America’s face-mask culture is changing, and their meaning changes too
The message is: I’m protecting you, you’re protecting me, I can feel safe," says Suki Xiao.
Suki Xiao and her partner were the only ones wearing masks on the bus that early March day in Vancouver, Canada, when a man sitting nearby started coughing. The other passengers on the bus fixed their nervous attention on the coughing man—but also on Xiao and her partners’ masked faces.
Xiao had been in grade school in China during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, when no one around her thought twice about putting on a mask in public. But so early in the coronavirus pandemic, people in North American cities were still unaccustomed to seeing masked faces. For many, masks signaled “disease,” as if the wearer had something to hide.
Sensing fear and hostility, and worried for their safety, the pair got