Mask Bans As Expressions of Memory Politics in the United States
30 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2019
Date Written: May 8, 2019
Mask laws have a lengthy history in the United States, one primarily, but not exclusively tied up with the Ku Klux Klan. They also are an instance of memory politics. In particular, mask bans complicate Nikolay Koposov’s distinction between narrow, self-centered memory politics (society casting itself as a victim), and broad, universalistic memory politics (society recognizing its past crimes). Sometimes, as in the Reconstruction Era, mask bans sent inculpatory or universal messages, albeit weak ones. By the 1920s, the mask bans protected Southern elites and by the 1950s, they partially exculpated the regime of segregation by focusing attention on the Klan as uncouth, cowardly, and unworthy defenders of a “progressive” South still deeply invested in segregation and White supremacy. As such, mask bans show that memory laws are sometimes used as tools of moral distancing, something also on display in recent attempts to anoint Antifa as the new Klan by “unmasking” it.
Keywords: Mask Laws, Memory Politics, Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, Segregation, Moral Distancing, Antifa
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