How Malaysians and Americans React to Masks
By: Amira Zulaikha binti Saidon
Editor: Liu Jiun Er
Source: Sergio Flores/Getty Images
In this time of uncertainty as everyone suddenly find themselves in the middle of a pandemic, it can be hard to trust what the news are telling you. Surprisingly, Malaysians are citizens that trust the government, experts, and the news for information about the virus. Compared to the people in other countries, Malaysians believe more in the official sources, therefore we rely on the same information source leading to almost no discords among the people about the issue. Therefore, whenever the government issues new orders or new standard operating procedures to follow, a vast majority of the people will adhere to the rules without questions as they believe that the experts know best.
However, a different kind of reaction can be seen in the United States which arguably has some of the top public health experts in the world. The conflicting advices from people in power about the requirements of face masks has brought chaos in the U.S. response to the still-raging pandemic. While other countries are slowly recovering, U.S. with the increasingly worrying amount of cases sees a huge debate and split among the people about the necessity of face masks.
In Asian countries, surgical masks were socially acceptable long before the coronavirus pandemic. For countries like Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, it is common even without an outbreak to see people going around in masks when they are sick, so they do not infect other people. The difference in mindset where typically Asians are described to have a collectivist mindset while Americans are more individualistic is probably relevant to this discussion. United States calls itself the land of the free as men here as free to do as they wish, so Americans refusing to wear masks claims that it is ‘not American’ for the government to restrict people’s freedom of choice even as an effort to curb the rising Covid-19 cases in the US.
In social media, there are various viral videos of US citizens responding harshly when they are denied service from business owners for nor wearing a mask. Anand Giridharadas, a writer wrote that “A warped freedom obsession is killing us,” as response to rebellious Americans coughing the faces of others in the name of freedom. Even more outrageous, just recently some people have created a fake medical card which states that they have a medical condition that does not allow them to wear face masks and they have no obligation to explain their condition to people denying them service.
One important note to highlight about why Americans are divided regarding face masks is simply political. At the same time as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced new guidance that Americans should cover their faces in public to curb Covid-19's spread, President Donald Trump said it was "voluntary" and he himself would not do so. There is an ongoing American struggle between the government and the rights of individual liberty. Rebellion is part of the country’s political DNA. Trump is ignoring real issues for his own political gain and mused that Americans who wore face coverings were trying to hurt him politically. However, it is not the first time that face masks have become a political statement in the US. In California, one doctor who called for the use of masks was blasted as a ‘faddist’ and a ‘purveyor or mask propaganda’.
In a nutshell, those who agree to wear mask expresses their civic duty, an affirmation of scientific authority and a show of respect. However, people who decides not to wear mask sees it as a sign of weakness. Despite most Americans accepting the medical benefit of masks, they still reject the government’s decision to make it mandatory and claim it an infringement on their rights as a person in the land of the free. This raises the question on how far freedom should be allowed before it starts being harmful to the mass.