Side Effects of Mask Use — Can Potentially Make Wearer Really, Really Mean

A few days ago, a video surfaced of a woman in a California location of Trader Joe’s, being confronted by customers and staff for not having a mask on.

Los Angeles County has had a hardcore mandatory mask bylaw in place since May 15th; masks are required by all persons outside of their homes. Exemptions are in place for children under 2 and people unable to wear a mask due to health issues.

The video starts as the woman is yelling at a crowd of people that she has health issues and her doctor has advised her to not wear a mask. The crowd seems not to believe her. She throws down her basket as staff escort her from the store.

What an entitled “Karen”, people think. What a horrible, selfish, screechy, white woman.

Except that, as it turns out, the woman did have permission to be in the store without a mask. She consulted the store manager and was allowed in without a face covering.

It was the other customers who confronted her, filmed her reaction, and posted it to the internet, making fun of her.

When I watch this video, I don’t see an entitled “Karen”. I see a person being bullied, taunted and harassed. Scared for her own safety, backed into a corner, terrified of what the crowd of self-righteous vigilantes might do to her.

And this scares the crap out of me.

We’ve been brainwashed into wearing masks under the guise of having respect for each other, but where is the respect or empathy for people unable to wear one?

I get that everyone is scared, stressed, and tired of this thing. That it has left millions of people in financial ruin, homeless, and most importantly sick, or grieving for their dead. I get that this combination makes us feel helpless and angry and inclined to lash out. And I get that “Karens” (aka. middle-aged, middle-class, white women, and please, out of respect for my very nice, not-at-all-screechy friend Karen, can we please call them something else?) are easy targets, especially when they behave in a way that demonstrates entitlement.

But maybe, just maybe, that lady’s got a reason. An honest, truthful, justifiable reason, the details of which are none of your fucking business.

Please resist your urge to terrorize and bully her under the messed up premise that you’re somehow protecting your grandma. Or that by endlessly repeating the creepy, patronizing mantra of “my mask protects you, your mask protects me” that a person who genuinely cannot wear a mask is going to put one on.

That lady was just trying to live her life like the rest of us. None of us know her personal struggles or circumstances, or what she’s going through. (Well, hopefully anybody who’s ever been bullied by a crowd of people can muster up some empathy for her; watching her face as she tried to defend herself certainly triggered a lot of memories and trauma of childhood bullying for me.)

Whether you agree with her wearing a mask or not, she had permission to be in the store without a mask. She was not the asshole in this situation.

As someone who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, this woman just lived through my greatest fear. I have been having anxiety attacks about exactly this type of event; about being confronted by a crowd of self-righteous vigilantes who demand an explanation but refuse to accept the reasonable answers given.

I can clearly demonstrate why I cannot wear a mask — it’s gross, but I can do it, and I guarantee you won’t ask a second time — but the point is that I shouldn’t have to. That lady shouldn’t have to either.

For people purporting to have respect for others by wearing a mask, they certainly weren’t respectful in any other way. Not in confronting her, refusing to believe her, and then shaming her, both in person and online.

Early on, there was an idea of “we’re all in this together”, but that’s not true. Anybody who deviates from the predetermined, acceptable behaviour, even if they have a perfectly reasonable explanation for that deviance, isn’t part of the togetherness. They will be attacked, pushed out, and ostracized for being different. Or for not being a team player.

And that’s not because of any potential danger they present, that’s because this pandemic has made a whole lot of people really, really mean. Not to mention intolerant, bigoted, and ableist.

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