Half The People In Public Here Are Not Wearing Masks
How the culture war about mask wearing spills over into the whole policing debate
I am in rural Washington state for the summer. I was out shopping a couple of days ago. A woman came up beside me perusing the same display of goods. She was not wearing a mask. I looked for a fraction of a split second into her eyes. My expression was completely covered by my mask. I didn’t say a word.
She said, “Oh, I forgot my mask! Again!”
I muttered something about how it was easy to forget them, “I keep mine on the door knob,” I said, ‘” So it’s the last thing I see when I leave the house. We all have to try to do better, I guess.”
Very bizarrely, to my expectations of a sequential style of talking, she then said, “Well, you have to feel sorry for the police, they are afraid to go out and do their job now. It’s ridicules. And Jay Inslee wants to fine us. It’s ridicules.”
This threw me for a loop. I then saw her spouse step over, also, wearing no mask.
I puzzled about it for some time, trying to connect in my mind why she might think that alleged police brutality would have anything to do with mask wearing. I looked around. I noted I was one of just three people wearing a mask. They are not popular here in “chicken farming” country.
Then, driving home, I realized a connection. She must be equating mask wearing as some liberal versus conservative behavior. Most progressives don’t think of common health measure requirements as being political. But somehow, they have been politicized, to the point where people, especially in southern states like Florida and Texas, refuse to wear masks as a sort of protestation for their bodily autonomy.
Bodily autonomy arguments ring hollow to me in a land where women still have to struggle mightily in order to preserve reproductive rights, equal sexual freedom, or to simply avoid judgment. Nevertheless, I comprehend the “right to my own body choices” argument.
As much as I comprehend it, though, the Corona virus does not.
Equal opportunistic diseases
COVID-19 absolutely does not care whether you are rich, poor, white, Black, liberal or conservative.
When my husband later went with me to get groceries. He was appalled. He was downright afraid. We rushed home and slathered ourselves with soap and water.
He had just arrived from Kona, Hawaii to spend our summer in Washington. Back in Kona EVERYONE at the stores are wearing masks. This is in a state, Hawaii, where there are probably the fewest cases of COVID-19 of all fifty states. Chances of transmission are already very low, there.
Now we know at least part of the reason why. Wearing masks prevents the spread of COVID 19.
Policing, Self-policing and no policing
The couple I met at the first shopping expedition did not wear masks. In the moment, I thought she brought up the subject of the police as a non sequitur. But there is a direct connection to people’s attitudes about being policed, their color and their status, their privilege, or their lack of privilege.
I believe this woman leaped from the idea of feeling “policed” by my quick glimpse of her, to the subject of policing, which is under severe scrutiny, up north in Seattle where “an angry mob” has taken control of CHOP, Capitol Hill Organized Protest. She may have felt that I was judging her. I don’t think that I was, but I understand how she could feel that way, due to the psychological process of projection that all people are subject to feel.
Having been to Seattle for the protests, I knew the jubilant, and shiny happy people there are anything but angry. It’s more like an intense, community garden fueled, dance filled poetry slam than a riot. But down here, in the rural sticks of the hicks, they don’t know that at all. The protestors voluntarily left CHOP a few days ago, but not before a Trans woman was killed when plowed into during a small march in the middle of the night. The driver of the car had to go around barricades to get to that street. He appeared determined to do damage, but his motives remain unknown.
The shopping woman, having realized she had no mask, felt a knee-jerk defensiveness that ultimately brought to her mind how the left wing of the country seems to be leading more and more people toward the conclusion that our governmental policing requires reform. She also clearly felt a need to say something to express her frustration that our governor, Jay Inslee, made mask wearing mandatory this week. This leaves people like she, and her husband, vulnerable to being fined.
I think this idea outrages people. And her views of cops? People in her family would feel vulnerable if all the cops quit doing their job.
Wearing a mask during a healthcare emergency seems like literally the least that one can do, but that is not what she thinks of first.
It is an awful shame that policing ourselves, cancel culture, and taking sides about police reform is a reality. It makes so much more sense that we only pay police that protect and serve. It makes more sense that we don’t judge others, or that we don’t make them feel defensive.
Pandemics to come will shape our social behavior
Some people believe the pandemic will fade away on its own.
I don’t believe that. I believe that even if COVID-19 departs, other pandemics are still on their way to infect our lungs and lifestyles. We must prepare, and that means, we must unite.
A huge reckoning is due. Improvements in our healthcare structure, insurance coverage, employment opportunities, our relationship to one another, both with the erasure of sexism and racism, and with our heavy, unsustainable relationships with the environment. We need radical change to how we feed ourselves. We will greatly reduce the amount of zoonotic wildlife that is on the menu, and how we manage factory farms and waste must reform. Huge change is due. As we adjust to create green infrastructure and equality, a different world emerges.
However, I can also envision a divided world that take generations to get to this point.
The mask wearing debate will go on for a few months. But like the old adage of how something new and sensible, first is ridiculed, then attacked, then attended to, and finally accepted as common sense, we will behave differently.
When we go out in public, displays of general concern for welfare and civility will win out. Then the need for draconian measures by police, or anyone, will fade away.