Offensive fashion statements… or, who was that hooded, masked man?

As Patrick Starfish would say, “Good morning, Krusty Krew.” This morning, in contrast to yesterday morning, I am actually itching to write something of substance. Before I get cranked up with today’s post, I want to thank those of you who took the time to listen to my musical offerings yesterday. I truly appreciate it when anyone listens and comments on my recordings. I don’t put them out there very often because I hate making videos and I never know how they’re going to be received. But it does bring me great joy to sing songs and share them with others. So if you took the time to click on my channel, thank you very much. It means a lot to me, even though I did lose one subscriber on YouTube (bwahahahaha!). It’s okay. I’ll stay humble and stick to my day job.

Now, on with today’s controversial topic, which I hope readers will read and consider with an open mind.

Yesterday evening, I came across two news articles that caused me to react in different ways. After thinking about both of these issues, I realize that they’re two pieces of the same “puzzle” that faces everyone on the planet today. The first article that upset me was in the Washington Post. It was a piece by Robin Givhan about how face masks are “here to stay” and have now become a fashion accessory which may, very soon, become as essential as undergarments. Givhan writes:

Fashion always finds a way. Human beings are undaunted in their search for ways to stand out, to communicate, to thrive in a treacherous environment. And so the face mask — once purely functional, once perceived as an exotic accessory — has evolved at breakneck speed into something more.

It’s more essential because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Americans wear a mask when interacting with others. It’s more aesthetically pleasing. It’s also a more complicated cultural proposition. And, of course, the face mask is political because both the president and the vice president have refused to wear one on highly public occasions and because some protesters have insinuated that masks are un-American.

As the country moves toward reopening, masks are assuredly part of our future. And in some ways, their evolution is the perfect encapsulation of how much life has changed in a blink of an eye — and how challenging, both intellectually and emotionally, it will be for us to go forward.

I have written in previous pieces about how, personally, I don’t like seeing face masks being normalized and turning into fashion statements. I realize that I can’t stop them from evolving in such a way. Some people like wearing them and feel safer with them with them on. However, count me among those who have no desire to be mandated to wear a face mask for the rest of my life. In fact, I don’t even like that the masks are being pushed on everyone via peer pressure. I would hate to see them become like seatbelts, which most everyone is compelled to wear nowadays.

When I was a child, seatbelts were entirely optional. I have many memories of riding without them in those days, lying in cargo areas in my dad’s many vans or riding in the back of pick up trucks. At one time, my dad had a Volkswagen pop top camper, which had a bar across the ceiling that we had to push to get the camper top to go up. I used to swing on that bar like a monkey when I was a kid. It was very unsafe and unthinkable today, but great fun back then. I don’t regret the experience of swinging on that bar as we cruised down the interstates.

Now… as a sensible adult, I understand why all U.S. states and many developed countries require people to wear seatbelts. New Hampshire, the one seatbelt law hold out, currently doesn’t require seatbelt use for adults, but does require people under age 17 to wear them. It also looks like New Hampshire will soon require seatbelt use for everyone. However, generally speaking, I am opposed to “nanny” laws in principal. I think people should wear seatbelts because it’s the smart thing to do, not because they might get a ticket. I also wear one because if I don’t, my husband turns into Pat Boone.

I have seen face masks being compared to seatbelts. I don’t think they’re the quite same thing. Riding in a car without a seatbelt has always been inherently dangerous. Being in public without a face mask has not. Moreover, facial expression is a big component in effective communication and identification. A lot of things can’t be feasibly done in public if a person is wearing a mask… things that bring joy, like eating, drinking, lip reading, and smoking (although smoking is not something that brings me joy) or playing woodwind instruments or horns. Although speaking and singing are possible while wearing a mask, they aren’t as easy to do. Breathing isn’t as easy to do while wearing a mask, either.

I imagine that when summer is fully upon us, people who don’t routinely wear masks will realize what being forced to wear one at all times could mean. The thought of it really depresses me, especially since there is still some debate as to how helpful the masks really are. Face masks in 90 degree weather sound like a recipe for a lot of sweat, smelling of one’s own bad breath, and possible tan lines, not to mention kind of a creepy dystopian feel to society in which we won’t be allowed to see each other’s smiles in every day society.

I was a bit perturbed after reading Givhan’s article about how masks are becoming a fashion statement, especially since so many people commenting seem to be all for it being a permanent fixture. I don’t think a lot of people have thought about it very deeply. I intend to resist that trend as much as possible and only wear masks when I absolutely have to in order to avoid harassment or legal trouble. I posted about it on Facebook and my friend Sara, who is a nurse at the Mayo Clinic and has to wear a mask all day, fully agreed with me that wearing masks full time should be a no go. Especially since the coronavirus epidemic hasn’t been an issue for that long. Some people are now pushing for laws… and I know that I’m not the only one upset about the prospect of face masks being as necessary as underwear. In fact, another article drove home the idea that requiring face coverings at all times could be a very slippery slope.

Just before I was about to go to bed, I noticed a news item posted by a friend in California. A man in Santee, California went into a grocery store wearing a white, cone shaped hood. The San Diego Union-Tribune referred to the hood as a “KKK hood”, which it probably was. However, the man was not identified by name by the newspaper. In fact, other than a picture of the guy demonstrating his choice to wear the hood, along with shorts, t-shirt, and shoes, not much information about the man was provided at all.

I shared the article on Facebook, and a few friends automatically labeled the guy a racist. And, to be honest, he probably IS a racist. However, there is no way to know for sure. I suspect the guy wore the mask to make a point about the requirement to wear face masks. The rules are pretty broad right now. Your nose and mouth are supposed to be covered. The white hood accomplishes that. Because a hateful group of racists have co-opted the white, cone shaped hood into a symbol that immediately identifies one as a white supremacist, it’s taboo to wear a hood that looks like that in public. This guy chose to wear one anyway. He technically followed the rules by covering his face and mouth, but he did so in a way that was sure to offend other people.

I brought up the fact that since I’ve lived in Europe, I’ve noticed the Confederate battle flag being flown or otherwise displayed in various places here. When I’ve shared my observations with American friends, they almost always react with shock and dismay. To many Americans, the Confederate battle flag (which was actually only one of many used by Confederates during the Civil War) is ALWAYS a racist display. I grew up in the South and saw that flag all the time while growing up. Hell, when I was in South Carolina going to graduate school, there was a Confederate battle flag on top of the Statehouse. It was later relocated to the grounds of the Statehouse, where it stayed for years before it was finally put away for good. Yes, many people see that flag as a racist symbol, but others still insist that it’s about southern pride and a spirit of rebellion.

I once had an Italian Facebook friend. I guess we’re technically still friends, but he left Facebook last year, claiming that people didn’t want to engage in healthy debates with him. I’m sorry he left, especially since we have lost touch. Although he could be very obnoxious and even kind of mean at times, I liked the perspective he presented. He is an intelligent and articulate guy, and I miss getting his input on some topics. One time, he explained why it’s not really uncommon to see the Confederate battle flag displayed in Italy. That flag doesn’t have the same connotations to many Europeans as it does to Americans. A lot of people in Europe see that flag as only a symbol of southern rebellion. In fact, there’s a Harley Davidson garage located not two kilometers near where we live, and they proudly fly the Confederate battle flag. I’ve also seen it on a cab driver’s bumper in Ireland. To many Europeans, it doesn’t stand for racism like it does in the United States.

While the white hood and, especially, the swastika are definitely taboo in Europe, as they are in the United States, I would imagine that those symbols, when taken to a place where they have no meaning at all, would not inspire outrage. When it comes down to it, they’re just symbols, and they only have the meaning that people give them. Personally, I think we should pay more attention to the racist attitudes that actual people have rather than the symbols used to promote those attitudes. It’s also not lost on me that when those symbols are presented, they identify those who have those sentiments. That makes it much easier to choose not to associate with them… although a lot of them are simply ignorant, and their ignorance doesn’t necessarily make them horrible people. At least not in my opinion.

Does “God” feel the same way about Confederate battle flags and white hoods made of cloth?
Isn’t this a blip? My father was a proud flag carrying conservative, but he never hesitated to wear ugly clothes inspired by the American flag. I think Americans should probably think longer and harder about this issue.

Back when football player Colin Kaepernick was regularly in the news for “taking a knee”during the “Star Spangled Banner” to protest racism, a lot of conservatives were upset because they saw his actions as disrespecting the American flag. Curiously enough, “God”, the popular Facebook page, even referred to the American flag as a “piece of cloth” and the national anthem as just a song. I remember blogging about this subject, and to make my point, I included the photo below.

I am not at all condoning the actions of the “very fine people”. However, one could argue that the Confederate battle flag and, in fact, other symbols made of fabric, such as white, cone shaped hoods, are also just “pieces of cloth”, as “God” claims the American flag is.

So anyway… all of this led me to conclude that the guy who walked into the grocery store in his white hood is possibly more of a pissed off Trump supporter, rather than a flat out racist. He’s pissed off because he resents government overreach, and he sees having to wear a face mask at the grocery store as a violation of his personal liberties. He may also be pissed because Trump may very well (hopefully) get his ass kicked during the elections this November, and that may mean more left swinging laws. Remember, Trump and Pence don’t willingly wear masks, either, and Trump has gone as far as to encourage citizens to rise up against their state governments and demand that restrictions be lifted so life can get back to “normal”.

So instead of grudgingly wearing a regular face mask like a good citizen would, he decided to cover his face in a different way. He wore a white, cone-shaped hood, which to many people is an extremely horrifying symbol of racism and hatred. He made a lot of people very uncomfortable. However, he wasn’t violent and didn’t physically hurt anyone, and after being asked repeatedly to remove the hood (and probably what was his nose and mouth covering), he did comply. He paid for his items and left the store without incident, although local law enforcement is “looking into the matter”. Santee, California reportedly has a “checkered past” when it comes to racism, and its mayor has gone on record to denounce the hooded shopper’s actions.

It occurred to me that ultimately, the white cone hat guy was expressing himself. Granted, he was expressing hatred, disrespect, and disdain, which are ugly, antisocial expressions. But when it came down to it, he was expressing himself, which in the United States, he still has the right to do. Then I thought about it some more. Judging by the photo in the news article, I’m about 99.9% certain this dude probably is a racist on some level. But– is it possible he wasn’t? What if he was just a smart assed troll trying to rile people up? What if he was from another country and wasn’t aware that the hood would offend (highly unlikely, but technically possible)? Maybe someone paid him to wear the cone shaped hood on a dare? Not knowing anything about the guy, I can’t know for sure what his story is, although I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he’s a racist. Or maybe he’s just a frustrated, pissed off American making his feelings known in the most offensive way he can think of, not unlike when Melania Trump wore her “I really don’t care, do U?” jacket. I am certainly not condoning that the man chose that way to express himself… but I can see how that explanation could be a possibility.

The fact that the man wore the offensive KKK-esque hood into the store, technically complying with the order that he cover his mouth and nose, may seem like a bad thing. But, as I sat at the breakfast table talking about this with Bill, I concluded that his actions were not necessarily such a bad thing overall. Because it’s getting people thinking and talking about this issue. If face masks do become the law for the foreseeable future, people are probably going to have to come up with some guidelines. The guidelines aren’t going to suit everyone, and it may take some time to come to a consensus. By then, maybe a vaccine will be created and we can move beyond this pandemic without forcing another nanny law on the populace.

The first article I referenced in this post is about how the face masks are becoming “fashion”. Well, fashion is frequently distasteful. That’s part of the reason fashion is a thing, just like any art is. Art isn’t always beautiful or simple. Sometimes, it’s ugly and offensive. And if we want to mandate face masks for people, we should probably be prepared for those who will use their masks to make their feelings known through offensive fashion statements. I know a lot of people got a kick out of Mindy Vincent, the lady in Utah who made a face mask out of cloth that had penises on it. Plenty of people found that funny, especially when she told people that if they could tell her face mask has penises on it, they were too close. But other people, no doubt, were offended by it. Mindy Vincent has been selling the masks and has reportedly donated a lot of money to charity. That’s probably a good thing, depending on the charity. Some people would probably criticize her for that, too… or for the charity she’s chosen to donate to. The nice thing about America is that we can still have these thoughts and discussions… at least for now.

It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the hood wearing guy and whether or not his stunt will have any legal repercussions, especially if we do have to wear the fucking face masks from now on.


10 thoughts on “Offensive fashion statements… or, who was that hooded, masked man?

  1. Well said, Jenny… I especially appreciate your point about ALL flags being just pieces of cloth. Many fetishize flags and other historic items, anointing them as sacred symbols of the religion of Patriotism. I see people on any “side” of an issue rallying to and pushing their own accepted symbolism in order to avoid engaging with the real issue: our selfish entitlement to our own “rights” over our very real and highly neglected societal need for collective rights. Sometimes I think that many people in America act as if the US Constitution begins with “Me, the Person”.

    • I always kind of cringe when I write about this topic because it can get so heated. I was glad to see the first reaction coming from you, because I know you read carefully and consider the points made before you respond.

      I think life moves so fast for most people that they don’t have time to stop and think about things as deeply as they should. People get blinded by their own perspectives and what they consider right and wrong, and there is no time to stop and think about the other side… or what might be driving someone to behave in a certain way. I think, when it comes down to it, to get rid of racism, we have to attack the hateful attitudes before the symbols will go away. Burying so-called racist symbols only treats one of the symptoms.

      But the face mask issue, again, seems to have turned from a public health directive to a political statement about individual freedoms. I can see why some people are very upset about that, although I do not condone wearing white hoods to grocery stores or otherwise acting out violently or disrespectfully.

      • Agreed – I believe that we’ve become conditioned to react in an unthinking manner, Like or Dislike, and making these binary choices instantly divides us, rather than encouraging us to think and consider nuances. The man in the hood is probably acting out, in poorly chosen fashion, of simple frustration. And, if we could take the time to talk with him, we’d probably find that there are underlying causes in his life that are not being adequately addressed. But, it’s far easier to react as a group to the sight of his hood and jump straight to the usual assumptions than it is to take time to respectfully approach the man inside the hood. What’s far worse than his personal choice are the groupthink reactions that make that photo and masks in general, as you pointed out, political statements serving an agenda. We Like or Dislike what we see and we stay within our social bubbles of agreement, rather than bothering to consider Why, How, and What Next. Meme-ification of our politics is going to be the end of us.

      • As I write this, I’m actually shaking my head at a person on my Facebook friends list who habitually (and rather mindlessly) clicks the reaction buttons on EVERYTHING. This person does sometimes read my blog posts, but a lot of times, their reaction is just to the picture or the headline. I often use funny or ironic memes as featured photos and it never fails. I get a laughing reaction when the actual post is not at all funny. Today, it’s an angry reaction, most likely to the YouTube screenshot I took of the masked man.

        It’s really sad, because a lot of people really have become bored, mindless shells of what they could be. I am, on occasion, as guilty as anyone. I see a headline and want to react, but I usually try to force myself to read what I react to, because it really is one of my pet peeves. Also, people miss out on a lot when they do that. I shared a video yesterday that my friend, DeNeil had shared. It was about a man whose 12 year old son killed himself due to COVID. I doubt many people took the time to watch it… the story is heartbreaking, but I’m guessing people skipped it because he doesn’t appear to be liberal and because they think the kid killed himself due to loneliness (he didn’t). I feel like people shouldn’t react if they don’t take the time to read what they’re reacting to.

        But yeah… maybe if the masked guy felt heard and understood by someone rather than put down due to his personal beliefs, he might not have worn the hood in the store. America has gotten absolutely crazy, and it’s gotten so much worse since Trump took office.

  2. I’ve taken a beating in the past for saying “the flag is a piece of cloth.” It’s a symbol – but of what? Especially when we shit on our veterans so much in this country. I don’t care if you agree with a war or not, the people who put their lives on the line deserve to be taken care of. Do everything to take care of them first, before coming to talk to me how we should take care of a piece of cloth. Worry about why they are homeless before talking about a flag-burning amendment. One of those issues will require a lot of thought and money, the other will not – and that’s what it boils down to; getting people riled up about something that’s an “easy fix” that makes them feel good but doesn’t cost them anything.

    As for this guy, he’s likely a racist but doesn’t think he’s one. I know many (white) people who will swear they aren’t racist but talk about “those people” or say they have black friends so they can’t be racist. They think racism is just burning crosses on lawns or stringing people up. Racism has many forms – it’s clutching your bag when a black person approaches. It’s justifying why Trayvon White was killed for wearing a hoodie. An experience I had with a former friend while we were out in a park – a black man was just walking down a path towards us and she told me to get behind her while she had her hand on her (legally concealed carry) gun. Yet, she would swear she’s not racist.

    And I’m with you on the masks 100%. I won’t be wearing them forever. I’ve been wearing a gaiter into stores because they are lightweight and easier to breathe, but in general I’ll not wear them. People want to, fine. That’s on them. But don’t force me to do something because you’re afraid.

    • Interesting that you wrote about white people who swear they aren’t racists. Just yesterday, I found a thread in my memories about a video I shared by Praeger University, a conservative think tank. At the time, I was friends with Robert Brems, who wrote on Epinions. I don’t remember what his Epinions name was or why we were friends, other than I friended a lot of Epinions people when it first shut down. I have unfriended a lot of them since then.

      In any case, he was one of those types of people… a white guy who justified obviously racist comments because he had black friends. It was really astonishing, because his comments were way over the top and some of my liberal friends had a field day. Robert died not long after that exchange. He had lung cancer, if I recall correctly, and his death was brutal.

      But anyway, even though I definitely did not agree with his racist views, he did demonstrate another side that showed he wasn’t a totally horrible person. A couple of days before he passed, he posted an emotional plea to people not to smoke cigarettes, and he included some ugly, personal, and embarrassing truths about his condition in his last hours. I like to hope that was one good thing he did before he left the Earth.

      • I remember him on Epinions. I don’t remember whether I was friends with him or not off of it. Not everyone is purely bad and not every person is purely good. We all lie somewhere in between.

      • Yeah… but doesn’t it seem like a lot of people demonize others if they do something wrong? Call out culture, where people plaster someone all over Facebook and cause them to get death threats and hate mail really bothers me.

  3. I agree. In the beginning it seemed lie a case of you reap what you sow. Now I tend to think there’s another side to the story, most times. There are certain things that are just so stupid. Even if this guy wasn’t “racist” per se and chose this to make a point, it was a very poor way to make a point and likely if he was sensitive to how other races felt he wouldn’t have chose to make his point in this manner.

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