Attested by the human psyche and our natural tendencies, we often fear the unknown. What we become comfortable with is what we surround ourselves around, while we project our fears onto something we simply do not yet understand or need time and effort to understand. However, in some cases there are complex reasonings that may suggest a deeper meaning behind this fear we hold.
As a Black man and an aspiring doctor, I found an interesting juxtaposition the two, specifically when it came to the ideas of vaccinations. Throughout the pandemic, I couldn’t help but take not at the unanimity most of my family members held in regard to the vaccine; in the simplest explanation, they hated and feared vaccines. Most wanted nothing to do with it, going as far to report their evidence as to why a vaccine meant the end of humanity and should not be forced (both of which were exaggerated claims with no scientific evidence). I grew frustrated with my family, constantly reverting to clinical data, backed by the best scientific institutions in the world, while I was met by Tik-Toks made by conspiracy theorists. We exchanged videos back and forth to a point where one would give up or simply not respond. I pointed out the flaws in each video but saw no progress in teaching them why these were wrong and why having proper evidence was crucial. I felt annoyed by my own’s family’s ignorance. Why were they selective in what they choose to understand? Being “fresh” out of my undergrad education meant I focused so much on the doctor side of me that I did not take into account the culture behind vaccines in Black communities and why this was completely justified. In a time where we faced two unique pandemics, Covid-19 and racism, the reasons became clearly highlighted upon looking at the history of vaccinations in Black communities and applying it to what we see now. There was a justified culture of distrust when historically Africans were experimented on early forms of vaccines before they were given to Europeans and White individuals. Justification became cemented after hearing about the scientific abuse toward Black men in the Tuskegee experiments where these men were given syphilis and “studied” over the course of 40 years. There are wounds above and below the surface, exposing the effects at the healthcare level. This was not just ignorance nor was it simply fear of the unknown.
What can we draw from this? Am I telling you to get vaccinated? Although I would advise it, the answer is no. What is important to note is there are not always the easy explanations to understand human behavior. What may seem like an irrational fear at the surface actually has a historical standing to its culture, which has completely justified the actions. When we judge each other’s actions, whatever they may be, it’s always crucial to considerate of that individual’s history, their culture, their relationships and anything that may impact that particular behavior we are critical of. Understanding can come a long way toward getting where we are and where we want to be, and whether that means improving the dynamic between science and Black communities, or understanding one’s actions, we cannot underestimate the factors of fear.