Masks and Racial Stereotypes in a Pandemic: The Case for Surgical Masks
24 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 29, 2020
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 relative to wearing no mask at all. However, they do not perceive him as more threatening when he is wearing a surgical mask. As expected, these effects are especially pronounced in non-black respondents who score high in racial resentment, a common social scientific measure of racial bias. Further, it is not that high racial resentment non-black respondents find bandana and cloth masks more threatening in general. Our results suggest that they do not view a white male model as more threatening when he is wearing these types of masks. Though mandated mask wearing is an ostensibly race-neutral policy, our findings demonstrate the potential implications are far from race-neutral.
Keywords: COVID, stereotypes, race, public health
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