Beware the Covid Blame Game

 

  Author: Janett Walker

“ALMOST HALF OF PEOPLE IN HIGH ETHNIC MINORITIES AREAS SNUB CORONA VIRUS JAB”

“FEARS LOW BAME VACCINE UPDATE WILL ‘CAUSE DEATHS’’

“WHITE PEOPLE ARE TWICE AS LIKELY TO HAVE BEEN VACCINATED AGAINST THE CORONAVIRUS AS BLACK PEOPLE”

“YOUNG AND HEALTHY ASYLUM SEEKERS GETTING VACCINE BEFORE OLDER BRITS”

In difficult times people look for someone to blame. In the first three months of the pandemic hate crimes against East Asian people soared, with 267 recorded during that period alone and between January and March 2020 hate crimes against Chinese people were three times that of the previous two years. Even here in Cumbria there were anecdotal reports of Chinese visitors being turned away by their accommodation providers.  It was the beginning of a worrying trend.

Let’s go back to a year ago, when the pandemic first hit the UK in spring 2020. Within a few short weeks, the government began to tell us that Black and Brown people were more likely to die of Covid than their white counterparts but didn’t say why this might be. Black communities rallied and began to put pressure on the government to find out the reasons behind these disturbing results, as some quarters were suggesting it was to do with genetic or biological make up; understandably if this was the case, then different systems would need to be put in place to help protect those most impacted. As the Scientists worked to find the cause of statistics such as “Black men being 4 times more likely to die than White men of the same age”, it soon began to become apparent that this was not about genetics or biology at all; the cause was directly linked to socio economic factors.

By the time this came to light, you could say, the damage was already done – the message was out there and the label of the earlier rhetoric of physical make up, stuck. There’s no doubt that whenever some quarters hear the concerns that Covid-19 has continued to disproportionately kill Black, Brown and Minoritised people since day one, they believe the reasons are genetic and not at all due to the fact that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Groups are more likely to be in jobs where they cannot work from home, live in urban areas (urban areas have higher infection rates) and live in more densely populated housing. The fact that Covid is affecting these groups disproportionately is years in the making and comes down to the systemic racism they live with on a daily basis.

Lady Doreen Lawrence was commissioned to complete a report to find out why. Her report “An Avoidable Crisis” stated that these communities were:

Overexposed, unprotected, stigmatised and overlooked.

As we all know, covid continued to throw everything it could at us and by the summer, it had us all in its full grip. The government refused to address or even acknowledge systemic racism as the reason behind the high numbers of Black, Brown and Minoritised people both contracting the virus and subsequently dying from it. Instead, it turned up the dial against these communities by using pithy soundbites that apportioned blame at the doors of those most likely to be affected, whipping up a media frenzy as it did so.

Conservative MP Craig Whittaker, tweeted in July 2020: “If you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases, the vast majority, but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas, it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”

Since you’re here, here’s a couple more headlines for you to digest;

WARNING OF ‘CONCERNING’ CORONAVIRUS SPREAD IN SOUTH ASIAN COMMUNITIES AS LUTON AND BLACKBURN ARE PUT ON ALERT

LANGUAGE BARRIERS AMONG LEICESTER’S ASIAN COMMUNITY ‘COULD HAVE ADDED TO CITY’S CORONAVIRUS SPIKE’

STAGGERING 85% OF NEW CORONAVIRUS INFECTIONS IN BLACKBURN ‘ARE AMONG SOUTH ASIANS’ AS COUNCIL LIMITS NUMBER OF PEOPLE ALLOWED TO VISIT OTHER HOMES TO AVOID FULL LEICESTER-STYLE LOCKDOWN AFTER COVID-19 SPIKE

Are we starting to get the picture yet? Because by the autumn, it was the turn of our Muslim communities to bear the brunt, when they were “subtly” implicated as the government announced local lockdowns in many northern areas with high Muslim populations, at 9pm on 29 July. The result – Eid was effectively cancelled just 3 hours before it was due to start, leaving these families unable to travel or get together to celebrate. The build up to these local lockdowns? Images across the media showing Asian people in cities like Leicester, Oldham, Bradford and Blackburn whilst talking about rules not being adhered to despite the growing number of deaths. The messaging was simple – these people were the problem, not their socio-economic backgrounds.

In January came the news that we had a vaccine and within days a second vaccine so finally the country could start to work towards winning the battle against this awful virus. People became hopeful and excited as the government began to send the message that they would have millions vaccinated by as early as mid-March. And then a new message started to come out… remember those headlines at the start of this blog and our question as to whether you ever question them in turn?

Right now, we’re being told that Black and Brown people are not taking the vaccine and beneath the headlines are comments like

“The low uptake has caused alarm in Whitehall, and scientists have warned the government that “vaccine hesitancy” among minority groups threatens Britain’s ability to drive down infections and exit the lockdown”

This message is regularly repeated, on the news, in the papers, on social media; and it’s caused many Black and Brown celebrities, religious leaders and local community members included, to join a call to campaign and encourage more Black and Brown people to take the vaccine. On the face of it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s what’s behind the message that concerns us because it creates opinions like this…

First:

Why isn’t there more talk about other groups in society with a low uptake on being vaccinated? Has anyone done any research into other groups and come to any conclusions around this? For months now there has been concern that young people are the most likely to flout covid rules – where is the focus on ensuring young people are encouraged to take the vaccine when asked. Why is the focus on Black and Brown communities first, foremost and pretty much exclusively?

Second:

There is a huge difference between vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine. The latter have a very clear agenda some of which involves conspiracy theories and general hostility towards the government, whereas the former is simply about being unsure and wanting to understand matters better. Yet the media have lumped everyone into the same group even though anti-vaxxers appear to be predominantly white.

Third:

Nothing has been said about the medical mistrust and this country’s long history of medically abusing Black and Brown people thus violating their trust. The government was asked to take urgent action on this issue 10 months ago by Equality campaigners but their concerns went unheard.

Halima Begum, Chief Executive of the Runnymede Trust, said she first raised concerns about the dangerous exposure of these communities in March last year.

Mistrust is often based on past experience, whether incidents of simple misunderstanding, cultural confusion or, in the case of some patients, an outright fear of perceived hostility and racism.

Racism in healthcare breeds distrust and in addressing vaccine hesitancy, racism in healthcare has to be tackled. The other issues are the theological or religious concerns that have to be addressed head on to engender Black and Brown people’s trust in vaccination

Fourth:

There’s always the statistics. Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi said: “Vaccine uptake in the UK is running incredibly high amongst adults, 85% according to the ONS study, but the 15% who are vaccine-hesitant skew heavily towards BAME communities.” When asked specifically whether the government was recording exactly who was refusing to be vaccinated, Zahawi said: “We’ll absolutely look at how we are addressing the issues of refusal rates at the moment”, which is minister speak for saying “no” as he went on to do what minsters always do, which is to push their own agenda. The point here is that we must always apply caution to numbers that are thrown at us. Numbers are often taken as gospel, but they are not always as a result of in-depth data collection.

What happens when messages like those above keep being sent?

Well first, Chinese people were attacked. Then the genetic make-up of Black and Brown people was embedded into the psyche of the majority, reinforcing already deep-rooted beliefs that there is something ‘wrong’ with us. Cancel Eid – well it’s their own fault for spreading covid and making it worse for everyone else (but never let it be said that perhaps Christmas should have gone the same way) and now, if the country’s roadmap out of lockdown doesn’t work out as planned, whose fault will that be? It’ll be the fault of those who didn’t take the vaccine. And who are they? They are the Black and Brown people.

So if you’ve been wondering why we haven’t been shouting about taking the vaccine, it’s not because we are anti-vax or that we believe no one should take the vaccine; it’s because we don’t want to join a rhetoric that is part of an agenda to damage and apportion blame. We would encourage and ask others to think about the long-term impact of the message we are all being asked to share and think about how they should share it, not that they must share it. We ask also that everyone remembers that whilst Covid is indiscriminate, people on the other hand are not.