As the pandemic drags on with no end in sight in the US, more and more localities are issuing ordinances requiring people to wear masks in public.
But one Oregon county has taken a different spin on their ordinance than most places--it exempts non-white people from complying at their discretion. And it's got conservatives up in arms and raising an online ruckus.
Lincoln County, Oregon, is a coastal enclave directly west of the capital city of Salem. On June 16, its Public Health Administrator issued a directive that residents must wear a face covering in any public setting where they might come within six feet of an individual who is not part of their household. Pretty standard stuff.
But the ordinance comes with a stipulation excluding certain people from complying, such as small children and people with disabilities or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.
But it's this exclusion that has drawn notice:
"People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public."
The directive also stipulates that:
"No person shall intimidate or harass people who do not comply."
For many non-White people, especially Black people, the exclusion comes with good reason given the country's ongoing problems with racial profiling and resulting police brutality. As CNN pointed out in a story earlier this Spring, things like bandanas can conjure up imagery of gang members wearing them for identification of rival gangs, and face coverings can also be construed as a means of concealing one's identity during a crime – stereotypes and pre-conceived notions that can potentially put masked non-White people in danger.
Speaking with CNN, Ohio State University economics professor Trevon Logan, who is Black, explained it this way:
"We have a lot of examples of the presumed criminality of Black men in general. And then we have the advice to go out in public in something that ... can certainly be read as being criminal or nefarious, particularly when applied to Black men..."
"This is in the larger context of Black men fitting the description of a suspect who has a hood on, who has a face covering on."
ReNika Moore, who is the director of the ACLU's Racial Justice Program, echoed this concept, also while speaking with CNN.
"For many Black people, deciding whether or not to wear a bandana in public to protect themselves and others from contracting [the virus] is a lose-lose situation that can result in life-threatening consequences either way."
Given that context, it seems reasonable to allow non-White people to use their own discretion when it comes to masks.
But for conservatives on Twitter, of course, the exemption was an outrage – leading some to even cry "racism."
Given the context, this outrage may seem a bit strange: Wearing a mask at all is highly controversial in conservative circles, a debate that seems to be unique to the American right wing.