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

24 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2020

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

North Carolina State University - Department of Political Science & Public Administration

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: June 29, 2020

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 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

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 (June 29, 2020). 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

North Carolina State University - Department of Political Science & Public Administration ( email )

NC
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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