As established at Skeptics, Lincoln County, Oregon, legally requires everyone to wear facemasks to prevent the spread of covid...unless they are a person of color. In other words, only white people have to wear them*. The county stated

In this Directive there were several exceptions identified recognizing that not everyone could or should wear a face covering: ...

People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public.

What I don't understand is what racial profiling and harassment have to do with anything. Most people won't be covering up their entire skin even while wearing the mask (especially in the Summer), so it's not like any racists wouldn't be able to tell what skin color they have. As far as I can tell wearing a mask has nothing to do with it.

Is there any reason to believe masks affect racial profiling? And/or has Lincoln County, Oregon put up any proof that there is a connection?

*It seems that there may be a couple of other exceptions, such as people with disabilities, but the point remains.

  • A bit misleading here. The directive does NOT stipulate that only Whites have to wear masks. It says that "People of color who have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings in public." don't have to wear masks. Which means that "People of color who DO NOT have heightened concerns about racial profiling and harassment due to wearing face coverings and public" ARE required to wear them.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 20:23
  • 4
    @CGCampbell Unless if they have professional mind readers there is no practical difference. Anyone could claim to be concerned. Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 16:51

1 Answer 1


The New York Times ran this story in April (before George Floyd)

As the coronavirus continues to spread, infecting and killing African-Americans at disproportionately high rates, black men find themselves facing two concerns: the virus and those who see their covered faces as threatening.

It later notes this

In March, before the C.D.C. issued its recommendation, two black men in surgical masks filmed themselves as a police officer was kicking them out of a Walmart in Wood River, Ill. In the video, which has been viewed more than 250,000 times on YouTube, the officer can be seen following them.

Chief Brad Wells of the Wood River police said in a news release that the officer in the video “incorrectly” told the men that a city ordinance prohibited masks.

“This statement was incorrect and should not have been made,” Chief Wells said. “In fact, I support the wearing of a nonsurgical mask or face covering when in public during the Covid-19 pandemic period.” The men have since filed a complaint, and an internal investigation is underway.

A piece in Vox notes this

Not wearing a protective face covering has gotten a black man into trouble, too. A video out of Philadelphia earlier this month shows a black man being forcibly removed from a public bus by at least four officers just a day after the city’s transportation authority required that all riders wear face coverings while on public buses, trolleys, and trains. The video, which shows the police first swarm the man then yank him from the bus, is especially jarring during an already tense public atmosphere. Following the incident, the transit authority announced that face coverings were no longer mandatory.

The problem is neither piece concretely ties this to profiling. NY Times has this part

It is unclear how many profiling incidents there have been since the C.D.C. issued its recommendation earlier this month. Melanye Price, a political-science professor at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university in Texas, said the pandemic and the C.D.C.’s mask recommendation, however well-intentioned, could put African-Americans at greater risk.

And Vox caveats

So far, the reports of racial profiling are anecdotal and there are just a known few. But did the incident occur if it wasn’t caught on camera?

In other words, the evidence to date have been mostly anecdotal, with a few incidents that police escalated needlessly. I can't find any evidence of any broader problem from serious reporting (NYT would not be shy about that if there were).

Why did Lincoln County, OR exempt blacks?

Apparently they did so solely based on the reporting to-date

"We included the protections for those within our communities of color who historically, and often personally, found themselves the victims of harassment and violence," the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and County Management team said in a statement Wednesday evening. "We are shocked and appalled at the volume of horrifically racist commentary we have received regarding this policy exemption."

The exception, local officials said, was well-intentioned — a way for people worried about racial profiling to avoid that by having the option to not wear a mask, Lincoln County Commission spokesman Casey Miller.

There's no mention anywhere that a complaint sparked this. The board was apparently trying to err on the side of caution.

  • At the end of March, Oregon governor Brown released lock-down guidelines that recommended different enforcement of mask guidelines based on race (appallingly, in my opinion).. I'm sure that influenced the Lincoln County administrators. Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 17:30
  • In some places apparently “jogging while black” can be very dangerous. In the U.K. driving a nice car while black is apparently a crime, including for Olympic gold medal winners. So yes, I can see that wearing a face mask while black could get you at least the police called out and worst case could put you in danger. The appalling but is not different guidelines according to race, but that this might actually be needed.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 16:10
  • Why would the example of the men being kicked out of WalMart be limited to blacks? For years, my bank (in an area with cold winters and few black people) had a sign telling customers not to wear ski masks and the like. On my last visit, that sign had been replace with one saying that masks were mandatory.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 21, 2020 at 16:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .