In a world where a pandemic is restricting the way of life we have always known, why has only 18.4% of the United States’ population received their first dose of the vaccine? Why are a third of Americans so uncomfortable and untrusting of the vaccine and the vaccine production process that could protect us all from an even longer painful experience? While 18.4% is a disappointing number, according to data reported by 35 states on COVID-19 vaccinations by race/ethnicity, only 7% of the Black population has received the first dose; in comparison, 13% of white Americans, 5% of Hispanics and 11% of Asian Americans have received the first dose of the vaccine. These statistics are partly due to the historical mistrust between the Black community and the medical community; a mistrust that runs so deep Black Americans are skeptical of a vaccine that could slow down the spread of COVID-19 which has caused 531,000 fatalities in the U.S. alone.
This virus has disproportionately affected minority groups, and yet many minorities do not have access to the vaccine even if they do have interest. Across the country, and especially in the South, minorities are forced to drive long distances to find a vaccine site. In Dekalb, Ga., Black residents are 56% more likely to live over a mile away from a vaccine site compared to white residents. However, these barriers extend beyond the South. In Queens, N.Y., Black residents are 106% more likely to live over a mile away from a vaccine site.
These statistics speak volumes regarding the lack of progress not only in the medical industry, but in government as well. Time and again, minority communities have to go out of their way to receive the care they deserve, and in this case the lack of transparency surrounding the vaccine due to political tension and misinformation has not helped calm the nerves of Black communities. Instead of strictly adhering to scientific facts, the vaccine became politicized as the year went on, fogging the messages communicated by scientists who supervised these programs. Americans never received an opportunity to become comfortable with the process of the vaccine production. While scientists were trying to educate the country throughout the creation timeline, the political climate overshadowed these facts, creating a barrier of distrust between the American people and the product being sold.
One example of the issue that is lacking transparency would be the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which began in 1932 and concluded in 1972, in which medical personnel intentionally prevented hundreds of African American men from receiving proper care for the sole purpose of observing the progression of untreated syphilis. The ripple effects of this experiment continue to affect Black Americans today as the life expectancy of Black men at 45 fell by 1.5 years, while also discouraging Black Americans from receiving medical assistance out of fear and a history of improper care. Furthermore, the Henrietta Lacks story of 1951 is another example of medical experimentation without a participant’s consent or knowledge. Doctors took cells from her cervix when she was battling cervical cancer for use in scientific research, and her cell harvest led to amazing discoveries all at the cost of her comfort, her family’s comfort and the comfort of Black Americans today. Many more stories show the medical community wielding Black Americans as pawns rather than treating them as patients who deserve great care.
We as a country must get to the point where we create a nurturing medical environment for the Black community, so that there may be some confidence in the vaccine and medicine in general, which could be accomplished through better education on the vaccine and complete transparency on processes within the medical world. To overcome this pandemic, a majority of the population, including Black and Brown communities, will have to be vaccinated to stop other variants. For us to trust our health care and our government with our bodies, we must be willing to overshare and reach out to communities who are systemically left out of the equation. Without trust, security and honesty, the community’s ties with its dark medical past will continue into our future.
The art of conversation
In a time when communication can’t rely on facial expressions because of masks, acts of kindness have become particularly important in showing our intentions with the people around us. One thing this crazy year has taught me is to live every day intentionally. We should live for the moments, but we should also live to be better each day. As a college freshman, living in the residence halls should’ve been a time to mingle with my neighbors, but the pandemic has hindered me from making traditional connections. I see my neighbors maybe once a day with only an awkward glance instead of having the normal experience of bonding with them over being freshmen at a new school. I wish I had entered college knowing how to initiate conversations even if those I engaged with couldn’t see me smile.
When we think of conversation, we usually think of face-to-face, verbal communication, but there are five main types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written, visual and listening. I argue the partnership of non-verbal communication and listening is more important for forming strong relationships than the partnership of verbal and written communication. When we think about first impressions, we are always told to present our best selves, which goes beyond the words that come out of our mouths. It’s about the way a person carries themselves and the way they walk, the words they say, the interpretations and meanings of those words. Listening cultivates relationships without inserting ourselves into the equation and is the best way to make others feel loved, heard and appreciated.
I scoured the archives of Netflix and recently fell upon a movie, “Before I Fall,” that is the epitome of living every day like it could potentially be the last.Essentially, after having an accident, the main character has the opportunity to change her fate or the fate of those around her by redoing a day. The most impactful message of the movie is to live every day with as much love as possible, and, in order to do that, sometimes you have to just listen and learn. Don’t be afraid to see people for who they are instead of who you are told to believe they are. Quarantine gave us the opportunity to spend some much-needed time in our own heads because before we can love others, we have to love ourselves. I had the opportunity to speak to myself and consequently learn more about who I am during lockdown, and these will forever be my favorite conversations.
Conversation is not about the words we say, and if I have learned anything from being isolated with myself, true conversation is about our intentions and our meanings behind our words. More than anything, we should focus on bettering our actions, taking the little steps to make tomorrow memorable for someone else. What I learned from “Before I Fall” is, unlike the main character, we can’t redo today like the character does and sacrifice so someone else can thrive. Instead, we can make little sacrifices, holding the door, saying hello, asking meaningful questions and, easiest of all, being attentive when we communicate. These little actions have led me to meet some of the most amazing people just from opening a door.
MiC Columnist Simone Roberts can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.