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Don’t Ask but Do Tell the Whole Historic Truth

Photo Credit: Dillard University

Dillard & Xavier University presidents have urged students to join them in COVID-19 vaccine trials. That’s the headline. And while I can admire the administrative leaders who’ve graciously included themselves within this Herculean style task, my initial thoughts are: “Too soon, don’t do it. Reconsider, read some literature on the subject…”

The numbers are rolling in and we’re starting to see the demographics relating to the fatalities of Covid 19 patients. Many have called out this premise, but it bares constant repeating. Black, Brown, and poor folks are the most impacted. The CDC states, “There is increasing evidence that some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.” Thanks for saying that part aloud CDC!

1. According to Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.4 times the rate of white people.

2. Nationally, African American deaths from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater than would be expected based on their share of the population. In four states, the rate is three or more times greater.

3. In 42 states plus Washington D.C., Hispanics/Latinos make up a greater share of confirmed cases than their share of the population. In eight states, it’s more than four times greater.

4. White deaths from COVID-19 are lower than their share of the population in 37 states and the District of Columbia.

Anti-Blackness is the tenet constantly playing in the background of the national anthem. And like most classic hits it’s softer notes are etched into our collective psyches. The thing about any crisis is it shows the best and worst parts of humanity. There is a truth-telling highlighting what’s truly valued within any given society experiencing the crisis. Covid- 19 has done just that. Trauma occurs. Past traumas are recalled. The thing about unhealed trauma is the slightest reverberation brings back the staccato force of collective pain. If you’re black living in an Anti-Black society, you are sitting in the thick of it.

Don’t be surprised by this moment. Why wouldn’t Anti-Blackness be echoing throughout medical and pharmaceutical company's response and vaccine testing relating to Covid 19? Why wouldn’t companies like AstraZeneca, Pfizer and BioNTech anchor these studies upon the backs of the folks this country has consistently labeled as expendable? Besides everything else was built on our backs, right? Why wouldn’t these CEO’s join their president and his kinsmen in falling back on the historic and contemporary value systems their forefathers created for them?

This is after all this countries legacy. Even in death, black bodies were neglected by white public infrastructure. During the Spanish flu sanitation department employees refused to dig graves for black flu victims. Not because of a lack of resources but because of blatant disregard. Let’s imagine how this lack of regard plays out amongst these black and brown students who are already marginalized.

While these students may be garnering community and family support, they’re still economically challenged college students currently living in Louisiana. Louisiana is a state with its own set of healthcare challenges. Early on during the pandemic the state held solid high transmission numbers. According to USA Today, in August alone 16 out of 64 parishes rates of infection per capita were greater than New York City’s during the state’s second wave of COVID-19. So, the larger question remains. Why must these students in particular bare the weight and cost of such medical testing? Especially because Axios has recently reported the news of a coronavirus vaccine trial participant who experienced an adverse reaction. The AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot expressed the participant dealt with prior neurological issues. The patient has survived and will shortly be released from hospitalization. And as much as we may hate to admit it, being Black in America is a pre-existing condition. It is the comorbidity that tops all others.

Dillard President Walter Kimbrough and Xavier University President Reynold Verret respectfully acknowledged the harms of the horrendous Tuskegee Study. In 1932, 600 black mostly sharecroppers signed up for the Tuskegee study. In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective treatment as the men died, went blind or insane due to their untreated syphilis. We need to be clear, Tuskegee is but one site where our Blackness and medical testing violently converge. Anti-Blackness is at the heart of why James Marion Sims known as the “father of modern gynecology” used black enslaved women in his research and experimentation. Sims invented the vaginal speculum, a tool we still use for dilation and medical examination. He like many others believed black people weren’t truly human and hence didn’t feel pain. Our fore-mothers were at the center of his “genius.”

Photo Credit: People Magazine

And lest we forget Henrietta Lacks. In the 1950’s, Lacks visited the infamous John Hopkins hospital due to cervical pain. While being treated Dr. Gey, a prominent doctor and researcher, collected her cells without her knowledge. He used her extraordinary genetic material and cloned it. This material was later used in the creation of the first polio vaccination.

In earnest, until this country can reckon with its historic and very current Anti-Black sentiment not one black person or indigenous person needs to voluntarily place themselves in this position. Black and brown folks have been the testing strip for too many of this country’s fledgling medical endeavors. Moreover, until Black folx are fully human and not just consumable entities we have no business asking each other to forget this nation’s greatest violations.

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