Rich white guys are making money through creating vaccine disinformation campaigns. They’re targeting our community the hardest.


So, funny story—you know the movie series The Purge, right?

The movie is about a government that facilitates a single day each year where all crime is legal. They go to great lengths to make it clear that this includes murder.

It goes about as horrifically as you might expect—lots of torture, lots of petty vengeance, lots of people busting out new-fangled murder machines and crazy contraptions on the one day a year that they can be as reckless as they want without consequence.

The truth is, though, I can’t ever actually finish any of the movies. I know I’m supposed to focus on the vengeance stories and the torture, but it’s the smaller sub-plots that distract me. For instance, a gentleman with a high-powered explosive launcher targets a poor community with the intention of emptying it entirely, to make space for his new real estate venture. Or how, in The First Purge, which is the story of how the experimental run of the purge was actually hosted in an impoverished community in New York, explicitly stated for the intention of eliminating the poor and, by extension, saving money on the social programs they use. What’s more, some of the commentary from residents actually praised how homelessness had been dramatically reduced, but it wasn’t because they finally had jobs and were able to find homes—they were simply victims of the purge.

That there was an orchestrated plot created to help people in power avail themselves of the land and resources of oppressed groups by otherwise illegal, unethical, and immoral means without consequence feels more nightmarish to me than some bozo in a tank. To me, it feels terrifying because it feels closer to real than we recognize.

***

I tried to stop blogging when COVID was at its height this year, because I felt like I needed to make space for the public health experts who had the most knowledge to be able to speak. I didn’t need to be clogging up the Internet with all this healthy living talk—we’re out here trying to survive, and I needed to let the scientists help us do that. Except, that’s the explicit opposite of what happened.

Apparently, there’s a mad dash to influence Black people’s thinking and decision making as it pertains to both COVID-19 and the vaccine that protects us from it. And it’s not Black people who are behind it.

Imagine my disgust when I receive an emailed press release, promoting a ‘documentary’ intended to, well, it says it pretty clearly:

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, in conjunction with Centner Productions and the Urban Global Health Alliance (UGHA), and co-producers Rev. Tony Muhammad and author/historian Curtis Cost, today announced the release of the trailer for their upcoming documentary “Medical Racism: The New Apartheid” which premiers on March 11, 2021. The trailer is available here.

 

“Medical Racism” illuminates the shocking history of human experimentation targeting Blacks by government health regulators and private pharmaceutical companies. “While many Americans are familiar with the historic medical atrocities by CDC at Tuskegee, by the father of American gynecology, Dr. J. Marion Sims on South Carolina slave girls, and the continuing medical larceny against Henrietta Lacks, they are likely unaware of the routine medical barbarism against Africans that persists today,” said the film’s co-producer, Curtis Cost. [source]

Before I even begin, I need to point out that the title of this documentary is extremely similar to that of a book written by a Black woman, Harriet A. Washington, titled Medical Apartheid. In her book, Washington outlines the history of medical science and its abuses against marginalized communities of all stripes, not simply “Africans.” Washington’s book is heartbreaking, but nuanced, and helps us understand the necessary paths we must take to get to a place of not merely trust, but mutual respect—both for the purpose of medicine, but for the role of ‘patient.’

There’s every indication that they cribbed much of their information—and their title—from her over 15-year-old book, and zero indication they included her in their film. Most importantly,  Washington has been abundantly clear about her position: she believes we need to be vaccinated.

Listen to how NPR characterizes this…this… thing:

With this film, Kennedy and his allies in the anti-vaccine movement resurface and promote disproven claimsabout the dangers of vaccines, but it’s aimed squarely at a specific demographic: Black Americans.

The film draws a line from the real and disturbing history of racism and atrocities in the medical field — such as the Tuskegee syphilis study — to interviews with anti-vaccine activists who warn communities of color to be suspicious of modern-day vaccines.

 

At one point in Medical Racism, viewers are warned that “in black communities something is very sinister” and “the same thing that happened in the 1930s during the eugenics movement” is happening again.

There is lengthy discussion of the thoroughly disproven link between autism and vaccines. For example, the film references a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism rates as evidence that African American children are being particularly harmed, but in reality the study did not conclude that African Americans are at increased risk of autism because of vaccination.

 

The movie then displays a chart claiming to use that same CDC data — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — to make a connection between vaccinating Black children and autism risk. The findings in the chart closely resemble another study sometimes mentioned by anti-vaccine activists, but the medical journal later retracted the study, because of “undeclared competing interests on the part of the author” and “concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis.” (That study’s author was also a paid independent contractor for Kennedy’s group as of 2020 and sits on its board of directors.) [source]

Originally founded as the anti-MMR vaccine focused World Mercury Project, the Children’s Health Defense, founded by Kennedy (yes, that kind of Kennedy), gives up whole swaths of its home page to claiming there are ‘myths’ and ‘secrets’ about the vaccine that they are unearthing, but somehow some mysterious force is ‘censoring’ their content, despite them being responsible for 54% of the anti-vaccine advertising available on Facebook right now. (Kennedy specifically was banned from Instagram, but for violating their terms of use. CHD, however, was not.)

The Urban Global Health Alliance, an entity that I have literally never heard of, probably because it was created only last year at the start of the pandemic with no identifiable or accountable board members or individual identified by name as the source of this information, is essentially a nameless, faceless collective with little more than this film to its credit as its contribution to “urban global health,” whatever the hell that means.

Muhammad, one of the film’s co-producers, likened vaccination to “Tuskegee”—which, again, Tuskegee was not people being injected with something harmful; the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was about Black men being denied treatmentafter he first connected with Kennedy years ago. Cost, the film’s other co-producer, is an HIV-denier. (I don’t know how you can deny the realities of HIV and still escape with your credibility intact, but whatever, I guess.)

A wealthy white man; a shadowy, unidentifiable organization whose concern for “urban” health—and we all know “urban” has always meant “Black”—didn’t actually exist before the covid shutdowns began; a man who is all too happy to lie to our faces about something as serious as HIV and AIDS—all want to exploit our legitimate questions about the health care system and medical science in America…. for what?

I brought up The Purge, not because I believe in a collective of people trying to literally purge society of Black and brown people, but to point out a depiction of the ways in which people will be comfortable with losing large swaths of the population for political, financial, or professional gains, or worse: clout.

Perhaps they’re not trying to empty out whole blocks worth of Black people so the land can be redeveloped for incoming gentrification. Maaaaaaybe they’re not trying to eliminate whole swaths of poor communities under the misguided belief that we are somehow the bulk of users of public assistance. But if successfully testing out anti-vaccination rhetoric on us means they can gain insight into what kinds of language successfully sells alternative—and often unsuccessful—methods of health management, well… who cares if a few Black people die?

Or maybe, as is the case with US Senator Rand Paul, whose wife is a financial investor in the pharmaceutical company Gilead who makes treatments for people after they’ve already caught COVID, you’re discouraging people from getting vaccinated because you want that money? And, if some people actually listen to you—that is, right before he was suspended from YouTube for a week for spreading disinformation—and decide to skip the vaccine and die, well… who cares? Senator Paul got his money. That’s what mattered most.

Both The Purge and the current climate around disinformation represent the same kind of disregard—the apathy towards the suffering of others—and the same kind of eagerness to benefit from the harm they’ve caused, all at the expense of the same communities.

By all means, have a very real and serious conversation about the virus, its side effects, and the vaccine. But if that conversation is not rooted in science, rooted in the reality of over 150,000,000 vaccines administered thus far, and in the ultimate goal of keeping us safe? It simply cannot be trusted. They’ve already told us their profits matter more than our lives. If we filter everything told to us through that lens, well, who cares?





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