What North Carolina’s Proposed Mask Ban Is Really Saying

masks and white and blue towel hanging on white wall
Zain Murdock
June 11, 2024

In 1953, North Carolina passed a law banning mask-wearing in public, with Ku Klux Klan membership and their notorious pointed white hoods in mind. There were exceptions for things like Halloween costumes and jobs requiring safety masks. In 2020, along with the rest of the country, North Carolina added a health exception. Four years later, lawmakers revisited the legislation on masking, sending a blatant message of what and who the criminal legal system is really for.

This time, the “Unmasking Mobs and Criminals” bill seeks to remove health exemptions and criminalize those wearing a mask while “committing a crime.” It would still allow organizations like the KKK to seek permission to wear their hoods for parades and other public events.

Considering this same bill criminalizes blocking roads for protests, it’s clear who the state defines as “criminal.”

Under the guise of safety, its solution is more surveillance – being able to see people’s faces. This places immunocompromised Black people in a life-threatening dilemma. Continuing to mask could draw violent attention from cops. Unmasking could mean exposure to a deadly infection.

Though glaring, North Carolina’s urgent desire to surveil and criminalize is shared by the rest of the country. It’s why the KKK faces no dilemma. Because unlike protesters resisting the system and civilians fighting the spread of deadly viruses, the Klan aligns with the status quo of threatening Black people's lives.