For an explanation of why vaccinated people are still wearing masks, taking COVID-19 tests and quarantining, even though their risk of hospitalization or death from the omicron variant is minimal, look to critical race theory.
Critical race theory, as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund explains it, is a framework that says “systemic racism is part of American society.” It says that racism “is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice” and “is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities.”
To unsympathetic white people, that can sound a lot like excuse-making. To many black and Hispanic people, the theory can go too far toward robbing individuals of their agency — instilling victimhood in young people of color rather than teaching them about their own responsibility and possibility.
And to my taste, critical race theory too often veers into anticapitalism and a kind of unremitting negativity about America that seems unanchored from reality.
When it comes to statistics about who is vaccinated and who not, though, the numbers fit the critical race theory explanation. The Kaiser Family Foundation parsing of state and federal data as of December 13, 2021 found that, for example, in California 69% of whites had gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 59% of blacks and 57% of Hispanics had one.
In Massachusetts, 81% of whites had at least one vaccine dose, while 73% of blacks and 68% of Hispanics had one. In Colorado, 74% of whites had at least one vaccine dose, while among blacks, it was 65%, and among Hispanics, 40%.
Nationwide, 77% of Asians had at least one dose of vaccine, with whites at 58%, Hispanics at 56%, and blacks at 51%.
What explains lower vaccination rates among blacks? A New York Times news article on the topic discovered what the article described as “a fear that during these uncertain times they could not trust the government with their health.”
The Times said those interviewed “described their own experiences living in decrepit public housing projects or with the criminal justice system as leaving them doubtful they could trust the government.”
The government earned black distrust. It enforced racist legislation dating back to the Fugitive Slave Act. It funded “urban renewal” that functioned as black "removal."
It advanced a welfare system that destroyed families by incentivizing unwed motherhood, encouraging dependency, and penalizing wealth accumulation and earned income. It operated a public school system that failed to educate minority children.
Who else doesn’t trust the government? Republicans. An October 2021Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of unvaccinated adults found 60% of them identified as Republicans or leaning Republican, while 17% of the unvaccinated identified as Democrats or leaning Democrat.
There’s a temptation among fully vaccinated and boosted urban white liberals to fume in anger at the unvaccinated, whether those unvaccinated are urban minorities or rural Republicans, or even black rural Republicans.
While the elderly and immunocompromised are also considerations, concern about the adverse health consequences that unvaccinated people face explains a lot of the remaining COVID restrictions. If the U.S. were a lot closer to 100% vaccinated and boosted, the worries about skyrocketing hospitalizations or deaths would be much less.
That’s where the critical race theory comes in. You don’t have to believe that the lower black vaccination rate is the result of some racist conspiracy by white supremacist public health officials. I don’t think that’s the reason, any more than I think the lower Republican vaccination rates are the result of an anti-Republican conspiracy by left-wing public health officials.
The interesting questions are around what the government has done to lose the trust of citizens — and what, if anything, can be done to win it back.
Some skepticism of government is warranted. A nation of sheep-like order-followers is not conducive to freedom. Independent thinking is important. Trust is not the same thing as blind obedience.
But before dismissing COVID-19 as only a problem for the unvaccinated, or raging against the unvaccinated as the reason that vaccinated people are still masking and testing — it’s worth asking why they haven’t gotten a shot.
When people don’t trust their doctors or their political leaders, it’s a crisis of confidence. That is a long-term threat that will outlast the coronavirus hassles.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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