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#letusbreathe Is Not Your Hashtag
February 17, 2022
“Everyone STAY RESPECTFUL and STAY STRONG… #letusbreathe.”
These are the messages protest organizers use to encourage individuals to take part in their “movement.”
Social media crafts a platform for protests such as the pro-choice mask protest that grips SJHHS. The creation of hashtags allows for movements to be encapsulated into powerful sayings, and are used as means of creating a unified front.
However, whether intentional or not, students protesting the mask mandate’s use of #letusbreathe is disgusting, inappropriate, and seems deliberately racist.
Throughout the pandemic, individuals opposing the health measures that have been enforced for public safety claim themselves to be the truly oppressed. The extreme irony and inappropriate nature of these comments is made apparent when looking at the demographics of who more often do not wear masks. Data and studies have revealed that white men are the least likely to wear masks.
With this in mind, comments about oppression coming from this demographic echo claims of “reverse racism” and demonstrate the insensitivity and disregard for BIPOC experiences and intense historical hardships. Many have encouraged other unvaccinated individuals to wear a star similar to the Star of David, claiming they are facing a new holocaust. Others like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green have claimed that there is a “new Jim Crow” facing those who do not want to wear masks.
What is particularly disrespectful about these claims is that they disregard the severity of these historical instances of oppression and disrespect survivors and those traumatized by those events through mere association. Individuals who do not wear a mask are not being oppressed. They have the freedom to stay home or in outdoor spaces where masks are not required. They are not being discriminated against based on their identity or how they were born and they are not denied access to healthcare when they get sick from Covid after exposing themselves while not being vaccinated or protected by a mask.
Their choice of wearing a mask is still preserved, they simply have to compromise when they choose not to wear one. Associating their childish refusal to wear a simple piece of cloth for the safety of them and those around them with the hashtag “letusbreathe” is appalling.
#letusbreathe is a movement that many rally around as part of the Black Lives Matter movement after the horrific 9 minute video of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former officer Derik Chauvin and Eric Garner’s death in a police chokehold. Floyd could not breathe underneath Chauvin’s knee. Garner, who died at the hands of police in a chokehold could also not breathe.
White individuals cannot draw parallels to Black movements, because there are in fact no similarities between the two. One glaring difference strips the possibility of similarities all away: Black people have been oppressed for centuries, and white suburban folks who have to wear a mask are nowhere close to being oppressed.
It was not a piece of cloth that was “suffocating” them. It was centuries of systemic racism and racist people that were suffocating them to death, and have a grip on thousands more Black individuals in this country.
White men, women, and other individuals who refuse to wear a mask because they find them “suffocating” or “oppressive” have no idea the extent to which real oppression suffocates individuals. Suffocates them to the point where folks like Ahmad Arbery cannot go on a run in his community. To the point where Breonna Taylor and other Black individuals cannot go to sleep safely in their own homes.
These are the true individuals who are being oppressed by a pandemic that has existed centuries longer than Covid. The disgusting appropriation of the #letusbreathe delegitimizes the centuries of struggles and the immense grief Black individuals have had to repeatedly face because systemic racism continues to persist and pervade every facet of life.
What’s more is that cherished Black figures are also being used as a political maneuver to legitimize and honorize the protest against health measures. In one caption of an @studentmaskchoice instagram reel of protesters in front of Ladera Ranch Middle School, an excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” Speech was used. Others have equated their protesting and refusal to wear a mask to Rosa Parks’ and many others of the Montgomery Bus Boycott’s civil disobedience.
White individuals drawing parallels with their movement to ones in which Black individuals were fighting for their quality of life and against their white oppressors is horrendous. This is especially insensitive during Black History Month, a time in which we should be honoring Black accomplishment and realizing how much more needs to be done to make marginalized communities equal. White individuals cannot draw parallels to Black movements, because there are in fact no similarities between the two. One glaring difference strips the possibility of similarities all away: Black people have been oppressed for centuries, and white suburban folks who have to wear a mask are nowhere close to being oppressed.
The manner in which these individuals are protesting against a government mandate that is designed for public safety and also has been upheld in courts shows the inherent racism in our perceptions of individuals. Just as with the attacks on the capitol, these mask mandate protests are not being viewed in the same manner Black Lives Matter protests and advocacy for inoculation is. People of color more frequently dominate Black Lives Matter protests and the advocacy around vaccines, and the fact that these movements are villainized, called riots and infringements on people’s liberties is not a coincidence.
Using a hashtag that has notable significance to the Black community, being insensitive to historically marginalized groups, forcing teachers to become conflict mediators and other students to compromise their and others safety is not civil disobedience and should never be looked upon as such.
With this being said, the message to these “protestors” is simple.
You still can and have always been able to breathe. Before you claim to be oppressed or stripped of liberties, learn what being oppressed actually looks like. It is a disgrace to our curriculums and the country for you to evoke traumatic and serious events from history and use them as pathos for your illogical arguments against public safety regulations.