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
Date Written: February 4, 2021
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
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