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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Behind The Mask

Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

Back when we were unmasked and innocent, we had our worries and fears. But they seem so petty now. It’s hard to remember what scared us back then: gluten? tweets? breaking a hip? Seems so insignificant compared to what fresh hell we wake up to each day.

But we’ve also had moments of grace and enlightenment. Mostly, like all moments of grace and enlightenment, these were born out of intense fear and throat-drying panic. Mask wearing inspired many to dust off their Singer sewing machines and sew masks for themselves, neighbors, friends and first line health care workers. I have grown to really like wearing protective masks. Not only do they help lessen the spread of a virus we haven’t fully contained, but they offer a fantastic way to avoid that talkative guy who is always at Raley’s wanting to tell you about his new hobby, carving spoons out of driftwood or making birdhouses out of sea shells. That guy as well as all your former students can’t recognize you anymore, especially if you, like me, wear a hat and sunglasses with your paisley printed face mask. So we’ve got that going for us.

There is a newish saying going around that is also inspired by the world gone mad. It’s called, “being woke.” I looked it up and one definition says that being woke is, “...a cultural push to challenge problematic norms, systemic injustices and the overall status quo...” I think many of us have experienced this challenge, especially those of us who have felt that the tide of systemic racial injustice was never going to turn; that the Emmett Tills and most recently, George Floyds were never going to experience equal justice under the law. But the recent protests across the country, in big cities and especially in rural communities, has made the issue of police brutality a national concern. Those of us who have never directly experienced it have woken up to the fact that our country is not, in fact, a shining city on the hill, but a country where black parents have had to instruct their sons and daughters how to “show their hands” and not wear hoodies so they won’t get shot by the police for just being kids.

The town of Yreka had over 300 protesters at their rally, a number that is pretty phenomenal considering the conservative bent of Siskiyou County. Protests all over the State of Jefferson were similarly enthusiastic and that is an indicator of people waking up and seeing this problem as one that affects the heart and soul of our country. Too little, too late for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other victims of racial violence, but...I was going to try and end that sentence with some kind of positive statement, but I think I’ll just let it stand at that. Too little, too late.

As I try to wind this up, the Supreme Court, in a remarkable ruling, hits the ball out of the park by deciding that federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The 6-3 decision with Trump appointee Justice Gorsuch writing for the majority, upholds the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which explicitly requires equal treatment of individuals regardless of gender. I must confess, I did not see that coming but have to say that the dim light on the hill got a little brighter for equal rights with that heroic decision.

Let’s continue to push those “problematic norms and systematic injustices.” And, I for one, am going to continuing wearing a mask because (a) I want to avoid that guy at Raley’s and (b) I want to live long enough to see justice for all.

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres developed a passion for writing for an audience as editor of her high school newspaper, the Eureka High Redwood Bark. She comes from a long line of teachers and became a teacher herself, retiring from teaching in Scott Valley. She now lives in Ashland with her husband Jim.