The Mask of Privilege: A Conversation

Written by GSAT Members : Brianna Martin and Sydney Moss

What is Important to You?

COVID-19 has affected a lot of people in my life, and it has affected me as well. I went a year without seeing my grandmother and she ended up passing away and ended up losing half of my college experience due to COVID. 

My grandmother was one of the most important and influential people in my life. She had always had some health problems but it got worse since she had been locked up in the house for a long time, and her body began to slowly get weak. I actually was able to see her once before she passed away. I was able to be there in August for a couple days and just sit with her. At this time she was still semi-healthy and she was able to talk to me about her life and she also let me pick from her jewelry box. Those were the last memories I had of her until I saw her in a casket less than a year later. That time that I would’ve had if maybe things would have been different, not being able to see her and say goodbye one last time devastated me that the last memory of her face was in the open casket. I wouldn’t wish that type of pain and grief on anyone.

As a black woman and an active citizen, I continue to be devastated when I say how people who look like me – and people in  communities of color – were having experiences that wouldn’t touch what  other white people were going through. The black and brown communities have been hit hard by COVID-9, whether that is losing their home, job, or even a family member. 

Living in South Carolina hasn’t made that any easier. The vaccine was hard to come by at first, and the access was slim to none. Then once the vaccine was available, so much misinformation was spreading that not many people received it at all. Months shortly after this, the Delta Variant of COVID-19 showed up. This set back all the progress of the many months before. Our state had just begun to feel like it was going back to normal. This new variant made our cases rise steadily and our death rates move higher and higher. It became very concerning to me that Governor McMaster still did not want to re-implement the mask mandate, in order to try to get in front of an outbreak. He didn’t believe it was necessary. He continuously dodged questions about his plan of action and how the surge  was going to die down. But  it has yet to do so.

Right now, as I am typing this, Horry County has some of the highest rates of Covid in the state, and our state has the highest rate of Covid per capita in the United States. The people around us continuously fight for no  masks and for no vaccines. The entire time, the other half of the community is trying to consider public health. There have been protests about mask mandates where people have stated that masking takes away a sense of your freedom of choice.  

I realized in that moment how entitled and privileged Americans are. They don’t realize that before we even got to this point in our history, there were times where you didn’t have a choice of whether to put a mask on or not. Just like back in the days of the war, people  didn’t have a choice of whether they wanted to ration or not–either they had to eat what they had, or they ate nothing. This is not a luxury that all Americans can afford. Those communities that I mentioned before, they will have to shut down because of Covid, just in order to protect themselves from the world around them. They will not be able to work from home to support and provide for their families. It is unfair to them that people like that do not ever take into consideration how their actions might affect the people who live 10 minutes away from them.

I say all of that in order to say this: I am sick and tired of people refusing to  listen. We all say we want things to go back to normal. We all say we don’t want to wear masks, but you must think to yourself, “How is something going to go away if you never truly address the problem?” Certain groups of people continue to ignore the fact that this pandemic has either benefited them in some way, or they don’t have to deal with the long-lasting effects that this disease has caused black and brown communities across the United States. Americans need to stop being selfish and start thinking of their other fellow Americans that don’t look like them, just as much as they think of themselves.

Mask Your Privilege 

Throughout my college years studying Sociology, I have become familiar with the idea of white privilege. Being a white middle-class woman, I have  unearned advantages in society solely based on my skin color. (Wow shocker! I never learned about white privilege in the predominantly white suburban Lala land I grew up in). 

I would like to consider myself someone who supports the vaccine and masks mandate policies on the public health crisis of the Coronavirus. Numbers don’t lie: the CDC found people without the vaccine 11 times more likely to die than people who were vaccinated. Since Coronavirus does not discriminate with who it infects, I blindly thought that regardless of your economic status or race, everyone faced the same fate when it came to the virus: life or death. I also thought that whoever supports vaccines and mask mandates must have the public interest in mind, and whoever does not is posing the same threat to everyone’s lives. But according to the CDC, compared to white persons, Black or African American, Non-Hispanic persons who died from COVID rates were 2.0 times higher, leaving me to think that “Coronavirus does not discriminate” was invalid.  It does discriminate in that it hits these communities even harder.

It never crossed my mind to not get the vaccine once it was available to my age group, but I know that many of my peers felt otherwise. 

So why not get the vaccine? I asked three of my unvaccinated friends who are young, white college students. They made it very clear they feel it is their “god-given right as an American” to refuse the vaccine.  Plus they are skeptical of how readily available it is to them. They also said they are young and in good health, and that “Coronavirus didn’t scare them.” I asked them since they are not in favor of a vaccine mandate, are they in favor of a mask mandate? Their answer was no– a mask and just like the vaccine, it is their “god-given right as an American” to have the freedom to choose if they want to wear a mask or not. 

I then  asked two of my vaccinated friends why they had gotten it. They are also young white college students. Their answers were a little broader: “my parents told me to,” and “ I thought it was the right thing to do.” Their opinion on wearing a mask was not as intense as the nonvaccinated group. They concluded that if you get the vaccine, a mask should not be required. What do both groups have in common? White Privilege. How so? Their race gives them the privilege of choice.

The New York Times states that “Black and Hispanic people in the United States are less likely than their white counterparts to have internet access reliable enough to make online appointments; to have work schedules flexible enough to take any available opening; and to have access to dependable transportation to vaccine sites, among other factors. A lack of access to information about the vaccine through trusted providers can also lead to uncertainty and an unwillingness to get a shot.”  My point here is that if you don’t have healthcare and access to information about vaccines, that is a vastly different situation than people who have all the information and alternatives, and yet refuse it.

How can you refuse something you don’t have access to? The Washington Post stated “In April, for example, Duke University professor Gary Bennett explained that there were historic trust issues between Black Americans and both medical and governmental institutions that might lead to more caution in getting vaccinated.” So white Americans don’t trust the vaccine because it was made available to them, while black Americans were exposed to an oppressive health care system and are once again being scape goated for not trusting the vaccine and disadvantaged for the vaccine rollout. 

Before you preach your god-given freedom, wake up and think who you’re affecting. Maybe you’re not scared of the virus because of your good health and you have easily available healthcare, not something every American has. I saw a video recently of a father at a school board meeting describing his daughter’s first day of elementary school. He said, “She went to school and was one of just a few kids in her class wearing a mask, which made her ask why she had to. My answer was because we want to take care of other people. She’s 5 years old but she understood that concept, and it’s disappointing that more adults around here can’t seem to grasp it.” While we did not personally create the systems that led to systemic racism, it’s up to all of us to work together to correct our systems that support white privilege.

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