I had a spirited discussion a little over a week ago with a family member about getting vaccinated and the idea of a vaccine mandate. Both of us and our families are vaccinated. We agreed on the science and the necessity. The problem came when I ferociously stated I had the right to pass judgment on those refusing to get vaccinated. I could have been more artful with my language and said that I have the right to pass judgment on their decision, but for me, it is a distinction without a difference. Using the phrases, do not judge me, or my body, my choice (unless it is about abortion) has become the conservative way of highlighting the dichotomy between freedom with the collective responsibility owed each other as citizens of this great country.
Sure, I have no right to judge if one decides to paint the inside of their home chartreuse and orange—I may gag if you invite me over for coffee, but your décor, your choice. One can drive an ugly car, and I cannot pass judgment, but you are damn right I do if you drive drunk. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids are endangering my kids and warrant judgment. Walking into a room or attending a public gathering unmasked or unvaccinated opens you up to public review. At that point, you have decided our bodies, your choice. Not being vaccinated is like getting in your car staggering drunk, aiming it toward the main street, and hoping for the best.
That behavior would not only be considered insane but criminal. One would not be judged for getting snockered but for leaving home and endangering the public. You hear, ‘I have done my research,’ but none of those TikTok scientists ever takes you to their lab; or introduces you to their friend’s-cousins-brother. I am fully aware and can sympathize with the suspicions around medicine and the disparities between people of color and people with and without money. Yes, controversies surrounded the first polio vaccines, the denial of syphilis vaccines to the men in the Tuskegee experiment, and the abuse of Henrietta Lacks and her family. As a black American, I am susceptible to the abuses that go on today with prostate cancer screening for men of color and breast cancer testing for women of color and the poor.
Discrediting, ostracism, and public shaming are practical tools. I watch a lot of old movies and black and white tv shows. As a child of the sixties, it was cool to smoke, although I never did. When Perry Mason lit up before humiliating Hamilton Burger, or the Rifleman took a drag on his front porch after gunning down the bad guys, I dreamed it was me. Along came the seventies and eighties and smoking bans in planes, restaurants, and stores. Some of it was mandated, but a lot came about because of public shaming and recognizing the risk of breathing in second-hand smoke. There was the same type of uproar we have now over masks and vaccines. People protested, swore never to comply, and in rare cases, committed violence.
The difference between then and now is that people did not deny science because of political ideology. Weekly attacks on airline personnel and public service workers were not grist for the mill on the nightly news. Smokers finally admitted their resistance to stopping their harmful habit was not based on science, and the public stopped coddling their whining and moaning. We need a return to judgmental finger-pointing.
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