At the Crossroads: Black Faces Wearing Masks: The Choice of Living or Dying

“Social Distancing? That’s okay now?  Really? Hmm.  The reality of the African American experience is the dominant group has been practicing social distancing towards black people for more than 400 years.  This is measured by 12 various forms of racism and 14 subtypes of traumas we have been forced to endure”.

– Micheal Kane Psy.D ,Clinical Traumatologist

“I am going to cough on you (white man) and risk it. I am not wearing a mask.”

– Anonymous

“It is risk vs. gain; when I walk into stores, I get followed and I am wearing a suit.  White people look at me with suspicion because I am a black man.  And now you suggest I should wear a mask?  Dr. Kane, have you lost your fucking mind?”

– Anonymous

 

The same people who are looking at me crazy without a mask are looking at me crazy with a mask.”

– Anonymous

 

“Not wearing a mask is advocacy for me.”

 – Anonymous

 

“It is an individual choice.  We have individual experiences. If I choice not to wear a mask, that’s my business.”

– Anonymous

 

My Dear Readers,

As you know we are in the midst of a world-wide pandemic which, as of this morning, has resulted in 1,184,332 million Americans contracting COVID-19 and 68,465 of them tragically losing their lives.

Regretfully, I have been unable to publish blogs during the past two months because my focus has been on outpatient care 10-12 hours a day 6 days per week.  I have sought to provide psychotherapy from my home via telephone or video while following the shelter-in-place mandate issued by the governor of my state, Washington.

It is essential that we continue to work together to “flatten the curve” of this dreaded disease. To limit how quickly the disease spreads so that we do not overwhelm the hospitals providing critical care to the sickest among us. We can do this by following the mandated shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain such as in grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The CDC guidelines also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

It is not uncommon to see or hear on the news or in commercials statements like:

  • We are in this together.
  • Together we are unstoppable.
  • Help our communities come back, together.
  • We will get through this together.

Wait a minute?  Hmm.  We are in this mess, this health crisis together?  So, let me get this right… the dominant group is now saying it is okay for black folks to walk into a bank, a store or anywhere wearing masks?

It is simply “wonderful” for the dominant group on the advice of the CDC to allow black and brown people to be treated like hmm… themselves, like white people.  Does this mean racism, stereotyping and discrimination is now over, and black, brown and white people can join hands together, run down the streets singing Kumbaya?!?

Nope…shucks now, that’s about as crazy as a major world leader suggesting that we inject disinfectants in our veins as a cure for COVID-19.  And of course, no one is crazy or stupid enough to suggest that.

There are three essential concerns with the concept of the “We are all in this together” mantra as well as the dominant group giving permission to black and brown people to openly wear masks in public settings:

  • The dominant group has not terminated feelings or actions of racism, stereotyping and discrimination towards black and brown people.
  • The dominant group failed to discuss the issue with black and brown people or take into consideration the psychological impacts of wearing masks in public settings.
  • The level of suspicion and distrust black and brown people have towards the dominant group concerning “We are all in this together” in the past.

The quotes at the beginning of this blog, were all comments made by patients during individual psychotherapy sessions.  The common threads, they were all black, angry and male. To the dominant group, they represent every single one their immediate fears. That these men are ABC, Angry, Black and out of Control.

 

“Let us in! Let us in tyrants! Get the rope!” Protest During COVID-19

Historically the dominant group, due to its fear of black males, either completely ignored or encouraged the use of harsh tactics to control this group while applying a light, sensitive and non-violent approach to policing their own communities. Recent media attention has shown tolerant, patient and non-violent tactics used when members of the dominant group joined with angry masked white males from white militia groups entered state capitol buildings for the purpose of interrupting legislative sessions.

Although fearful of these loud and angry protesters, many armed and masked, legislators seem either helpless, frightened or unable to intervene; one Michigan legislator stated

“Some of my colleagues who own bullet proof vests are wearing them.  I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today.”

It is under the guise of the Second Amendment, these masked and angry individuals can “open carry weapons without interference of law enforcement”. Yet it is, the visual of a black man wearing a “hoodie” that brings the eyes of suspicion, and possible interaction with law enforcement.

The speakers of the opening quotes could be judged as “irresponsible” but, how does one judge the fitting of shoes that one has not worn? Below is the story of one such writer whose reaction to wearing a mask is anger and how he has allowed his reaction of anger to be his response.

Dear Dr. Kane,

At one time I had a lot of respect for you. But now I feel betrayed in having believed in you.  You want me, a black man to walk into the grocery store or a bank wearing a mask?

Negro, you have lost your fucking mind.  Are you in collusion with them now?  Are they paying you to say this stupid shit?  Have you forgotten what it is to be a black man in America?  Wearing a mask?  Do you want me to get killed?

And what about po-po…the police? Do you think they are going to stop hassling black men?  Did you see what happened to that black doctor in Florida who was handcuffed in front of his own home, in front of his family? Was he wearing a mask?

Oh, I get it.  We are all in this mess together.  Translation… they need me to save their ass.  I was in the store the other day and while standing in line this white woman snipped at me “you’re not wearing a mask”.  It took all the power in me not to curse her out.

No one else say anything however she felt she could use her white privilege and power to intimidate me.  I looked at her, like she was nothing.  I smiled, got my groceries and left. I got the power now.  I, not white people, will determine if I will wear a mask and I’m not wearing one.

I don’t know if I am going to keep seeing you.  I don’t know if I can trust you.  You are beginning to sound like a sellout…  I’ll think it over.

Doing it my way

Seattle, WA

 

My Dear Young Man,

Sellout? Really? I get it.  I really do understand.  Take a breath. Your anger towards me is misdirected. Work with listening to me as I too am listening to your words and your pain.  You are speaking from your experiences which are steeped in trauma.

As a black man who is constantly being judged, profiled or viewed with suspicion simply because of the color of your brown or black skin, you are now incensed that you are being directed by the same group that fears you, to wear a mask for “your protection.”

It is your right, given how you have been viewed, received and/or treated to be angry.  However in your writing, you have allowed your reaction of anger to be communicated as your response and in doing so, you are at risk of once again being stereotyped as the ABC, the angry black, out of control man and having your views subsequently dismissed.

I too share your fears.  I too am apprehensive about walking into a bank wearing a mask.  The difference between you and I are you live in your fear and I want to live with my fear.

Second, rather than share my anger with people who live in their fear of the color of my skin, I want to embrace my anger, because it is mine and mine alone, and share my response.

In sharing my response, I want to project a different form of ABC, one being assertive, balanced and on a foundation of calmness.

As it is important for others, may they be members of the African American community or of the dominant group, to understand the foundation of your anger, it is also important for you to understand the empowerment you have in choosing to wear or not wear the mask.

I will begin by exploring data regarding the impact of COVID-19 on African American communities, the psychological impacts of wearing masks; ongoing police abuses during the public health crisis and the perceptions, conscious and unconscious attitudes of the dominant group towards African Americans, particularly males wearing masks in public settings.

The Impact of COVID-19 on the African American Community Nationwide

Public policy experts stated that the African American community’s “… disproportionate impact appears to be attributable to preexisting conditions- high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and inadequate access to health care- making African Americans more vulnerable to the disease”.

In a recent CDC report, small-scale sampling revealed that African Americans made up 33% of hospitalized coronavirus while African American COVID-19 deaths were:

  • Milwaukee – Although 30% of the population, African Americans are 70% of the deaths
  • Chicago – Although 30% of the population, African Americans are 69 % of the deaths
  • Louisiana – Although 32% of the population, African Americans are 70% of the deaths
  • New York City – Although 22% of the population, African Americans are 28% of the deaths
  • African Americans account for 14.2% of the 241 million people who live in areas ravaged by the virus. This encompasses 24 states and the cities of Washington D.C., Houston, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia

Masks: Traumatic Impact on Black & Brown People

“Two black men were kicked out of Wal-Mart, escorted out by a cop who had his hand on his gun…FOR WEARING MASKS TO PROTECT THEMSELVES. Are you kidding me?”

Black and brown people in the United States, on a daily basis, can endure up to 14 sub-types of traumas and 12 forms of racism.  While the CDC and public health experts nationwide have recommended and supported the wearing of masks in public settings, there was never any mention or acknowledgment of what such recommendations would mean or how such can have traumatic impacts on the African American community nationwide.

One such impact occurred on April 7th, 2020 in the Wal-Mart store in Wood River, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.   In this incident, two young African American men were captured on video being escorted out of the store due to their refusal to remove protective masks from their faces.

In the video, which has been viewed over 122, 000 times on Twitter, a black man with a mask on is being seen with a police officer walking behind him, gripping his holster and gun.  During a media interview, one of the males stated:

“This officer right here behind us.  Just followed us in the store. He followed us from outside, told us that we cannot wear masks,” the man says to the camera, “There’s a presidential order.  There is a state order, and he’s following us outside the store.  We are being asked to leave for staying safe.”

Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells said that he was reluctant to make a statement about the incident.  He states:

“There’s not much I can say.  I backed the officer by what he tells me.  Just like anything, there is more to the story.”

 

Police Misconduct During COVID-19

 “Police just being Police”

(Privileged Statement made by white person)

On April 10th, 2020. Dr. Armen Henderson, an internal medicine physician with the University of Miami Health System, while wearing a protective mask was stopped by the police, questioned and handcuffed outside his home.  He had been on his way to hand out tents to homeless people in the city.

Seen placing the tents in his van, the officer asked him what he was doing and if he was littering.  Henderson replied he lived at the residence where his vehicle was parked.  Not satisfied with the answer, the officer handcuffed him in front of his wife and child.

He was released from the handcuffs only after his wife, in duress, rushed into the residence to show identification. Police Chief Jorge Colina acknowledged concerns and stated commitment to investigate the incident.

“It was really humiliating. Situations like this have escalated into black men being shot all across the country.”

– Armen Henderson

It is incidents like these that underscore the foundation of the distrust black communities have towards law enforcement.  According to a recent study (2016) by the Pew Research Center, only a third of blacks say local police do either an excellent or good job in using appropriate force on suspects.

Ted Miller, an economist who led the study, found that black people were more likely to be stopped by police.  He added the following comments:

“If you are black, you are significantly more likely to be arrested if they stop you. They are quick to point a finger without listening. And they’re quick to, because of racial prejudice, feel threatened in ways that make them behave inappropriately.”

Health Disparities and the Impact of COVID-19: “WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”.

“30-year old teacher dies of coronavirus after her symptoms were dismissed as a panic attack.”

Rana Zoe Mungin, a 30-year-old African American social studies teacher at Ascend Charter School in Brooklyn, New York died on April 27th, 2020 of coronavirus. Despite having a fever and shortness of breath as well as two preexisting conditions (asthma and hypertension) that put her in the high risk of developing a severe case of the virus, she was turned away from emergency rooms twice, after receiving a diagnosis of panic attack from a medical provider.

Rana’s sister, Mia, a registered nurse fought for her to receive treatment.  Mia stated

“The provider stated she was having a panic attack.  She kept saying, “I can’t breathe.” Rana Zoe was finally admitted to Brookdale Hospital on March 20th, five days after her first attempt to get treated or tested for COVID-19. She was immediately placed on a ventilator.

Mia was informed that Rana was a good candidate for Remdesivir, a drug under clinical trials as a possible COVID-19 treatment, however it was found that she was not eligible.  Mia began a campaign to get her sister included in the trial.  This campaign eventually reached the level of her senator from New York and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, who appealed to the US Food and Drug Administration.  However, Rana Zoe was not added to the clinical trials and despite a valiant fight to live, she died less than a week after admission.

Regarding her sister’s medical treatment, Mia Mungin stated:

“Racism and health disparities still continue…. And the zip code in which we live still predetermine the type of care we receive.”

“When all of this is over – and as we said, it will end, we will get over coronavirus – but there will still be health disparities which we really need to address in the African American community,”

– Anthony Fauci, MD, Director National Institute of Allergies & Infectious Disease

Concluding Words – Dr. Kane

My Dear Young Man,

As I have said earlier, it is your right, given how you have been viewed, received and/or treated to be angry. As a man moving among those who are fearful, not of what I have done but fearful of my skin color, I too feel vulnerable and apprehensive about wearing a mask in public settings. Although I share your concerns there are three essential differences:

  • You are making life-determining decisions purely based on emotions whereas I seek to want to make those decisions being balanced in my thoughts and feelings.
  • You seek to use your “power” in saying no to deny them your cooperation in wearing the mask. In doing so you continue to wrestle with the dominant group over control.  A fight that has been occurring for over 400 years since the black man arrived here in chains.

Unlike you, I want to be empowered.  My empowerment lies within me and can never be taken away.  I seek to stand alone, empowered, whereas your anger will “ride and die” with those who feel as you do.

  • Your anger traps you into being a survivor and forces you to live out your days in fear. I want to walk the landscape, with thirst for living and in doing so live with fear and not live in fear.

Am I under the belief that “We are in this together”?  Nope, along with four hundred years of history, there is a quote from the writer/philosopher George Santayana:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Take this opportunity to engage in the Five R’s of RELIEF: Respite, Reaction, Reflection, Response and Reevaluation, and you may come to a similar conclusion:

  • The dominant group is tossing billions of dollars towards developing a vaccine and there IS NO SUCH Vaccine in sight or on the horizon
  • The fear that the dominant group has regarding African American males is superseded by their fear of COVID-19, which has in three months killed more Americans than the total deaths of American soldiers killed during the Vietnam War.

Law Enforcement During COVID-19

“Police officers are sworn to protect and serve, and when that oath is taken for granted and an abuse of power is evident, we will hold them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

– Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State’s Attorney

Regarding the incident at Wal-Mart where video shows a police officer gripping his holster and weapon while escorting two black men out of the store for wearing masks to protect themselves during the coronavirus health crisis, Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells said:

“There’s not much I can say.  I backed the officer by what he tells me.  Just like anything, there is more to the story.”

Despite the statements leading to togetherness during this public health crisis, causal racism reinforces the concept in which the dominant group is more likely to receive community policing (service) whereas the African American community, because of the fear of others, receives law enforcement (control).

Casual racism is defined as a society’s or an individual’s lack of regard for the impact of their racist actions on others. Casual racism is subtlety packaged white fear of black skin and it is an inherently dangerous form of racism.

Casual racism has become more insidious as of late. It has become expressed through white comfort and discomfort. It combines micro-aggressions (statements, actions or incidents) and macro-aggressions (threats of physical force, law enforcement) with modern racism (beliefs and attitudes) to form aversive racism (persistent avoidance of) interactions with African Americans.

Yes, my dear young man, the choice is yours; wear a mask or do not wear a mask.  You and I are similar to the two young black men in Wal-Mart and the black doctor handcuffed at home in front of his wife and child, despite the images being displayed of “Kumbaya” or “We are in this together”… Be assured and stay alive by understanding you are alone.

The differences in the two police chiefs’ responses are noteworthy.  In the Wal-Mart situation, although there is video that was viewed over 122,000 times resulting in a “public outcry” of police misconduct, the two black males are “nobodies” and therefore invisible allowing the police chief to say,  “There’s not much I can say.  I backed the officer by what he tells me.”

In the Miami incident, the black male is a physician at a prestigious hospital and therefore he is a “somebody” and therefore “visible”.  As a result, an “official” investigation will be conducted, apologies made and assurances (once again) given to stop such poor conduct with the communities “we protect and serve.”

The outcomes in both situations are the same, black men were racially profiled, traumatized and publicly humiliated as a lesson for all African American males to remember what will happen when the dominant group becomes uncomfortable or fear that “those people” are getting “out of control”.

“Me wearing a mask gives them the ability to harm me. I am not going to apologize for being me and living a life that I did not create.  These people don’t want me to wear a mask to protect myself from the virus, they want protect themselves from me.”

– Anonymous

 

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend.

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within.

Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes they don’t tell the truth.

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof.

The truth is in the eye ’cause the eyes don’t lie, amen.

Remember, a smile is just a frown turned upside down my friend.

So, hear me when I’m saying

Smiling faces, Smiling Faces, sometimes they don’t tell the truth.

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof.

Beware. Beware of the handshake that hides the snake,

I’m tellin’ you beware of the pat on the back it just might hold you back.

Jealousy, (Jealousy) misery, (misery) envy.

I tell you you can’t see behind

Smiling faces, Smiling Faces, sometimes they don’t tell the truth.

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof.

Your enemy won’t do you no harm, ’cause you’ll know where he’s comin’ from;

don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya.

Take my advice I’m only tryin’ to school ya.

Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes they don’t tell the truth.

“Smiling Faces Sometimes” – The Temptations (Sky’s the Limit, April 22, 1971)

*Re-recorded by The Undisputed Truth (The Undisputed Truth, May 13, 1971)

 

Until the next crossroads….. the journey continues

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