Sometimes I feel like I can’t leave my house without having to explain to some red-faced moron that science is real. It’s sometimes scary and always emotionally draining. Last week, a store manager in Salem, Oregon refused to allow maskless would-be customers into the Trader Joe’s, and the internet exploded. The video that captured this priceless moment immediately went viral. Here’s what happened.
It was an unseasonably balmy day in Salem, Oregon on January 12th. The manager, who’s name tag says ‘Karim,’ was posted up outside his Trader Joe’s, perhaps enjoying the weather in his trademark Hawaiin print shirts. But then some fired up anti-maskers showed up and demanded — COVID-19 risk be damned — that they had the unalienable right to shop for bulk pantry items. They just wanted to shop with a naked face amidst a pandemic, they said. It’s their civil right, protected by Oregon statutes, they repeated, as they moved creepily closer to the staff who were guarding the entrance.
But this gallant retail manager didn’t budge and he didn’t lose his cool either. He patiently explained that Oregon currently has a mask mandate in place and insisted that, while he respects their beliefs, they must wear masks in the store. For eight excruciating minutes, he politely refused their demands as they moved towards him, incorrectly citing the constitution.
"The Civil Rights Act protects me to go in and shop like everybody else,” one of the maskless mob said to the manager. Karim apparently fared better in high school Civics class than that guy, though. "The Civil Rights Act protects your religious freedom to practice,” he responded. “With all due respect, you're manipulating that constitution.” This perfectly deadpan burn neatly encapsulates Karim’s educated — but not pretentious — and infinitely reasonable response to the nonsense he was faced with.
Watching this young buck stand up to this maskless mod — who call themselves “demonstrators” — is simultaneously cathartic and excruciating. We all know the pain of dealing with someone foaming at the mouth about their personal rights when what they are claiming they have a right to — they do not, for the record, threatens public health in a measurable way. Some recent research suggests that mask-wearing reduces the spread of the virus by over 20%.
In those eight minutes, Karim stands in for everyone who has faced a crazed COVID denier. He embodies both our intense frustration and also our hopeful adherence to facts. He looks exhausted, but he’s trying anyways. He says what we have all been trying to say a million times a day for a year: No, actually, you do not have the right to put other people’s lives in jeopardy, that’s not what America means. Karim is the working class hero we have been waiting for, the reality-based everyperson we all strive to be, and I, for one, am grateful for his service.