After all, he reminded us, more than 600,000 Americans have died, more people than in all the US wars combined. Riffing off stats, Biden told the invite-only crowd at at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, that recent data on Covid-19 deaths tells us that an overwhelming majority of them are of people who have not been vaccinated.
“We have a pandemic, for those who haven’t gotten a vaccine,” Biden said.
That may well be, but for many Black Americans, who, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, have some of the lowest vaccination rates, the decision to vaccinate, or not, is far from easy. Across every age, education and economic level, the Black folks I know are torn.
Torn between getting vaccinated, which means trusting a government that has for generations sanctioned violence, killings and the disenfranchisement of Black bodies, or, skipping the vaccine, donning a mask, and leaning on the blind faith that has brought them this far, praying the virus will pass them by.
Biden acknowledged the deep mistrust of the government in Black communities, telling host Don Lemon and the audience that he understood where the mistrust was coming from. “Just go back, just to World War II, African Americans, they were almost like guinea pigs…Your mom and dad remember that.”
His words reminded of a recent argument I had with a dear friend who refused to get vaccinated. I’d been vaccinated a month earlier, overcoming my initial hesitation mostly because I longed to see my mother and other older relatives.
“You don’t understand how afraid I am of trusting the US government,” he told me, after I accused him of being selfish and risking the lives of others. Although he had watched friends and family die of Covid-19, he still believed the misinformation across social media. “The virus is a hoax. It’s being tested on Black people. We can’t trust it,” he told me repeating stories he’d heard. So, he continued to work and socialize with family and friends, with faith that the virus would pass him by.
It was not to be. Sadly, those would be the last words we spoke. Days later he tested positive for Covid-19.
According to the Kaiser report, “persistently lower vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic people compared to their White counterparts across most states leave them at increased risk, particularly as the variant spreads.”
Biden was right last night to take seriously the mistrust of the government. A mistrust that existed long before social media was invented –especially in Black and Brown communities.
But President Biden is making a difference.
It was a hopeful sign recently in my Brooklyn neighborhood to see local community members signing up neighbors to get vaccinated along the block — in laundromats, the local corner store, outside restaurants. There are testing sites, it seems, on just about every corner.
After the conspiracy theories and viciousness of President Donald Trump’s years, Biden’s compassionate, common sense approach on how we can build more trust in the government is reassuring.
It starts locally — neighbors trusting neighbors, friends helping friends and saving lives block by block.