I want to start this article off with a strong caveat that I will not be expressing my own personal views or choices regarding the Covid-19 vaccination. This article is about bringing to light some of the reasons behind why many within the black community are wary and questioning of the Covid-19 jab. Ok, now the small (big) print is out of the way; let’s get cracking.
As of today (6 March 2021), 21,358,815 UK citizens have received their first dose of the various Covid-19 vaccinations and 1,034,068 their second. I wanted to include information on the break down by race, however the NHS haven’t recorded this crucial information. It has now been reported that moving forward, this data will be included within the breakdown which is imperative. Missing this ‘basic’ step, adds to the contention of the entire situation. Without this level of transparency, it’s impossible to provide vital information on efficacy, reactions and uptake within certain groups which undoubtedly undermines confidence.
According to the UK Household Longitudinal Study, 72% of black people stated that they are unlikely to have the Covid-19 vaccination. Although this figure is exponentially high, it’s in no way surprising. This is a direct symptom of the overall lack of progress in addressing deep-seated systemic racism.
Those who’ve chosen not to take the vaccination have been smeared in the media and labelled anti-vax, irresponsible and unreasonable. Statements such as these only perpetuate an already delicate matter. At the heart of the hesitancy is trust, or should I say mistrust. In this case, trust has been undermined by structural and institutional racism and discrimination. Progress is unlikely to be made without first understanding and considering the reasons behind this.
The Western world has a dark history of exploitation, marginalisation and disempowerment in the sphere of medicine and black people which persists in the post-colonial world. The modern-age has focused more on the bodies of those suffering under the disparities rather than drawing attention to why the disparities exist in the first place.
During slavery, many white scholars documented that there were innate racial differences between black and white people. This belief was embedded in medical literature and practices that resulted in the unspoken suffering of black bodies. Examples include:
- The yellow fever epidemic that struck Philadelphia in the eighteenth century;
- Forced sterilisation under early 20th century eugenics laws;
- The infamous 40-year Tuskegee Study of untreated Syphilis in unsuspecting black males (which ran to 1972); and
- The continued and unacceptable high pregnancy-related mortality rate amongst black women all over the world.
As a black person, trust is breached regardless of where you reside on the Globe.
Ignorant widespread claims such as blacks having thicker skin, quicker coagulating blood and higher pain thresholds all go towards dehumanising the melanated many and attempting to scientifically prove that blacks and whites are fundamentally and biologically different. In reality, this was all about creating cognitive dissonance to justify the inhumane treatment of people of colour. The most concerning aspect of this is just how much these beliefs aren’t abnormal; they are built into the very ethos of medical knowledge production which is why we still see such damaging disparities.
Yes, things have improved, and we are more attuned to implicit bias but expecting those on the receiving end to just forget is not just simple-minded, but plain rude and insensitive. When racist assumptions have been allowed to go unquestioned, and victims are penalised for protecting and prioritising their families’ lives for the benefit of other more privileged groups, we fuel the distrust and drive an even bigger wedge that makes societal alignment even further out of reach.
The introduction of vaccine passports and other segregative measures will result in the disenfranchised suffering more and discrimination will be legalised behind the new mask of public health. There are real ethical concerns to be considered – we could see blacks losing their freedom of movement, their jobs, their benefits, their children’s education, all as a result of histories of poor accountability and reconciliation of real negligence that has seen the lives of so many black people lost.
If the government really wants to see an uptake of the vaccination in the black community, they must first acknowledge the root-cause that is systemic racism and demonstrate through simultaneous efforts that they are seeking to address the myriad of issues that upholds detrimental racial inequality.