NYT Runner-up “If Our Masks Could Speak”

When I was seven years old, I was afraid of the dark, bugs, and heights. I even jumped at the slightest creak of wood in the hallway. In recent years, I grew out of these childish fears. But with the coronavirus pandemic bringing out ugly sides in society, I found a new fear: being attacked for expressing my opinions, political or not. 

This fear drew me to Thomas L. Friedman’s op-ed, “If Our Masks Could Speak.” Friedman describes how masks, which have proven effective in reducing the risk of contracting the deadly virus, have been politicized and even rejected by many people. What strikes me most is how Friedman highlights the absurd politicization of everything in society. It can “make anything a wedge issue — physics, gravity, rainfall.” 

Before the pandemic, I was already picking and choosing every word I said at school. Even my choice of clothes could be seen as political, and I usually wore plain, wordless T-shirts and sweatpants. 

During the pandemic, this situation has gone out of control. My parents tell me to avoid saying anything remotely controversial, or I could be unknowingly drawing attacks to me or my family. I feel scared and isolated. 

When the pandemic started, everyone told me it would be a time where the nation bonded together to fight a common enemy. Instead, the over-politicization of everything has only driven a wedge between people.

I no longer feel safe to express my personal opinions in America.

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