Tweets, Lies and Vaccine Hesitancy: Nicki’s Cousin’s Friend’s Balls
On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure go balls-deep into the Twittersphere and the Nicki Minaj anti-vax fiasco.
Nicki Minaj tweeted a ridiculous anecdote about her Trinidadian cousin’s friend’s testicular edema, aka swollen balls, (falsely) linking his condition to the COVID vaccine.
Even after Dr. Fauci and a host of other experts debunked her claim, Minaj doubled down and attacked MSNBC’s Joy Reid, who called out that toxic tweet on her show.
Why is disinformation about the vaccine still so prevalent — and harmful to our community? What can we do as a country to prevent the unvaxxed horde from doing any more damage?
With 22 million Twitter followers comes great responsibility.
This week, Nicki Minaj told them (and the rest of the world) that her cousin in Trinidad has a friend who became impotent and suffered swollen testicles after getting the COVID vaccine. (A discussion of causation versus correlation apparently wouldn’t fit in the 280-character limit.)
And, predictably, a shitstorm ensued. Dr. Fauci was asked about it during an interview, and he dismissed Minaj’s claim as false. Dr. Sanjay Gupta debunked it as well. The health minister of Trinidad and Tobago chimed in, ostensibly concerned that it reflected poorly on the vaccination efforts of his nation. Nicki was invited to a conference call with the White House. And MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, a self-proclaimed fan, called her out on her primetime show, saying:
… For you to use your platform to encourage our community to not protect themselves and save their lives? My God, sister. You can do better than that. You’ve got that platform — it’s a blessing … People listen to you … For you to use your platform to put people in the position of dying from a disease they don’t have to die from? Oh my God. As a fan … I’m so sad that you did that, sister.
It wasn’t long and it wasn’t really all that harsh. Joy “lovingly and respectfully and with a smile, checked her,” says Toure, pointing out that many of Minaj’s followers are “young and Black and thus vulnerable.”
Danielle agrees: When you have such a huge platform, “you have a responsibility to tell the fucking truth.”
But then Nicki clapped back at Joy, saying she was “so thirsty to down another Black woman (by the request of the white man), that you didn’t bother to read all my tweets," before calling her an "Uncle Tomiana” and a “lying homophobic c**n.”
Toure was appalled at that.
“We all have a list of people who, if we saw them in a bar fight against six or 10 people, we would jump in — I'm riding with you,” Toure says. “Well, Joy Reid is one of those people for me. If you come for Joy Reid, I am coming for you.”
The gloves are off and the anti-vax BS stops here.
Episode Highlights — Nicki Minaj Lied
Doing your ‘own research’ on Google ≠ epidemiology degree
When Nicki Minaj claimed she just needed to do her “research,” particularly at this stage of the pandemic and vaccine distribution, that raises a red flag for Danielle.
“Being a Googler … is not the same as the research and analysis that the CDC has — the doctors and nurses and health practitioners who have gone to school for years in order to do this work. For you to do a couple of Google searches or watch a few segments of cable news does not qualify you to offer up any kind of opinion.”
Toure thinks Minaj either lied to her followers, knowingly spreading disinformation or “she was foolishly duped into believing a ridiculous and — we now know — an impossible story that did not happen.”
Well, let’s hope so, for the sake of the cousin’s friend’s fiance, who Minaj says called off the wedding because … swollen balls?
“It sounds like you got an STD because you cheated,” says Toure.
“I hadn’t even thought about that,” Danielle replies. “Maybe that’s why the wedding was called off.”
Nicki’s vax-hesitancy in a series of tweets
Minaj apologists point to tweets in which Nicki talks about getting vaxxed at some point in the future.
Before she broke the internet with the swollen-balls post, she tweeted about declining an invitation to the Met Gala: “If I get vaccinated it won’t for the Met. It’ll be once I feel I’ve done enough research. I’m working on that now.”
And just after Swole-Balls-Gate, she tweeted: “I’m sure I’ll b vaccinated as well cuz I have to go on tour, etc.”
Right. But that doesn’t change the fact that an influential celebrity is conceding her unvaxxed status at a particularly vulnerable time for unvaccinated people.
“If you haven’t taken it by now, you aren’t taking it for a reason. You are making a choice to not be vaccinated this late in the game,” says Toure. “She’s made a choice. And she’s signaling to others that it’s okay.”
One more time for the people in the back: This isn’t Tuskegee
Calling Joy Reid “some sort of female Uncle Tom” and bringing up “things [Reid] said 10 years ago” is unacceptable, says Toure — especially “in a community where a lot of us are vaccine-hesitant or anti-vax based on some historical racism, some myths, some lies and some desire to not trust the government, which I understand. But not in this situation. Y’all, we got to get out of this.”
Black folks are still dying at a higher rate than other groups of Americans, so “people like Nicki Minaj spreading disinformation is not helping,” he adds.
Danielle remembers in the earlier days of the pandemic when she urged our audience to be understanding of vaccine-hesitant Black people who “have a history of being abused by the health-industrial complex.”
But she also remembers a point Toure made at the same time: One of the most commonly mentioned (and horrific) instances of medical racism in our history, the Tuskegee Study, was about a treatment being withheld from Black folks. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, tested and being offered for free … to everyone.
Conspiracy theories: Sometimes real, but ballsgate … is not
“I understand the Black desire to believe in what we are referring to as conspiracy theories,” says Toure. “We feel disconnected from power, from systems and institutions that control things. We have been lied to in the past by these institutions and systems. We have been abused and oppressed by them.”
There are plenty of real examples, like COINTELPRO and Ronald Reagan’s CIA-funded push of crack in urban America to help fund its covert (“contra”) war against Nicaragua.
“At one point those ideas sounded like crazy theories, but they ended up being 100% correct,” he notes. “But that is not what’s going on here today. I promise you — if there is some cabal trying to manipulate Black people, it’s not saying: Let’s make a vaccine with some bullshit in it and give it to Black people. It would be [trying to] convince Black people to not take it.”
Things got worse when Tucker Carlson came to Minaj’s defense (the Fox chyron read: “Rapper Nicki Minaj attacked over vaccine stance”).
When that happens, “you need to look in the mirror and say, wait a minute, is this really the side of this argument that I want to be on?” says Toure.
Skepticism is understandable, self-advocacy is essential
It’s okay to be skeptical of the healthcare system, especially as a Black woman, says Danielle. We have to advocate for ourselves.
Even Serena Williams, who likely had the best medical care money can buy, had to do that shortly after delivering her daughter via c-section. She felt short of breath, and with a history of pulmonary embolisms, she immediately alerted a nurse about her symptoms and told them what she needed — a CT scan and a blood thinner. But the medical staff at the hospital assumed the pain medicine she had been given made her confused. After several missteps by doctors (and with Serena suffering more complications), she ended up having emergency surgery and six weeks of bed rest.
“She is a multimillion-dollar fucking tennis star they were ignoring because they see a Black woman,” says Danielle.
“And an athlete who is deeply in touch with her body,” Toure adds.
The great unvaxxed are taxing the healthcare system
Advocating for yourself based on your own history and learned experience is one thing, “but don’t listen to this hot shit from people who want to go on a Google search and tell you, Don’t take a vaccine because of swollen testicles. You sound dumb,” says Danielle.
It’s not just dumb, it’s dangerous. People who don’t want to take the vaccine are “causing problems for the rest of us,” Toure says.
“I’ve seen all these stories about unvaccinated folks clogging up hospitals. So vaccinated folks with lesser injuries and ailments, who normally should be able to get taken care of are, say, having their appendix explode because they have to wait 12 hours in the ER. Because the beds are filled.”
That’s happening in places like Texas and Tennessee and Alaska — as well as in places with plenty of large hospitals, like New York. Woke AF and democracy-ish listeners might remember that last year, Danielle’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it, which was successful.
“Thank God it was benign,” Danielle says. “Well, this week, she was having some dizzy spells.”
State of the pandemic: Overcrowded hospitals, again
At any other time, “we would have said, Go home, just relax, stay hydrated, eat something,” Danielle explains.
“But because she had brain surgery, my dad took her to the hospital. Well, guess where my mother was treated? In the lobby, where people were lined up with IV drips because there was no fucking room in the ER. There was no room in the ICU.”
Pre-COVID, Danielle says her mom would have had a few tests and been sent home a few hours later. But this time, she wasn't released until the following day, “because of the shortage of staff, the over-representation of COVID patients and the lack of beds.”
Thankfully, Danielle’s mother is doing fine now. But the crisis really hit home.
“What would have happened to my mother if it was something significant? … How many people are being left in lobbies or hallways who are going to pass away, not because they have COVID, but because their basic needs were not tended to, or tended to in enough time?”
‘Self-policing’ customers doesn’t work…
The unvaccinated also have an economic impact, but they “don’t seem to want to make any sacrifice,” he adds. “They don’t want to say, Okay, I'm not going to get vaccinated, thus I’m going to stay away from people … They want to have to have their cake and eat it too.”
So we’re now seeing companies and institutions mandate the vaccine for workers. And in New York City, many restaurants, concert venues, and other places require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. But when Toure went to an NYC restaurant on the day this show was recorded, “nobody asked me to prove that I was vaccinated,” he notes. “We're asking restaurants to self-police, but it is not in their interest to turn away customers.”
It’s not necessarily in their interest to “police as hard as possible, either,” he adds.
“A friend of mine just tested positive for COVID. He flew into America on a flight from Europe, where he said a lot of people were not wearing masks and the flight attendants were not policing it. They give you all these scare messages that you have to wear your mask through the airport and on the flight. But if the flight attendants choose not to police their customers … what can you do?”
…But incentives might
Toure thinks “we have given the anti-vaccine and vaccine-hesitant folks a lot of information and a lot of time, but they are still not doing the right thing. It is time to move further toward compelling them to do it.”
He’s not suggesting we force anyone to get the vaccine, “because that seems wrong … and that will scare a lot of them. But if we say things like, the airline companies must require a vaccine to get on a plane … that will move a lot of people.”
Danielle sees “a lot of people asking really stupid questions and asking them as if these questions are unanswerable. We don’t know what’s in the vaccine. You don’t know what's in your chicken nuggets. You don’t know what’s in fucking Fanta or in the blunt you’re smoking.”
Danielle points out that vaccinations were required to enter the arena for a recent Las Vegas Raiders game. But the Raiders organization also set up a vaccination station so attendees could get the shot on the spot — and walk in to see the game. According to MSNBC, they vaccinated close to 300 people that day.
Apparently, some incentives really do work, swollen ’nads be damned.