By Lisa Rose-Rodriguez
During normal Influenza season in autumn and winter, I would sometimes wear a mask. People stared and would sometimes ask questions. At that time, I might disclose that I had bronchitis or a repository track infection. Most of the time people saw it as a way to not infect others, but that was before COVID-19.
Masks have become an accessory for men and women alike. It is an accoutrement of the pandemic. Sports fans loop logos of their favorite teams over their ears, like the Cleveland Browns or Indians. Social concerns turned into transformative causes are brandished on masks: “Black Lives Matter.”
The pandemic has morphed society into a socially-distanced level of humanity that is historic in and of itself. People went months without touching loved ones. Handshaking and hugging became obsolete and was replaced with a knuckle to knuckle greeting called a fist bump. Hopefully, with all the fist bumping, they washed and sanitized their hands often. The culture has been altered because of practices that reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
A doctor’s paper mask was transformed by home-based sewers into a covering of butterflies and metallic beads glistening in the sunlight. There are ear loops and ties which help encase our faces. Masks became to us what hats used to be in the ’40s and ’50s, something you don’t go outside without.
Then on May 21 Governor Mike DeWine delivered a new order stating that masks would not be required for people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine. However, certain places are continue to require them anyway. You must still mask-up in a hospital, on public transportation, and in schools and daycare facilities. Some businesses and workplaces are still asking the public to enter the premises with a mask on. (https://www.statenews.org/post/ohio-ending-mask-mandate-vaccinated-people-along-compliance-enforcement)
I continue to wear mine because first I’ve gotten used to it. Secondly, it has become a fashion statement for me. Especially because of Kamala Harris, the Vice President of the United States. Why? Because I graduated from Howard University in 1992. So, when I place the mask over my face that depicts a bison, Howard’s mascot, I want people to ask me, “Did you go to school with the Vice President?” I replied, “Yes,” in a muffled voice with my mouth obscured by the very accessory that I am using to be associated with this ground-breaking woman. Masks are transformative, just as she changed the societal norm by becoming the first African-American, female, and Asian-American to ever hold that office. In public we see that she wears a simple black mask when she takes the podium; it is a not a bold declaration of any allegiance to a political party or our Alma Mater, Howard University. But in the simplicity, I see a small statement, black is the new black.