That’s what I heard a big white man in a MAGA hat say today while at the grocery store.
“I can’t breathe with this stupid mask on” he clarified. So I smiled and replied (in my best mommy/teacher voice), “Yes, you can.”
God bless his honesty when he replied back, “Yeah, well, I just don’t want to.” What I really wanted to say was, “What are you, 12?” Instead I simply said…
“And therein lies the problem, sir”
But for me and (I’m sure) anyone with an ounce of sensitivity and awareness, the problem with his declaration goes much deeper. I hear white people say “I can’t breathe” almost daily now. Whether I’m at work or out at the store I know I’ll hear some white person declare “I can’t breathe” because it’s been mandated that they wear a mask and they don’t want to.
And, no, I have yet to hear this from a person of color in reference to being required to simply wear a mask. Given the fact that these are the three words uttered and gasped by Eric Garner, George Floyd and many others, BIPOC know better than to speak these words in such an insensitive and frivolous way. To me it’s the equivalent of a sacrilege. Completely irreverent.
When the debate over wearing a mask in public spaces first started heating up I thought a government mandate made perfect sense. What’s to debate? It’s a no-brainer. Like seatbelts in cars, hard-hats on construction sites, proper clothing and shoes in various settings, gloves on doctors, nurses, and food handlers, wearing a face mask is a proven safety measure in the midst of a pandemic. What safety measures are there against racism?
So, please, white people who are totally unaware of their white privilege, you need to stop saying “I can’t breathe” because YES! You can! You don’t have a knee on your neck. Your face isn’t pressed into the pavement while a man with a gun sits on your back kneeling on your neck with his hands in his pockets. You are not a black man or woman in America sleeping in your home, watching TV in your home, driving, walking, shopping, or just bird-watching in the park. Wearing a face mask is not life threatening.
If you are white, then you enjoy and hold white privilege within America’s system of white supremacy and, yes: You can breathe.
Eric Garner, however can’t breathe.
Breonna Taylor can’t breathe.
Atatiana Jefferson can’t breathe.
Alton Sterling can’t breathe.
Michael Brown can’t breathe.
James Brown can’t breathe.
Willie Ray Banks can’t breathe.
Tamir Rice can’t breathe.
Philando Castille can’t breathe……..
So please, with all due respect, stop whining about doing something that will help save lives.