How do you feel about set-asides for minority identities? Scholarships, employment opportunities, contracts for government jobs, slots at elite colleges like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, appointments in presidential cabinets, and other wish-list items that you can never claim unless you are black, Hispanic, Native American, a woman, gay, trans, or a member of some other population that has been tapped by the magic wand of preference?
In polls, blacks and women tend to support Affirmative Action more than whites and men. This makes sense: if a quota benefits you, you favor it, and if it disadvantages you, you reject it. But while about forty percent of whites voice opposition to Affirmative Action in a recent poll, about thirty percent of blacks oppose it, as well, and that percentage has gone up, not down, in recent years. Prominent black opponents of Affirmative Action include activist Ward Connerly, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and author Shelby Steele. It seems counter-intuitive that black people, who stand to benefit from Affirmative Action, would oppose a stance that promises them access to money and power.
Let’s up the ante. How would you feel about benefitting from a set-aside if it were not for a slot at Harvard, but, rather, if it were a question of life-or-death?
Given a recent experience, I think I understand better why almost thirty percent of blacks oppose Affirmative Action. Unseen hands gifted me with quick and easy access to a COVID-19 vaccine. Why? I believe I was incorrectly classified as a “person of color.” This access bothered me, not least because a friend, “Rocky,” needs the vaccine more than I do. I begged Rocky to take my slot, but he declined. He wanted me to get it.
By February 1, 2021, only 7.7 percent of the US population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only 22.5% of especially vulnerable and needy people whom the CDC prioritized to receive the vaccine had been vaccinated. That means, as of February 1, 2021, 77.5% of those most likely to die from COVID-19 were yet to be fully vaccinated. This includes elderly people, the obese, those with cancer, Down syndrome, weak immune systems, diabetes, smokers, and pregnant women.
I assumed I’d be waiting my turn, while continuing to wear my mask, to wash my hands, and to isolate socially, as I had been doing since the pandemic began. My willingness to wait was not rocket science nor was it dramatic self-sacrifice. When it comes to both respiratory viruses and civilized life, we really are all in this together. We’d all immediately feel the lack of sanitation and sewer workers, and we’d quickly feel the lack of ER personnel like nurses. We need grocery store clerks. We all probably have an older relative, or a very fat friend, or a pregnant one. Aware of our own superior vigor and our loved ones’ greater vulnerabilities, it comes naturally to us to stand back and let the more vulnerable person get the vaccine before we do. And there was another reason I wasn’t sure I needed to rush. In December, I was sick for three weeks, and there were enough anomalies about this mystery illness to make me think it might well have been a relatively mild case of COVID-19. I assumed that if I had had it, I may have gained some immunity, and I could afford to wait for a vaccine.
Finally, I really didn’t want to press for a vaccine because doing so sounded like a Mad-Max-style competition. Paterson, New Jersey, adopted a “first come, first served” approach. Residents from all over New Jersey came to Paterson’s International High School site. Elderly people set up tents or maybe just lawn chairs and sleeping bags and camped outdoors through the frigid night in a dangerous city in order to secure a spot in line. Police blocked off vehicular access. Mayor Andre Sayegh was pressured to close access to New Jerseyans from other towns and allow only Paterson residents to be vaccinated.
One night, on WNYC’s “Ask Governor Murphy” radio broadcast, an elderly woman, sounding desperate and afraid, phoned in to tell the governor that she and her husband had paid decades-worth of New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. Now, she said, she and her husband were old and frail, and they needed COVID-19 vaccines and could not get them. That call broke my heart.
In the 1997 film “Titanic,” Cal Hockley (Billy Zane), a rich man, grabs a lost little girl and claims to be her father. With the girl as his human shield, he gains a precious seat on a lifeboat, and saves his own life. The scene is so notorious, but also so funny, that it’s become a GIF.
We don’t want to be that Cal Hockley guy. We want to be the heroic Father Thomas Byles. Byles remained aboard, helping third-class passengers onto lifeboats. After all the lifeboats had been launched, Byles then prayed with and heard the confessions of doomed Titanic passengers. I didn’t think I was consigning myself to the icy depths of the North Atlantic by waiting patiently for my vaccine. I knew I was taking a risk, but it was a risk I felt, as a responsible citizen, I was willing to take.
But it was a risk I didn’t have to take. It was late January, 2021. While vulnerable populations were perched over their computers for days at a time, clicking “refresh” hundreds of times, while parents of Down Syndrome children were driving hundreds of miles in search of vaccines, and while grandparents were begging for help from tech-savvy grandchildren, a written invitation to receive a vaccine slid silently under my door. The highly effective Pfizer vaccine was available to me. No waiting, no line, no pressure. I just walked a few minutes from my front door, and rolled up my sleeve. For the second of this two-dose vaccine, I urged Rocky to take my place. He, manfully, refused. He wanted me to get it. I did. I felt like garbage. I was well aware that I was taking the place of someone who needed the vaccine more than I. I now have – yes, it’s a thing – vaccine guilt.
I live in a majority-minority city in a majority-minority apartment complex. I estimate that about 90% of my neighbors are black or Hispanic. Governor Phil Murphy, along with all other public officials, has been under extraordinary pressure to prioritize vaccinating black and Hispanic people, and his administration is doing just that. In fact, even before any vaccines were authorized, news outlets reported that “Health experts want to prioritize people of color for a COVID-19 vaccine.”
In spite of powerful efforts to push non-whites to the front of the vaccine line, black people are receiving fewer vaccines than Americans who are not black. The Woke insist that this disparity is yet further proof that the United States is a white supremacist wasteland that dooms blacks to lesser lives. This was nowhere more clear than in a February 12, 2021 cartoon by white cartoonist Andy Marlette. Marlette depicted a bent and elderly black man, leaning on a cane, gazing mournfully at two water fountains, a superior water fountain for white people and an inferior one for blacks. In this case, the fountains represented vaccine access. This image harkened back to the bad old, pre-Civil-Rights era in the Jim Crow South. America was still 1950 Mississippi, the KKK was still lynching, no one had died to free any slaves: in Marlette’s dystopian cartoon, vaccination-rate disparities proved all this true. Shame, shame, shame.
Many insisted that blacks did not want to get vaccines because the Tuskegee Experiment made blacks distrust mainstream medicine. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study took place between 1932 and 1972. It involved 399 black men with latent syphilis who were merely observed, and not treated, for the disease. Doctors could have treated the patients with penicillin, but they did not, because they wanted data on the course of untreated syphilis in black men. This study is monstrous. Those who carried it out were criminals. It stopped in 1972 after word of the study became public. Revelation of the study lead to the creation of strict standards for scientific experimentation on human beings. In 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology.
Those who attribute the discrepancy between black and non-black vaccination rates to trauma from the Tuskegee study insist that the entire US medical establishment is a white supremacist, criminal enterprise, comparable to the monsters who carried out that study, that black people risk their lives seeking medical care, and that their vaccine wariness is well-founded. Are these assertions true? Let’s examine them.
Are black people the only victims of unethical scientific experimentation? No. One need only mention Harvard and MIT’s 1944-1956 experiments on helpless, institutionalized, mentally retarded children. Harvard and MIT scientists fed these children radioactive breakfast cereal. The work was “funded partly by Quaker Oats Co. and the US Atomic Energy Commission.” “I feel just as good about it today as the day I did it,” one researcher said in 1993. One child reported, “They told me I shouldn’t have kids and I shouldn’t get married. They said I might have a defect, that I had something wrong with me.” In one photo, all the children fed radioactive breakfast cereal are white males. Institutionalized white children were similarly experimented on in the University of Iowa’s cruel and unethical 1939 “Monster Study.”
Between 1956 and 1971, that is at the same time as the Tuskegee Study, NYU and Yale University professors infected otherwise healthy institutionalized white children with hepatitis. “Studies involved feeding live hepatitis virus from others’ stool samples to sixty healthy children. [NYU Doctor Saul] Krugman watched as their skin and eyes turned yellow and their livers got bigger. He watched them vomit and refuse to eat. All the children fed hepatitis virus became ill, some severely.”
White males were used in the notorious Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study. White males were of course exposed to radiation during military service. “We were used as guinea pigs,” one such veteran reports.
White women have not escaped routinized malpractice. Female “hysteria” was once treated with hysterectomies. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and a progressive heroine, regarded people like my Slovak, immigrant mother as racial “undesirables” whose reproduction should be controlled by science. Major scientists one hundred years ago shared Sanger’s opinion. Tens of thousands of people, black and white, were sterilized by force, including two white Virginia women, Carrie and Doris Buck as well as Polish and Italian immigrants, and French Canadians living in Vermont.
The horrific history of lobotomies; the application of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning to homosexuals; Thalidomide; the over-prescription of mind-altering drugs to children; the opioid crisis that has ravaged rural, mostly white communities, killing 70,000 Americans in 2019 alone; Louise Wise Services‘ unethical separation of twins put up for adoption in order to study heredity v environment; Dr. John Money’s horrific and deadly malpractice on David and Brian Reimer, the related abuse of children like Keira Bell: there is no lack of populations, black and white, affected by malpractice. In fact Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that iatrogenic conditions, that is, health-care-caused problems, are the third leading cause of death in the US, after heart disease and cancer.
All of these horrors are but a drop in the bucket compared to the crimes committed in the name of “science” in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The fallout to these crimes is not limited to Europe or Asia. I personally know an American woman whose Polish-Catholic mother was subjected to grotesque Nazi medical experimentation, and an American man whose uncle was imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp and suffered grievously there.
Why bring up this nightmarish material? Here’s why.
Powerful voices in the US now insist that black people choose not to be vaccinated because of the Tuskegee study. These voices insist that African Americans alone are the only population that has ever suffered in an unethical study. They insist that American medicine is thoroughly white supremacist and that African Americans know this and know that they risk their lives when seeking conventional medical care. National Public Radio insists, “In Tuskegee, Painful History Shadows Efforts To Vaccinate African Americans.”
Yes, white supremacy is evil. That much is true. But this much is also true: the above history of unethical medical science, including, as it does, millions of white victims, is a story of science and scientists run amuck. New Atheists like Michael Shermer and Steven Pinker insist that we don’t need God. Science provides all the ethics we need. Alas, this is not so. Ethical science requires human fealty to an ethical system informed by the Ancient Greek Hippocratic ideal of “first, do no harm,” which, itself, began with a vow to Greek gods, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Blacks are not the only ones who can recount anecdotes of mistreatment, errors, and callousness in health care institutions. I myself was experimented on by doctors when I suffered from a little-understood vestibular condition. Though my participation was voluntary and abided by ethical standards, I was treated like the guinea pig that I was. At one point I was strapped into a chair in a tiny, completely darkened booth. The chair began to rotate, randomly, both clockwise and counter-clockwise. I was told to stare at a pinprick of red light, the only light in the booth. I was terrified and demanded to be released. The researcher would not release me till she was done gathering her data. Around and around my strapped-in body spun, helplessly.
Think that’s my only unhappy medical anecdote? Think again. I have plenty more, and worse. My mother told and retold the account of my Slovak immigrant grandmother crying out in pain as she died of cancer in an American hospital. My mother accused American doctors and nurses of not giving my grandmother adequate pain-killers. This happened before I was born, but I heard these stories so often, and in my mother’s compelling style, that I can see my grandmother writhing under harsh fluorescent lights, and cold American doctors passing her by as she screams.
Because of such stories, and my own lived experiences, I am terrified of doctors. What’s the difference between me and the many African Americans who fear doctors so much that they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s the difference: there is no industry dedicated to cultivating my ethnic paranoia, persecution complexes, and the chip on my shoulder.
The Woke, like Marxists before them, sniff around other people’s pain the way rats sniff around garbage. The Woke are not looking for problems to solve; they are looking for pain to commodify. They want to overturn bad, corrupt, Western Civilization and replace it with their brave, new world. The Woke sneer at the pain of poor whites as an unworthy commodity for revolution building. The Woke focus on exacerbating division between whites and blacks.
Me? I’ve learned, through the school of hard knocks, that I hurt only myself when I avoid doctors. I’ve learned to educate myself, recruit allies, and develop a courteous and yet assertive stance. I’m still afraid when I go to the doctor; though I am otherwise a teetotaler when it comes to mind-altering drugs, I have a Klonopin prescription, an anti-anxiety drug, that I take when I go to the doctor.
Now, imagine if I were black. Teachers, politicians, ministers, NPR, the New York Times, MSNBC, would drum into me, not that my and my family’s bad medical experiences were unfortunate but not part of any conspiracy. No. Powerful voices would not be telling me that I am responsible for my own care, that I need to inform myself, recruit an ally, and learn to be polite but assertive. No. I would be told, again and again, with the force of chanted, unquestionable dogma, that I was a victim of a thorough-going white supremacist society eager to use medicine to destroy me. Every white person I meet is my enemy and wields the tools of medicine only sadistically. If I heard that message from teachers, from NPR, from the New York Times, over and over, would I avail myself of a vaccine? Hell no.
Why do the Woke tell black people this story? Because it disempowers black people. In the case of vaccine avoidance, this false narrative might just kill black people. Nor is this the only Woke narrative that results in black death. Telling black people that police are all white supremacists out to get them is another death-dealer. Telling black people that standards in schools are “racist” destroys the academic lives of black students. Why do the Woke want to disempower and even kill black people, through false narratives like this and others? Because they hope that weakened people will submit more readily to the Woke narrative of salvation through Woke politics. False narratives of universal white evil and ultimate black powerlessness are the Woke’s recruitment pamphlets.
And here’s a kicker. Research shows that the Tuskegee study, a trope so beloved of the Woke that they mention it every chance they get, is not cited by African Americans as their reason not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “No, the Tuskegee Study Is Not the Top Reason Some Black Americans Question the COVID-19 Vaccine,” reports KQED. In fact, researchers have known for years that African Americans are not rejecting medical attention because of Tuskegee. “The conclusions were definitive … There was no association between knowledge of Tuskegee and willingness to participate” in medical procedures.
Why, then, do the Woke cite Tuskegee? Social work professor Karen Lincoln says, “If you say Tuskegee, then you don’t have to acknowledge … poverty and unemployment.” Well, isn’t that convenient. Ignore the poverty that pushes both poor whites and poor blacks away from medical care. Why did I consent to being experimented on by a callous researcher? I was stricken with a vestibular disorder when I was a grad student, and I had no health insurance and no money. Rather than talking about poverty and health care, the Woke obsess on race. Race is more divisive, and division advances the divisive Woke narrative. Also, obsession on race exempts rich white liberals from attention to their own wealth. Every revolution needs someone to hate, and the Woke hate poor whites. Focus on skin color instead of poverty and unemployment allows the Woke their hatred-of-choice.
A black woman, Maxine Toler, said that vaccine distribution is proof that America is racist. “You practically needed a computer science degree to get an online appointment.” What Toler doesn’t realize is that getting an appointment is just as hard for whites as for blacks. The computer doesn’t care if you are white or black. Will the Woke tell this woman that? No. The Woke don’t want that black woman’s problem solved; they want her pain weaponized for the coming glorious revolution.
I am tormented by the fear that Rocky will soon die. My morbid obsession is a sign of how much he means to me. Most of my siblings have died, often young, of cancer. (Yes, even white people are subjected to the kind of environmental pollution that results in demographically atypical early cancer deaths.) After two other siblings died decades ago, both my only sister and yet another brother died of cancer in the past six years. Rocky is one of the few people I have left who remembers me from my childhood. He’s a good man and he deserves a long life. I beg God to let me die before Rocky. I pray this prayer not because I’m like Father Byles on the Titanic. I pray this prayer because I’m alone and losing Rocky would gut me and I couldn’t survive his loss.
Rocky was born in a high-crime, majority-minority city. His immigrant parents sent Rocky to the local bakery to beg for bread. Any meat his family saw were the cuts that butchers can’t sell. Rocky was malnourished. He caught pneumonia. He was hospitalized for three months. His lungs never recovered.
Rocky experiences coughing fits. Sometimes he just puts his head back and struggles for breath. His struggle to breathe terrifies and saddens me.
Rocky, with his compromised lungs, can’t get a COVID-19 vaccine. Rocky is a white male, an alleged monarch squatting atop a throne of unearned privilege. You won’t hear about anyone like Rocky from the Woke peddling their divisive pamphlets.
In an angry March 5, 2021 New York Times editorial, black physician Rhea Boyd wrote “To fully expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, health care must name, challenge and eliminate the anti-Black racism that continues to place vital health care services just beyond Black Americans’ reach … while the standards of care in the United States are exceptional, and among the highest in the world, it is important to acknowledge that anti-Black racism keeps the health care system from systematically applying that high standard to Black people.” Note Dr. Boyd’s capital “b” on “Black.” Being black is so exceptional that it requires capitalization.
Rhea Boyd, I received the COVID-19 vaccine easily and quickly, not because I needed it, but exactly because someone in power, directed by my white governor, thought I was black, or as you have it, “Black.” I begged Rocky to take my slot, but he wouldn’t. Rocky, despite his lungs ruined by childhood poverty and neglect, hasn’t been able to get the vaccine. You want truth? Let’s tell all the truths. Let’s tell this one.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery