Masks and Racial Stereotypes in a Pandemic: The Case for Surgical Masks

Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, June 2021

47 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2020 Last revised: 20 May 2021

See all articles by Leah Christiani

Leah Christiani

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science

Christopher J. Clark

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science

Steven Greene

Professor

Marc J. Hetherington

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science

Emily Wager

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science

Date Written: February 4, 2021

Abstract

To contain the spread of COVID-19, experts emphasize the importance of wearing masks. Unfortunately, this practice may put blacks at elevated risk for being seen as potential threats by some Americans. In this study, we evaluate whether and how different types of masks affect perceptions of threat for a black male model and a white male model. We find that non-black respondents perceive a black model as more threatening when he is wearing a bandana or a homemade cloth mask than when he is not wearing his face covering--especially those respondents who score above average in racial resentment, a common measure of racial bias. When he is wearing a surgical mask, however, they do not perceive him as more threatening or less trustworthy. Further, it is not that non-black respondents find bandana and cloth masks problematic in general. In fact, the white model in our study is perceived more positively when he is wearing all types of face coverings. Though mandated mask wearing is an ostensibly race-neutral policy, our findings demonstrate the potential implications not.

Keywords: COVID, stereotypes, race, public health

Suggested Citation

Christiani, Leah and Clark, Christopher and Greene, Steven and Hetherington, Marc J. and Wager, Emily, Masks and Racial Stereotypes in a Pandemic: The Case for Surgical Masks (February 4, 2021). Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, June 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3636540 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3636540

Leah Christiani

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science ( email )

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Christopher Clark (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science ( email )

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Steven Greene

Professor ( email )

Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27695
United States

Marc J. Hetherington

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

Emily Wager

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science ( email )

361 Hamilton Hall
CB#3265
Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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