Despite evidence that wearing a face mask prevents others and ourselves from contracting COVID-19, many Americans are reluctant to wear one. Experts have posited that anti-masking stems from confusion caused by muddled early public health messaging about their efficacy, denial about the danger of the novel coronavirus, and as a way to assert control during uncertain times. But as someone who has studied negative stereotypes about Muslim women’s clothing for 15 years, the reasons I’ve heard not to wear a mask—it curtails freedom, it shows weakness, it is un-American—are all too familiar. These are the same judgements levied against Muslim women’s head and face coverings, and this similarity is no coincidence. Because the dominant framing of face coverings is that they are foreign, a sign of submission, and an assault to American values, our country is now unable to cover when it is literally an issue of life and death. Islamophobia has long been a danger to Muslim Americans’ health, but COVID-19 has made it clear that misperceptions about Muslim practices affect the health of non-Muslims as well.
Faculty News 09.03.20