George Washington University (where I teach) this week became one of the last major universities to drop its mask mandate. Many students had long declined to follow the mandate, but the decision was met with relief by many at the school. Yet, some are vivid about the lifting of such mandates in various schools. One is a professor at the University of British Columbia who has participated in roundtable discussions as an expert with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Dr. Amy Tan is a Clinical Associate Professor in Palliative Care and Family Practice at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Calgary. She recently issued a blistering attack on those going maskless as being “racist, ableist, and classist.” The comments raise long-standing concerns that masks have become a vehicle for social and political rather than medical agendas.
“once again and always – white people, you do not get to say what is or isn’t racist. stop speaking for and over BIPOC.
learn your place, sit down, shut up, and listen to us. your white saviorism is killing us. whiteness is a problem. oof.
(read & listen to James Baldwin! <3)”
Tan appeared to agree and added that “not masking is racist, ableist & classist.” Notably, some experts believe that the mandatory mandates are alarmist. Recent studies have cast doubts on the efficacy of masks and revealed that even the CDC long harbored doubts on the question. Others continue to challenge those contrary findings as incomplete.
Notably, Tan is not attempting to engage skeptics on the science. Instead she (and others) are attempting to cut off debate by labeling opposing views as revealing a myriad of prejudices. These attacks have largely worked to intimidate many in government, business, media, and academia. Mask efficacy is a debate long suppressed by social media companies and disfavored by many universities. Experts were banned for raising such questions and others labeled conspiracy theorists.
Figures like Tan continue to argue that questioning mask efficacy is to self-identify as a racist, ableist and classist. That is a lot of “ists” for anyone and most academics do not want to risk becoming a target of such attacks. The problem is that the students and the public at large no longer appear to be buying into the mask mandates.
Hopefully, we can still have this long delayed debate at universities without the type of personal, vituperative attacks employed by figures like Tan. If one truly cares about public health, there is nothing to fear from hearing opposing views on the underlying science. People of good faith should be able to disagree on these studies without being allegedly “unmasked” as the Bull Connors of medicine.
Her bio on UBC’s website highlights her work as “an advocate for health equity and an anti-racism educator and consultant” with expertise on “culturally-safe and anti-oppressive care with patients and families.” She has been a continuing advocate for masks where both inside and outside buildings.