- Public health officials in Ohio’s most populous county on Wednesday apologized after releasing guidelines that encouraged African Americans and “communities of color” to avoid wearing facial coverings associated with “gang symbolism.”
- The guidance that minority communities should avoid “fabrics that elicit deeply held stereotypes,” including “bandanas,” “skull prints,” and “horror prints.”
- The Franklin County Department of Public Health also advised against wearing red or blue bandanas “as these are typically associated with gang symbolism.”
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Public health officials in Franklin County, Ohio apologized last week after they released guidance on wearing face masks that targeted the African American community and urged it against wearing facial coverings that elicited “gang symbolism.”
“Franklin County Public Health apologizes for a recent guidance document focused on mask coverings for African Americans,” the agency said in a statement posted Wednesday to Twitter said. “Some of the language used came across as offensive and blaming the victims.”
It added: “We have listened to the opinions that have been expressed and are using the voice of the public to inform any new guidance we put out. Everyone deserves to feel safe while wearing a face covering and not be subjected to stigma, bias, or discrimination. We apologize, and will continue to stay engaged in tough conversations to be better for the communities we serve.”
Franklin County is the largest county in Ohio by population and is home to the state’s capital city of Columbus. Earlier this month, the county’s board of health declared racism a public health crisis.
The apology came after the agency released a document titled “COVID-19 General Guidance on Wearing Face Mask for African Americans and Communities of Color.” FDPH said it aimed to “to ensure that all individuals feel safe and can protect themselves from the COVID-19 when out in public by wearing a face mask,” according to WOSU.
The document recommended that African Americans and other people of color “avoid fabrics that elicit deeply held stereotypes,” including “bandanas,” “skull prints,” and “horror prints.”
“When utilizing a homemade mask, avoid bandanas that are red or blue, as these are typically associated with gang symbolism,” the guidance read. It also urged against the wearing of a scarf “just simply tied around the head,” claiming that doing such was associated with “unsavory behavior.”
In response to the agency’s apology last week, some said the guidance pointed toward a larger problem — a potential lack of diversity among the agency’s staff.
“Seriously, just let the measly few POC you employ help you when addressing these communities,” one person wrote on Twitter. “And always proof your documents before releasing.”
As The New York Times reported, Black men, in particular, have expressed concern that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s April recommendation that encourages facial coverings to limit the spread of COVID-19 makes them susceptible to racial profiling and police harassment.
In April, California Sen. Kamala Harris of California and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked federal law enforcement agencies to provide anti-bias training and guidance to police officers as states re-opened and masks became more prevalent. All 50 states have begun to relax stay-at-home orders, meaning residents are returning to businesses that now require facial coverings.