Governor Doug Burgum says we should not mask-shame

I can't disagree. 

We shouldn't be shaming people for what they choose to do regarding masks.

But his take on how it is happening is off, from my own experience. Mask shaming is very much directed at those who don't wear the mask, for the most part. 

Celebrities and influencers on social media wearing masks and using a #WearAMask hashtag. Media push wearing masks. Commercials and advertisements showing people wearing masks. Customizable social media avatars have banners you can add to your profile icon pushing the "right" behavior. It is endless, the social pressure to comply with the mask.

To be part of the right group, wear a mask. To not be scolded, wear a mask. To not be called names, wear a mask. 

When emotion, instead of the mind, is used to create a desired behavior, shame is a necessary component. The mind makes use of information, and comes to a decision on an individual basis. That is freedom. Emotions don't inform the mind; they instigate behavior based on a sense of good and bad. That includes shame. 

So here is my hypothesis, in response to what I believe is Burgum's heartfelt desire that we not be divided: the entire engine to encourage people to wear masks has been based in shame.

It is impossible, then, with our current approach, to say "stop mask shaming" because the engine runs on it. Furthermore, contrary to what Burgum said, the shaming, for the most part, is directed towards those who don't wear a maks, not those who do. What I've experienced online are family, friends, and strangers (as well as some politicians) equating wearing a mask to positive things, with the implication that not wearing one is negative. Here are a few examples.

1. If you wear a mask, you're a hero. 

Gov. Burgum should maybe get after his own state health department if he's against mask shaming, since they are subtly enabling it by suggesting that if you don't wear a mask you're not a hero. I wrote about this already and won't go into it again.

2. Wearing a mask is a sign of respect.

Mask-wearing, as pointed out by Berenson, should be for health reasons. 

The reason I don't wear one is I don't think they are healthy, I don't think what people are wearing and how people are wearing them are useful or promote the purpose, and I don't see the data on this disease (both in its mortality rate, herd immunity concepts, and more) that says we should have the healthy general public wearing them all the time when out and about.

You can go to NY Gov. Cuomo's Twitter feed and see him over and over, even on video, talking very little about the data regarding masks, but mostly equating wearing it to showing respect for medical staff and first responders. That's a blatant shaming approach. Not wearing a mask has nothing to do with respect. It's a personal choice for personal reasons. Cuomo can stuff it.

3. Wearing a mask means you're smart.

More than once I've had it blatantly stated, or not-so-subtly implied, that I'm stupid if I don't wear a mask. 

First, there's the issue with the CDC and their known errors in the past and their sudden arbitrary decision to recommend masks and divide the nation even further. 

Secondly, there's the question of the "just wear something, even a bandana, across your nose and mouth" nonsense which is more about theater and the appearance of compliance for a placebo effect than actual medical effectiveness. "You can wear a mask made out of anything, even cheesecloth, because it's about compliance" is basically what we're seeing.

And thirdly, for those looking to thwart the argument by healthy people that they shouldn't have to wear a mask and saying "you might be asymptomatic", there's the reality that we don't know that asymptomatic people actually spread the virus. We don't KNOW that. The CDC doesn't KNOW that. There are some studies that suggest that asymptomatic people don't spread the virus

Let's dig into those a bit deeper.

The CDC just last week, after recommending people douse their homes and mail and whatever else with disinfectants, now says the virus doesn't likely spread by surface contact. "Whoops. Now it's person-to-person. We thought it was the other, but no. Sorry you've been disinfecting your shoes, clothes, mail, and household surfaces for months! Our bad. But this time we're sure we got it right."

Yet here we are, starting a civil war, because the CDC pulled some new arbitrary take-action item out of their backside one day. The recommendation to wear masks came at a time of the down curve for some of the hardest hit areas in this country. The CDC initially said do not wear a mask (as did Health Lord Dr. Fauci, as did the Surgeon General, as did EVERBODY) and then one day, when they realized there would be enough PPE, I guess, arbitrarily changed their mind and forever changed the psyche and culture of this nation from here onwards. 

What changed from one day to the next? 

Nothing. NOTHING. There was no sudden infection shift. They didn't magically know something new about the virus or the mask from one day to the other. I expect goggles will be next, because your thin cotton mask that keeps you touching your face that you pull down from your nose because you can't breathe that you tuck into your pocket and take back out again to reuse isn't going to protect your eyes from the virus.

Dr. Birx, one of the task force experts, said that there was nothing from the CDC she could trust. The CDC screwed up its own testing, against its own protocols, delaying things from the very start of this pandemic. Check out how the CDC fared during the Ebola outbreak (which would have been truly terrifying). They weren't so great.

So in light of their clear fallibility, stop telling me to walk lockstep with ever CDC edict that comes out, and suggesting that only stupid people resist following everything they recommend and do. No, wearing a mask "isn't the smart thing to do." It's one of two possible actions, each with their own reasoning, studies, and factors to support them. I determine what I will do and why. 

And another thing: individual state government departments (talking to you, ND Dept. of Public Instruction, with your ridiculous suggestions for what school will look like next fall) shouldn't parrot every CDC whim when making policy. They should listen to their people, take into account differences in population and culture, and make their own policy. If you want to educate kids who will think for themselves, model that behavior.

Smart people think for themselves. Not emote. They think.

4. Wearing a mask means you care about other people.

This is the worst, and this is pure shaming. To these folks, a mask is not only a visual indicator of heroism, respect, and intelligence, but also whether or not you care about other people.

I rebuke that garbage, shred it, and burn it. 

Some of the most caring things people do for each other aren't visible. Virtue signaling, now that's visible.

Virtue signaling is even worse when a leader is using it, insisting on it, and it all turns out to be "do as I say, not as I do."

5. Mask-wearing is always acceptable. The opposite isn't true.

The pressure, the shame, the barrage of behavioral change -- it is mostly on those who will not wear a mask. Do you see the underlying double standard? We say "don't shame" but we have elevated one decision as better than the other by our unspoken actions and other restrictions.

I would never turn people away because they are wearing a face mask; during this time I've said just let people do what they want to. If you want to wear a mask, stand apart from me, stay home, you can. Just don't insist I be forced down to your level of comfort or fear. Let me live according to my own decisions. I've never called or implied that someone was stupid (or whatever other negative quality you could conjure) for wearing a mask. 

Yet on the flip side, the same leaders calling for decorum and to be polite seem to be fine with people being turned away or arrested if they do not wear a mask. If it's bad for a store to insist no one wear a mask, it ought to be bad if one does. By policy and action, not wearing a mask is assigned possible shame, censure, and fines.

Division will happen, regardless of intention.

I've seen the meme going around, I've shared it, but it's worth saying again: you're being trained to think that people who have made decisions related to personal freedoms for their own reasons are selfish, uncaring, bad, rude, and worse. 

That is false.

This country was built on the ability for us to exercise our personal freedoms. Yet those of us who don't wear a mask are, essentially, relegated to some shameful region of being unheroic, disrespectful, stupid, and uncaring. That is the clear message here. While Governor Burgum can't control what people do online or what leaders in other states do, he can most certainly get his own state health department in line and make sure ND government agencies don't slip into the subtle shaming approach.

I'm not sure who Burgum has surrounded himself with or is listening to that he thinks mask shaming is in the direction of those wearing them, but boy, that's not what I've seen or experienced. Mask shaming has tended towards those who don't wear them (though most of the people I've seen in Bismarck don't wear them). It follows what author Clarissa Moll says in her April 29th article on mask shaming:

Last Saturday, I conducted data collection on my drive through town to the beach. How many people could I find wearing face masks? Since the new CDC advisory, my Instagram feed is filled with masked faces. On my 15-minute drive, I expected to see them everywhere. 

En route to the ocean, I counted the whole way. A woman wearing a homemade fabric mask as she walked her dog. A man unloading a delivery truck, his face half-covered in a disposable mask. Twelve masked people in all. As I drove along, tallying numbers, I began to envision myself on patrol, like a small-town cop in an old movie. I smiled and relaxed behind the wheel. It pleased me to see folks doing their civic duty. 

However, I quickly realized that for every person I saw masked, there were at least two who weren’t wearing them. A teenager walked out of the grocery store, his face fully visible beneath his baseball cap. An older man stood at his mailbox talking to a neighbor, six feet apart, but neither of them masked.

I understand that the CDC recommendation is an “advisory” and not an “order,” but didn’t their request make good sense? Why would anyone choose not to follow it?

As my car wove through town, what began as innocent observation quickly became a personal quest for righteousness. I wondered, Who are these people? Why don’t they care? I wanted to holler out the window, to ask these bare-faced folks if they understood they were putting everybody at risk. I could feel my frustration rise as I drove along. I’ve followed the stay-at-home orders to the letter since our governor handed them down. People in my community are sick; many are dying. To me, wearing a mask seems not just reasonable but necessary. Who would be so foolish? I wanted to know. Why can’t they just follow the rules? What kind of a Neanderthal thinks he can outwit a novel virus pandemic?

I know I’m not alone in this tendency to demonize another, to assume I know their intentions. As New York City, San Francisco and other areas of the country mandate mask-wearing, mask shaming is following in quick pursuit. However much we desire personal freedom, we don’t like it when other people break the rules. We quickly pass judgment on others, assuming the worst.

Since COVID-19 hit the news, I have viewed wearing a mask as synonymous with loving my neighbor. My position has been simple: stay home, save lives, and wear your mask. Christian love desires to protect the vulnerable, and certainly masks help do that. But all too easily I can watch protests on the news or simply drive through town and instead make masks the sole measure of personal righteousness. I look down my own masked nose and silently assess my neighbors’ character. I critique their intelligence, their political sensibilities, their empathy and love, even their spiritual depth. In the privacy of my car, the words of the Pharisee run through my head. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people.”

Moll goes on to come to the conclusion that we shouldn't shame each other, and I agree. I read her article and I don't even comprehend what seems to be an insta-compliance approach or view of life, so all I can do is step back, understand she and I have very different life experiences, cultures, situations, and upbringing, and simply think "you do what you think you need to do, girl." 

I refuse to view mask-wearing as a new normal, despite the reality that, from here on out, we will see them at least during each year's flu season. That's their right. And it's mine to not wear one.

I don't want to have to keep justifying why I won't wear one. I don't want to face the constant online barrage (mostly from women) of the same news stories, studies, etc. that "prove" I must wear a mask to be a good human. I am weary, after saying I have decided not to wear a mask, of these same people insisting I provide X number of studies to justify my decision that surely must stem from ignorance or lack of research (it hasn't; I've read and archived piles of articles and studies and made my decision based on that). I'm tired of the (mostly) women who poke at me with "don't you care about my immuno-compromised child" and other emotional pings before launching into the suggestion that I'm a stupid, selfish bastard because I won't wear a mask because they want me to.

Yes, let's not mask shame. And even better, let's not mask harass.

Because I'm not going to wear one for this pandemic.


UPDATE, SAME DAY: In a Facebook post highlighting this section of Burgum's press conference, I find the following comments right out of the gate. They clearly missed the point. 

"It's the right thing to do." = if you don't wear one, you're doing the wrong thing.

"It's a courtesy" = if you don't wear one, you're rude and inconsiderate.

"It's not difficult" = only a stupid person wouldn't understand why you should be wearing a mask.

"It's sad how some people are so selfish" = if you don't wear one, you're selfish.

The rest of the comments don't provide much hope, either.

I could go in there and troll until I die. I could poke and prod until I locate each of these people's wrong, stupid, rude, and selfish soft spot somewhere, a place where they are a hypocrite in calling on others to make this accomodation when I know that somewhere, somehow (because it is human nature), they have something in their life in which they aren't so noble about acquiescing to the needs of others. I could grind them down and eviscerate them on being two-faced, even while they virtue signal here, on this particular issue.

I could.

But why bother.

Burgum's request was legit, but impossible. You might as well spit into the wind. As long as you don't have a mask on.

UPDATE: JULY 9, 2020

Unbelievably, after all of the riots and protests which the same people insisting on mask mandates embraced, we are in a more heated push for a national mask mandate even though the death rates are plummeting and the CDC has said it can barely be considered an epidemic. In the heat of the summer, there is more of a push to wear masks. We flattened the curve, it sprang back up as we emerged (as everyone predicted), and now we're freaking out again. 

Let's be clear that the science isn't perfect on mask wearing, the efficacy of certain types of masks, the transmission of the virus, the impact on long-term mask wearing by large populations, and the reality that more and more those who advocated them said it was about respecting others. That is, it is mostly symbolic

You know what is a good way to show respect to others?

Let them make their own decisions and not try to use emotional coercion.


  1. I'm with you, Julie. As a South Dakotan, I am glad it's been fairly easy for me to conduct my life fairly normally, but you've echoed my feelings quite well.


Post a Comment

Comments are heavily moderated for language, topical relevancy, and mindless trolling. If you're anonymous, there's a good chance your comment won't be published no matter what it is. Follow the blog commenting rules found here.