Study: Black men perceived differently when wearing bandanas instead of surgical masks

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Under Gov. Roy Cooper's executive order, all North Carolinians must wear a face covering when in public spaces where social distancing is impossible. Many retailers--both large and small--have begun requiring masks and face coverings inside their stores.

For many of us, the choice between wearing a scarf or bandana as a mask versus something like a surgical-style mask is probably a decision based on comfort.

But for some in our society, the choice may be one of safety--and not just safety from the coronavirus.

"We had heard from a number of people in the African American community that wearing masks might be a real issue, that people might misperceive what their intentions were," University of North Carolina political science professor Marc Hetherington said.

Hetherington used pictures of Black male models with and without different types of masks to show to people and get their reactions. The study, he noted, involved political scientists from North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other schools.

"We put together this study where we were able to take a look at the degree to which different types of masks had different influences on how people perceived a young, African American male model," he said.

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The results showed Black men wearing cloth masks or bandanas were indeed viewed differently than the same men without masks.

"They increased how threatening people perceived the model and also how untrustworthy people saw the model," he said. "So this is a really concerning situation right now."

On the flip side, participants did not have the same reaction to a white male model wearing bandanas or cloth masks.

Additionally, when participants saw the Black male model wearing a surgical mask, the results showed a stark contrast.

"What we found was that surgical masks actually caused people to see the model exactly the same way as they see that model with no mask on at all," Hetherington said.

Hetherington noted that the surgical mask didn't erase stereotypes, but it didn't make them worse.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, nor has it been published in an academic journal at this time.

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