A blog that has been out there much longer than mine (and which conveniently leaves the blogger’s identity mysterious) argues that “implementing vaccine passports would be a white supremacist measure.” The Biden administration is encouraging such documentation, and the ultra-woke state of Oregon has announced that these will be required for its citizens to go unmasked in any indoor, public-access gathering. I am not concerned here with the wisdom of the policy. I want to know how anyone can have a rational conversation with someone who is convinced such a measure is evidence of “white supremacy.”
“[P]oor people are much less likely to be vaccinated than higher-income persons…According to the long-set standards of Black Lives Matter and other critical-theory advocates, whether racial disparities like this are intended or not is irrelevant. These disparities are the results of racial discrimination and white privilege baked into the social-legal-medical networks for centuries. Therefore, it does not matter that this gap in immunization is not intended. It does not matter that the men and women managing the vaccine program and distribution, or administering it to the public, do not discriminate at the vaccine sites by the race of persons who come for the shots. Lack of deliberate intent does not excuse systemic racism. The fact that matters is this: “Black and Latino people are far more likely to live in poverty than white people, and despite having died at higher rates throughout the pandemic, they are receiving fewer vaccines than white people.”
The argument is instructive, which is why I am bothering to publish it. If any disparity exists in any area where blacks and other non-white groups have statistically less positive outcomes than whites, it is per se proof of “white supremacy.” The fact of statistical variation is the proof, and reasons don’t matter. This is an especially useful example, because there is no reason at all for poor people or minorities not to be vaccinated. The vaccinations are free and ubiquitous. The greatest cost imaginable would be a cab ride. One doesn’t need online access to get one.
Minorities and poorer populations—they are not the same thing—are lagging behind in getting the shots, and by choice. Now, in the case of African Americans, an argument could be made that systemic flaws in the school system, or systemically rooted inadequacies in nutrition leading to cognitive damage, or pockets of African American culture crippled by paranoia and superstition as an outgrowth of centuries of abuse from slavery, are examples of harm from past white supremacy. However, a policy that only confers a disadvantage on a group because that group chooses to be disadvantaged cannot be condemned as an expression of hostility toward that group, or as a means of keeping that group disadvantaged.
The response of Mystery Blogger is this:
“Of course, such a response can come only from a position of privilege. It concretizes rather than addresses the white supremacism of vaccination processes and passports. The passports will obviously be issued only to persons who have completed the vaccination shots. And that means that a vaccine-passport system will be just as racially unjust as vaccine administration. Passports will inevitably privilege white people over people of color. Whites will be advantaged for travel, for attendance at sporting events or even government functions open only to passport holders. And as CNN’s report above indicates, whites will be massively over-privileged also for employment and job assignments. Jim Crow could not have thought of a better way to widen the income and social inequality gaps between whites and POCs.“
And what, pray tell, would “address” the “white supremism”? Clearly, not having vaccinations at all. If blacks disproportionately choose not to be vaccinated, then the only way to prevent them from disproportionately suffering for their choice is for no one to have the option.
Although this anti-logic is extreme in this case, it is not really different from what policy-makers, academics and activists argue in other contexts. Blacks perform worse on standardized tests and nobody seems to be able to fix the problem, so we eliminate standardized tests. Black students misbehave in class at a higher rate than white students, so we must stop disciplining students. Blacks engage in destructive illegal drug use at higher rates than whites, so we must eliminate drug laws. And so on, so the entire culture’s expectations are brought down to the lowest common denominator. Now this reasoning mandates that everyone should wear masks and practice social distancing, perhaps forever, and that the economy and enjoyment of life be constrained far into the future, in order that individuals who choose not to cooperate with a society-wide effort to serve the public health suffer no consequences of their own choices.
A depressing number of people accept this circular reasoning as persuasive. You can’t rebut it, because it is based on an unmovable false assumption that strikes at the heart of a basic American value: personal responsibility and accountability. No, if a society requires everyone to suffer the consequences of their own conduct, and a particular group insists on destructive conduct anyway, even if no detectable conditions make that conduct unavoidable, allowing such consequences to take place proves societal animus against that group. This is true because activists want it to be true, that’s all.
Thus Blogger X begins the screed by saying, “This does not require a long explanation.” Explaining what’s wrong with his or her thesis requires an even shorter explanation, in the style of the illustrious detective, Sidney Wang: