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Be a patriot. Wear a mask.

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 7/3/2020 Renée Graham
a person holding a sign: A sign in the window of a clothing store in Los Angeles. © Jae C. Hong A sign in the window of a clothing store in Los Angeles.

In his inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy famously said, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

These days, the answer should be simple: Wear a mask. Or, at least it would be if not for people prolonging this nation’s pandemic agony by refusing to wear one.

For most, this will likely be a July 4 unlike any other, one without family gatherings, backyard barbecues with friends, or beach parties. Yet far too many will still carry on and crowd together as if coronavirus is yesterday’s news.

If these recent record-shattering days prove anything, it’s that while some thought we were done with COVID-19, it isn’t close to being done with us. Still, many will celebrate by forgoing the most effective means of slowing the virus’s spread — wearing a mask over the nose and mouth.

“There’s no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected; so it’s people protecting each other,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said during Senate testimony on Tuesday. “Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it’s giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of.”

Wearing a mask isn’t political. For this nation’s survival, it’s the most patriotic thing we can do.

Future generations will look back in wonder and horror at the behavior of so many adults who wouldn’t don a mask during this pandemic. In Provincetown, an 81-year-old pizza restaurant owner alleges he was punched in the face by a man who refused to wear a mask or practice social distancing.

In a New York bagel shop, an unmasked woman intentionally coughed on another customer. Grocery store workers are verbally and physically terrorized. Asked to wear a mask, a woman in Texas lobbed items out of her shopping cart, then yelled, “Now clean that [expletive] up.”

It’s like the “Karen” Olympics. In the viral videos of these encounters, the perpetrators are usually white women, while the essential workers are people of color. That fosters even uglier dynamics of unchecked privilege wielded against those already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

(When I see someone galumphing down the street without a mask, it’s all I can do to resist pouncing and shaming them. Then I remember, as a Black woman, I would probably end up in handcuffs or worse.)

Renée Graham: Don't be a Karen. Be a Joan.

King of the Karens, otherwise known as President Trump, says he’s “all for masks,” but doesn’t wear one, has no plan to issue a federal mandate, and is still insisting the virus will “just sort of disappear.” Faced with a deadly virus he can’t gaslight away, Trump is increasingly delusional, but denial is not policy. More than 128,000 people are dead. With alarming surges in numerous states including Texas, Florida, and Arizona, city and state officials are again shutting down beaches, bars, movie theaters, and gyms. Medical workers in hard-hit states are again fretting about running out of ICU beds and personal protective equipment.

Studies show that widespread mask usage could save more than 30,000 lives by October. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, usually a staunch Trump henchman, now says there should be “no stigma” attached to masks.

Meanwhile, the president is more concerned about the well-being of dead traitors’ statues, and protecting what he calls “our heritage.” For Trump, that “heritage” is white supremacy and treason. Morally bereft game recognizes morally bereft game.

Many of the non-mask wearers follow Trump’s lead, and it’s a damn sorry thing to imagine anyone taking their medical cues from a man who once aimed his unprotected eyes toward the sky during a solar eclipse.

If you believe mask requirements violate your civil rights, clearly you’ve never had your civil rights violated. This is a flex of privilege from people accustomed to accommodation while inflicting cruelties on the vulnerable and marginalized. They’re not freedom fighters; they’re selfish jerks.

In this pandemic, wearing a mask is a small sacrifice that yields an enormous result — it saves lives. If the definition of patriotism is “devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country,” then this nation needs everyone to do this one simple thing. Short of a vaccine, this is how we can inch closer to regaining our independence.

We are all enlisted in this battle; only cowards will turn away. And so, my fellow Americans, instead of wrapping yourselves in the flag this July 4 weekend, wrap a mask around your face.

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