While I am as thrilled as anyone that the English Government plans to remove the mandatory face covering rule on the 19th July, the news also resulted in a catch in the back of my throat, and a strange wave of emotion, the rationale of which I was unable to really pinpoint until I had had some time to process the news.
I found myself on a popular internet forum, which was running a poll and discussion as to the efficacy of face coverings, and asking which participants were planning to continue to wear them after July 19th, and who was relieved to see the end of the mandatory masks. An overwhelming majority voted in favour of the latter, with comments celebrating the banishing of the “balaclava”, and others asserting their intention to burn their face coverings in some kind of ceremonial fire. While obviously it is promising that so many will be “daring to bare”, it also brought home a very stark reality. That most of these people did not believe that masks made a difference. Their willingness to throw away their protection even as cases rise belied their subconscious attitude towards “masking up”, whether they were consciously aware of this or not.
And yet these were the people shouting abuse at strangers last June, the day the mask mandate came into play, and not one second before.
These were the people filming unmasked shoppers in supermarkets, and uploading the footage to social media to allow everyone to vilify individuals.
These were the people who had hissed “murderer” every time I dared to enter the petrol station without a piece of cloth over my mouth. Who had made loud, public declarations that “people like that” should be held down and forced into a mask, should be banned from public places, should be publicly named and shamed.
These were the people who took their five year olds hand, knelt down to their level, and pointed directly at me, saying loudly to their innocent child “You see that lady there? She is a murderer because she isn’t wearing a mask. She’s a nasty, selfish person. Aren’t you glad you’re not like that?”
These were the people who were championing masks at each and every opportunity, who were claiming that they were “saving lives” and who took every chance they could to show hoe good and virtuous they were: primarily through their loud, public judgement of others.
Now, Our Leaders have declared that the masks can come off, and the nation is in celebration (more on the sinister nature of this statement later…)
And the majority of these people will toss away their masks into landfill on July 19th, and breathe a sight of relief (not to mention fresh air for the first time in over a year).
And they will never give a second thought to how they made people feel.
They will never consider the consequences their actions and words had. Never question that they were doing “the right thing”. Never stop to consider the impact of mindlessly, relentlessly parroting the narrative of the “greater good”.
They will simply go back to their lives, or turn their “greater good” narrative to the issue of the vaccines.
For those who have realised what it feels like to be a second class citizen, however, the feeling has yet to fade.
I am fortunate; being ostracised for a bare face was a temporary inconvenience. Those who are singled out for other attributes deemed “wrong” face a lifetime of hostility, judgement and abuse – to those people, I take my hat off.
Covid will pass. The masks will come off, DJ’s will return to nightclub decks, and hugging your mother will no longer be a criminal offence.
But there is a side of some people which has been exposed to the light, and for those they attack, life will never quite be the same again.