomic and other factors that are associated with specific circumstances of the black population." This implies that infectious diseases can and should be treated with an improved degree of recovery than they are currently being treated in black communities.



The public health system is already failing people of color. Throw a hastily-spreading, incurable, and unpreventable virus into the mix, and you've got a messy concoction indeed. In the current context, that means doing as much as possible to prevent themselves from catching the Coronavirus is a must for people of color. A makeshift mask made out of a scarf or bandana, which has been proven to be not as effective as masks available in the market, will not do.



But where do bandanas factor into all of this?

While white (or white-passing) folks can wear bandanas or scarves to their nearest supermarket in order to shop for groceries while staying safe, doing the same thing as a person of color is a death wish. As Reddit user Fatslayingdinosaur explained, "I'm not walking into any store wearing a bandana especially since cops are now patrolling stores more. Gun and ammo sales are up. I see more people walking around open-carrying. I don't need to give anybody a reason to start shooting." That is the sad truth. Seeing a black or Latinx person wearing something slightly "threatening" - because anything can be threatening as long as a person of color is wearing it in white America - is a call to shoot. So, people of color aren't safe from a deadly virus, but they aren't safe from a cop's or community member's bullets either.



So what do we do?

For starters, President Trump shouldn't be peddling lies to American citizens in the first place. During his press briefing, he claimed scarves work better than masks. He stated, "In many cases, the scarf is better; it's thicker. I mean you can - depending on the material, it's thicker." More importantly, however, he should be taking an intersectional approach to the issue of depleting supplies. In this challenging time, ensure equitability in the public health system. Though that's not something that Trump can fix in a day - or through his tenure as President - it's something that should be on his radar.



In the meantime, if you see a person of color not wearing a mask while they're shopping for groceries, put yourself in their shoes first. Be hyperaware of the armed and trigger-happy cop at the entrance of the store. Feel the several pairs of eyes on white faces watching them, judging them. Think about how quickly they must shop in order to protect themselves from a virus that has killed almost 11,000 Americans since the first case erupted in the United States. A little empathy in this difficult time can go a long way.



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