Skepticism, Racism and Cynicism: Breaking Down the Anti-Vax BS
This week, vaccine skepticism has worked the last nerves of democracy-ish hosts Toure and Danielle Moodie.
Even though more than half of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, herd immunity in America –– and the eradication of the disease –– is unlikely.
What’s really behind the misinformation, conspiracy theories and skepticism around these much-needed (and safe) vaccines?
Meanwhile, the GOP’s latest fixation is critical race theory. How did this academic movement go mainstream, and why can’t the right wing admit the truth about American history?
The New York Times reported this week that America is never going to reach herd immunity against COVID-19, because that would mean 70% of the population would need to be vaccinated. And that doesn’t seem to be happening.
“I can't believe that we've gotten through a year-plus of a global pandemic, millions of people killed, and still people are like, I don't know, I'll take my chances with COVID rather than that vaccine,” says Toure. “Don't y'all want a hot girl summer?”
Danielle wonders what it might take to convince the holdouts. She recently heard the suggestion that we should tell white Republican men that the vaccine will give them a four-hour erection.
“Tell them that taking it will own the libs,” says Toure.
But it’s definitely not just Trumpers who are resisting the call of Pfizer, Moderna and J&J. Toure says he recently spoke to someone who’s skeptical because the vaccines “have been promoted and marketed to Black people too aggressively.”
In a sense, Toure understands that argument “because of the history of medical racism and racism in America generally,” and he understands the “appeal of skepticism itself, because it seems like you're being intelligent by just being skeptical. But skepticism for skepticism's sake doesn’t make any sense.”
What does make sense…?
Episode Highlights –– Please Vaccinate
Big little anti-vax lies
The real reasons why we’ve seen so much marketing of the vaccine to Black people is because “we’ve been more vulnerable and suffer from it more than other communities,” Toure explains.
“And Black people have been telling pollsters even before the vaccine was ready that they were more skeptical about it than other groups.” And yet the misinformation continues.
Among the “bogus reasons” why the vaccine is somehow scarier than the disease:
It was rushed.
“This is based on science around vaccines scientists have been working on for many years,” Toure argues, noting that we think a vaccine must take 10 years to develop, but that’s just because there’s not usually a ton of money or manpower behind it.
However, “when thousands of scientists around the globe, working under tremendous pressure from multiple governments, share knowledge they’ve acquired over the last decade … dealing with the previous coronaviruses and mRNA vaccines, they could figure it out pretty quickly,” he adds.
“When was the last time you saw the global medical community and scientific community say unite?” Toure asks.
Danielle can’t think of one –– “because we have never been in this situation before,” she says.
We don’t know what’s in it.
We do, actually. It’s mRNA, says Toure (who used the Google machine to find out).
“No echinacea?” asks Danielle. “No coconut oil? No shea butter moisturizer?”
Nope. But the vaccine does include small amounts of “basic table sugar, also known as sucrose,” Toure explains. “It's got salts –– sodium chloride and dibasic sodium phosphate … and lipids, which include cholesterol.”
And yet (speaking of cholesterol), anti-vaxxers would “rather take their chances with a McNugget,” Danielle says. “You don't know what the fuck is in a McNugget.”
Somebody died from taking the vaccine.
Nope: “50 million Americans have been vaccinated,” Danielle says.
“How many of them have died because of the vaccine? Zero. 598,000 Americans, however, are dead because of COVID-19.”
We don't know the long-term effects.
“That’s not an intelligent, scientifically-based response,” says Toure. (After all, we don’t know the long-term effects of COVID, either. But we do know other mRNA vaccines are effective against similar coronaviruses.)
Insert conspiracy theory here.
There is so much misinformation around COVID and the vaccines, it’s hard to keep track of it all. But it’s particularly important to note that RNA “does not rearrange your DNA,” says Toure. “There's no government tracker inside of it.”
“Are you sure?” Danielle asks. “How do you know Bill Gates didn't put a chip in there? Because he's angry about his upcoming divorce––”
Toure interjects: “Bill Gates is about to have hot boy summer. He's not mad about a thing. He is single and free and ready to mingle.”
Melinda’s not mad either, Danielle says. “Because in Washington State, guess what you get? Half. What's half of $150 billion?”
How do you get more Black people to take the vaccine? Sell it better
On a more serious note, “it hurts my soul to hear Black people sort of have a thesis and then find flimsy fake evidence to bolster their thesis,” says Toure.
“If you don't want to take it, nobody's forcing you to. You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”
Public health researcher Jonathan Metzl, a regular on Danielle’s show Woke AF and previous democracy-ish guest, says we need to stop demeaning folks who don't want to take the vaccine, and that Democrats need to figure out how to sell it better.
But “Democrats are never good at messaging,” Danielle says. “Their ideas are great, but they are horrible fucking salespeople.”
On the other side, “Donald Trump was an incredible salesman,” she adds. “But the product was bullshit. When are we going to take what works on the right, in terms of their salesmanship?”
Dems’ ideas are more complex… but are they, though?
What works with right-wing audiences isn’t as effective for Democrats, whose ideas “tend to be more nuanced,” says Toure. “They have to be explained.”
On the other hand, conservative policies “are quite often not based on reality,” he adds. “They are based on political infighting … on a very simple, gut-level appeal to the audience, rather than a more heady, subtle appeal of a Democratic or progressive idea. It's apples and oranges.”
Take the argument that every American should have access to healthcare. When Dems explain how they plan to do it, “it becomes a complicated story,” Toure explains. “But Republicans just say we don't want your socialized medicine. We don't want your death panels.”
That’s a great example of how the other side makes “deep emotional appeals,” he says. After all, the word socialist is deeply triggering for many Americans. So is the notion of death panels for just about everyone.
That’s why “our ability to sell things with that level of quickness and clarity is difficult to impossible,” he points out. “Because our ideas are more honest and complex.”
Danielle isn’t so sure.
“Are they?” she asks. “Are they that nuanced? Are they that complex? Wear a fucking mask so that you don't kill your grandmother. Get vaccinated, because you want so desperately to go back to life as –– quote, unquote –– normal? These issues are not complex.”
1619 Project, 2021 problems
Critical race theory “has become a huge bogeyman” for right-wing media lately, no doubt amplified by Minority Leader McConnell, who wrote a letter to Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona last week that rails against adopting nationwide curricula based on the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
“What the hell is going on?” Toure asks. “We just want to talk about reality, and they're like, oh, hell, no.”
Danielle thinks we first have to understand that “the biggest industry that upholds white supremacy in this country is our K-through-12 public education system.”
Essentially, she argues that most curricula teach a ridiculously simplistic narrative about Black people –– that “they were slaves, and there was a civil rights act, and then Barack Obama came,” she says.
As a former educator, she knows firsthand that there’s usually “no mention of women or Native Americans, or the contributions of any other group other than white men.”
Enter the 1619 Project, which reframed American history as seen “from the perspective of Black people, the people who were actually at the at the end of torture and violence and rape,” Danielle says.
History through the prism of the ‘white gaze’
Confronted with America’s story when it’s divorced from the “white gaze,” Danielle explains, “all of a sudden, white men are like, oh my God, if we teach children this, they're going to hate America. Well, what the fuck does that say about America?”
The conservatives who reject critical race theory “are telling on themselves,” with the fact that the only way to really understand American history is through the eyes of the conqueror, and not the conquered.”
That’s how all history is written –– by the victors. But “we have a very complicated history in these United States,” Danielle adds.
“For centuries, it has been spoon-fed to us through the prism of what white people want other white people to know about whiteness in America. Everybody else is second class.”
That ideology extends to every part of our educational system, she notes.
“I never learned about jazz musicians. I never learned about Black classical artists. Everything that’s considered great and exceptional in America was made by white men. So the fear they have right now is that if we understand the truth, we will question it.”
Danielle argues that it explains why conservatives want to privatize education, control curricula and defund grants that support teaching Black history.
Birth of a (divided) nation
Toure says the 1619 Project “rejiggered my understanding of America.”
And whether or not Repuplicans want to admit it, “this country would not be what it is today if not for slavery,” he adds.
“We would not have become independent. We did not have enough money to fight against England, except for the money we were making by having slaves. We would not have become a global power but for the economic engines and companies and momentum that was created via slavery, to say nothing of the wealth that was created.”
The pushback in the right-wing media –– that this kind of historical context is damaging for white children –– tells us how conservatives have come to understand the truth about America, Toure argues.
“By learning about what white people did –– what white men did and what white women upheld –– it's going to make them hate themselves. No –– it should make them fucking question their lineage and question the birth of this nation.”