Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Amber Ruffin explains how we got here on COVID skepticism in the Black community

Amber Ruffin
Amber Ruffin
Screenshot: The Amber Ruffin Show

Hey, there’s a COVID vaccine—wait, two COVID vaccines! And you probably can’t get it yet because of, reasons! Still, the medical community has rallied to invent, test, and release a life-saving inoculation in world record time, putting a penciled-in return-to-normal date on our collective calendar—sometime. Still, as Amber Ruffin explained on Friday’s Amber Ruffin Show, not everybody is rushing out to take the vaccine, finding out that they don’t yet qualify to receive it, discovering that the previous administration has left us with no plan whatsoever, and going back inside to wait.


But we kid the criminally negligent former president and his cadre of murderously bumbling accomplices to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths. Amber wasn’t here to point fingers, either. Oh, wait, yes she was, although not so much at those indifferent dimwits who couldn’t even be bothered to tell people to wear a damn mask, as at an institutional problem that’s seen some third of the Black community express reservations about taking the COVID vaccines if and when they become available. In a segment she calls “How Did We Get Here?,” Ruffin noted that, while it seems inconceivable that a community disproportionately affected by the pandemic wouldn’t be first in line (if such a line existed) to take a proven safe and effective remedy.

After all, it’s not like we’re talking about affluent white people—the main demographic of the so-called anti-vaxxer movement—who cite the likes of noted non-expert and former Singled Out host Jenny McCarthy or that disgraced doctor who’s been discredited everywhere but in the made-up minds of white parents who really want the measles to make a big comeback. As Ruffin put it when discussing America’s long and still-shocking history of medical racism, “Black people aren’t suspicious of the COVID vaccine because we read a book by Jenny McCarthy—a book I can only assume is mostly pictures—we’re suspicious because we’ve read our history.”

And what an all-too-predictable history it is. “Now I know what you’re thinking,” deadpanned Ruffin, “America? Racism? That sounds about right.” And Amber’s right, citing everything from the Tuskegee Study (let’s let Black men die of syphilis without telling them), to enduringly racist medical curricula (Black people’s skin is thicker so they don’t feel as much pain?!), to the fact that Black babies die twice as often as white babies during childbirth, since that whole feel no pain bullshit means that Black women’s pain isn’t taken seriously. And don’t get Ruffin started on the history of gynecology (pioneered on slaves), or the nonconsensual and uncompensated harvesting of cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black cancer patient whose tissues are still being used in medicine to this day. Not to mention her story being turned into best-selling books and an HBO movie that also pay no money to Lacks’ family. (“And you know HBO plays that movie every February,” noted Ruffin.)

So, while Ruffin encouraged her fellow Black people to get the vaccine as soon as it finally trickles down to their communities, she also warned those quick to dismiss the concerns of Black Americans. That since Black people in this country are thoroughly aware that, when it comes to public health, they’ve often been seen as dispensable guinea pigs whose agency with regard to their own health is disregarded for the “greater good.” Meaning for white people’s benefit.

Find out the Biden administration’s plans to actually distribute the COVID vaccine and rebuild public trust in the government’s treatment of the virus here.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.