Use your patriotism to protest oppression, not health precautions

The hypocrisy of patriotism in America is no new concept.

For as long as many have called it the “home of the free,” others have reminded us of the generational oppression on which their home is founded. Today, this irony presents itself in our Facebook feeds as forty-somethings claim that they are being forced to forfeit their freedom when mandated to wear a mask.

While some take to the streets to demand change, screaming the names of those who died after knees were pressed to their throats, others cry that it’s hard to breathe through a cloth mask.

One Facebook user Shaine Ornelas posted in agony, “How in the f— did they convince the world to social distance … stay in our homes … hug our grandparents through plastic and thoroughly have us on the verge of a civil war with each other[?] All to turn around and tell us that most of that is nixed and completely negated if we want to protest.”

Accompanying the post was artwork by Russian artist Kem Petrenko. Petrenko clarified that while he believes masks are effective for preventing illness, he feels that authorities around the world used, “panic, lack of information [and] distorted statistics, instead of resolving the social, humanitarian and medical problems associated with COVID-19. He then says that instead, the government chose to, “‘step on the throat’ of democratic freedoms and ‘tighten the screws as much as possible'”.

The Facebook user further goes on to use this rioting as an example of how the government has falsely labeled COVID-19 as highly dangerous as nothing is being done to end the protests, calling America a “fascist, communist regime.”

Our protests are nothing but an annoyance to these people, a blip on the radar to people who are searching for any excuse to hate Black people and science. To these people, the blame goes to everyone but themselves: to conspiracists in power, to Black Lives Matter, to “communism.” 

I remember the Declaration of Independence mentioning something about how “all men are created equal” and the Constitution enshrining our right to protest against a corrupt government. I imagine the writers of these documents meant something closer to objecting to the murder of innocent people by agents of the state, not CDC guidelines.

If it’s patriotic to protest masks, then the most patriotic thing you could do right now is take to the streets against systemic racist violence. But this is not really about patriotism. 

Patriotism is what racism hides behind, what ignorance thrives on. As long as it can be justified as “for your country,” you can consider yourself a hero, as if going into a coffee shop without a mask is doing your part; that makes you a soldier. 

Suddenly, though, it isn’t patriotic to protest because you’re protesting the government; but, wait, isn’t that precisely what gave this country its oh, so beloved freedom in the first place?

Black people aren’t sorry that this happened during a pandemic. We don’t care that you’re upset your local hospital requires masks inside. This is the first time in our lives that we aren’t seen as suspicious for wearing a mask. 

Our excuse for not social distancing is that we are willing to die at the hands of a virus before we die at the hands of law enforcement for simply existing. Our excuse for not wearing masks is that we want our voices to be heard loud and clear when we are finally listened to. Our excuse for not caring about COVID-19 is that we care more about not having to explain to our children why they can’t always call the cops.

What’s yours?

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article did not include the mask illustration and quotes from the artist. Updated at 7:36 p.m.