The American male’s need to appear “tough” has been on full display during the Covid-19 pandemic, but there’s one major problem: It’s literally killing people.
Quarantines and shutdowns began in my part of the country around the middle of March. That means we are four months in to this ordeal, and we are still having a conversation around one of the most basic pieces of the puzzle: Wearing a mask.
I’m not going to get into the science (which is clear), or the politics (even though it’s not political) of mask-wearing, and let me say I fully understand the anti-mask crowd is diverse and varied. For the sake of this piece, though, I want to discuss a very specific group.
The privileged white dude.
All of us have seen videos of “Karens” running around yelling at people and being famous online for all of the wrong reasons, we already know that’s a widespread problem.
As a straight white American male, though, I find myself consistently disappointed in those like me who enjoy fewer discriminatory experiences than any other “category” of person, yet can be the most stubborn in making even the smallest concession to help those around them.
Big, tough, strong. We all have a reputation to uphold and an image to portray…right? If you wear a mask, it makes you look like you’re conforming, or that you’re vulnerable, or that you’re worried about your own health and that of those around you. But none of that could possibly be true because you’re invincible. At least, that’s what your consistent life experiences have told you.
You live in the greatest country in the world (until you look at real statistics). Your genetics are superior (until you look at real statistics). This could never happen to you (until you see friends and family get hospitalized).
Here’s the reality: We are all human. We are all susceptible to health risks. We are all living in the same era of the world’s history where the only thing we must do is focus on coming together in order to serve the greater good.
Strong people protect others, they do not throw them to the proverbial wolves to save themselves. By refusing to wear a mask, you are making a statement that you do not care about those around you (Let me make this clear: I’m not talking about people with legitimate health reasons preventing them from wearing a mask. I’m talking about people making a conscious desicion of refusal).
We have known for months that asymptomatic carriers of the virus are among the largest group of spreaders. Forget science, this is basic common sense.
If only people with drastic and extreme symptoms were spreading the virus, it never would’ve made it across the entire planet as quickly as it did because people would’ve been staying home, canceling trips, or in the hospital.
As I write this right now it is possible that I am an asymptomatic carrier of Covid-19. As you read this right now, so could you be.
To me, this inarguable truth makes the decision simple: When I go into public, I wear a mask.
I understand the mask is not to protect myself. Washing my hands, using hand sanitizer, practicing good hygiene, and staying physically healthy are all ways that I can protect me.
Wearing my mask and keeping a distance from you, is how I protect you and your loved ones.
This, though, requires us to step outside of ourselves. I mentioned earlier the ‘privileged’ white male class, which typically triggers some people. Not surprisingly, the people it triggers are usually white males.
Whether we know it or not, we are accustomed to being catered to. Marketing and advertising typically speaks to us, characters on TV shows typically look like us, we are not seen as inherently suspicious or dangerous when we go about our days. We see ourselves on billboards and in boardrooms and on Fortune 500 lists.
Naturally, then, even a small imposition feels drastic.
I don’t have to wear a mask, I feel fine.
I am in a low risk category, so it’s not a big deal if I get it.
I am strong and healthy, there’s nothing to worry about.
I’ll say this again: This isn’t about you. But, when we’ve spent our entire lives being told that we are special, it always feels like it’s about us.
We feel immune or invincible. We feel separated from things happening “out there.” We feel insulated from dangers or risks. But, we’re not.
If this is all making you feel uncomfortable or pissed off, congratulations. That means you’re realizing that maybe some of it is true. Like anything else in life, we cannot make external changes until we have internal realizations. The only question that remains is how we act upon those realizations. It is also how we open ourselves up to making better decisions.
In the very beginning of the pandemic, I barely left my house. It was almost 3 months of total isolation besides a once-per-week trip to the grocery store. I wasn’t seeing my parents or my brother or any friends.
As new information came out, I began to analyze what I did and didn’t feel safe doing. I reassessed my own risk category and began venturing out more. However, what didn’t change, is how I approached being around family or friends. I may not be high-risk, but my parents are. And maybe yours are as well. The elderly people I see at the grocery store certainly are.
So while MY daily life isn’t as restricted, it is still my responsibility to minimize the potential spread.
I give this example to illustrate the need to evolve. Staying steadfast in your opinions without accepting new evidence will never bring any of us anywhere.
This is a time of reckoning for American masculinity where we must reflect on what it truly means. Growing up it was never cool to like science, or math, or theater. It was only cool to play sports, chug beer, and pick up girls.
It wasn’t cool to be vulnerable or discuss your emotions or feelings. This is easily seen harking back to the 1950’s when my generation’s parents were being born. The concept of masculinity was rooted in an absence of emotion and compassion.
The result: Generations of American children who grow up avoiding intellectualism and emotional intellgence because it won’t help them be socially accepted.
For many, this approach hasn’t changed. If you observe or question people who refuse to wear masks (I’m not talking about those with legitimate health reasons, I’m talking about those who are making a conscious choice), you often find some clear similarities in their ways of thinking or the sources of their information.
The information is typically not peer-reviewed scientific evidence from an accredited academic source.
We don’t like to say this publicly, though, because it’s too controversial. We don’t want to alienate or insult anyone. We don’t want to shame the anti-maskers. But maybe public accountability is what it’s going to take.
Take a moment, Americans. Look around you. Step outside of yourself and look at different countries, states, cities. Observe what is really happening here.
Americans are restricted from leaving our country because of our abysmal handling of a global pandemic. We’ve proven ourselves to be selfish and stubborn. We have consistently avoided even a tiny bit of discomfort (wearing a mask) and it has cost us an immeasurable sum.
Cases and death in many states are rising far higher than they were during the first peak of this first wave that we are still in. Some cities and states are closing things back down again because their hospital beds are filling back up. This is not because of more testing, this is because of spikes in severe cases.
This is not a joke, and the fact that I am writing this in JULY is the most disappointed piece. I saw a video today of a baseball game being played in Taiwan, the stands were full.
Those who prioritize others and act for the greater good of society are the ones who will win here. This is not the time for American individualism. This is not the time to be stubborn or try to prove how tough you are. This is not the time to care about how you’ll look wearing a mask.
A mask is not a political statement nor is it an imposition on your rights or freedoms. Wearing a mask is a functional act that serves a real and tangible purpose.
Until we let go of the stigmas surrounding something that should be universally accepted, we will continue being our own worst enemy and remain isolated from each other and the world.
America is the only country on the entire planet continuing to fight this battle at the scale we are fighting it on. That is not a coincidence, and to change it, we must all take personal accountability moving forward.
I cannot control whether or not you wear a mask to protect me, but know that every time you see me in mine, it’s because I care enough to protect you.