(un)masking Threat: Racial Minorities Experience Race-Based Social Identity Threat Wearing Face Masks During COVID-19

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Group Processes & Intergroup Relations

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, racial minorities in the United States were left in a double bind when deciding to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the virus: risk being racially profiled or risk COVID-19. Two studies examine Black and Asian individuals’ experiences of race-related social identity threat wearing face masks during COVID-19, and its impact on safety and health behaviors. Black, Asian, and White participants in the United States responded to surveys (S1: N = 776; S2: N = 534) on their experiences wearing masks early in the pandemic (May 2020) and 3 months later (August 2020). Across both studies, results indicated that, compared to White individuals, Black and Asian participants reported experiencing mask-related, race-based social identity threat from both the public and police, with Black individuals particularly concerned about mask-related threat in police interactions. Mediational analyses demonstrated that mask-related social identity threat led to avoidance of police when help was needed at both time points, and decreased face mask usage early in the pandemic for both Black and Asian people. Results highlight these unique social identity concerns faced by racial minorities and have implications for protecting racial minorities’ health and safety during the pandemic.


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