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What's behind those celebrations of a judge ending mask mandates

We know one thing that motivates many people to reject Covid safety measures, but few in the media seem willing to address it.


A federal judge's decision to end the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for public transportation set off bizarre, over-the-top celebrations by some people. There's also been a notable silence about what's likely behind the ruling.

A study published last month found that white people often rejected Covid safety measures after learning that the disease disproportionately affects nonwhite people, yet you’d be hard-pressed to find any mention of this on TV news or in major print outlets. 

Videos seeming to show mostly white plane passengers excitedly cheering and unmasking midflight once the ruling came down gave the press a prime opening to discuss the racist impact of the United States’ Covid response. But most media evidently lack the appetite — or ability — to do so.

The people opposing mask requirements and other health safety measures may want to believe they’re acting on their own volition, but the fact is they’ll never know. 

They live in a nation that has long discarded Black life, and they’re acting on the hateful delusions of a former president — Donald Trump — whose administration was cavalier about the disproportionate number of Black deaths occurring on his watch. That cavalier attitude turned into victim-blaming as the Trump administration trotted out its beliefs for why the death rate from Covid was so high. And that victim-blaming helped cultivate a hyper-politicized, demonstrably racist approach to public health that many espouse today (even if they won’t say it aloud): Covid’s disparate impact on marginalized people isn’t my problem. 

Drawing these connections isn’t difficult, which adds to my frustration that many in the media won’t do it. Trump is a racist who oversaw a racist Covid response. U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle — a Trump-appointee deemed "not qualified" by the American Bar Association in 2020 — has continued that racist legacy with a ruling we know will have a disparate impact on nonwhite people. 

When we see people cheering about unmasking in spite of the obvious danger it poses, we can take some of them at their word that they’re celebrating newfound freedom. But it’s not necessarily freedom from health safety measures; it may well be freedom from the perceived indignity of having to follow those measures out of concern for a class of people they don't respect. 

As I noted last month, white Americans have a tendency to reject things that are seen as beneficial to Black people. Covid health protections are no different. That’s neither hard to believe nor hard to prove, but far too many people are finding it hard to say.