The coronavirus pandemic is threatening to claim still another victim: Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a colorblind society. That would add to the tragedy.
During this terrible pandemic, politicians have invoked the authority of “experts” to justify their policies. “Science,” we are told, tells us to wear masks, wash our hands, socially distance, quarantine the infected, avoid large gatherings and take other measures. Most Americans comply because the goal is to save lives, particularly of the vulnerable elderly.
Meanwhile, 2020 also was the year of “anti-racism” — or, more accurately, a brand of obsessive race-think that contrasts sharply with Dr. King’s dream.
Rather than demanding equality of opportunity for all Americans, the new anti-racism, which views everything through the prism of racial groupings, demands that government tip the scales in favor of certain groups — thereby discriminating against others — in order to achieve racial equity. If any policy is said to have a “disparate impact” on Black people or other minority groups, the anti-racists assert, that policy is ipso facto racist.
Anti-racist guru Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How To Be An Anti-Racist,” contends that “there is no such thing as a nonracist or race-neutral policy.” In this view, every policy must be implemented with the explicit aim of achieving racial equity and “leveling the playing field.” This means discriminating in favor of minorities today to remedy past inequities.
Now comes the moral quandary: prioritizing who gets the COVID vaccine first and who must wait.
Racial justice activists have called for distribution priorities that would move the vulnerable elderly down the list, not up. The “problem” is that the elderly are too white.
Harald Schmidt of the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics put it like this: “Society is structured in a way that enables them (white people) to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.”
Schmidt and others argue that millions of “essential workers” (an ill-defined category if ever there was one) should receive priority over the elderly because they’re disproportionately “people of color.” Maximizing the vaccination of the elderly might save more lives, the activists concede, but the loss of life is offset by the benefits of “leveling the playing field.”
This isn’t idle theorizing: CDC guidelines already include race as a metric for deciding who gets the vaccine. Several states also are using “equity metrics” to prioritize the vaccination of Black people and other minorities, regardless of their age, over the elderly, because members of these groups are more likely to die of COVID than white people are.
That means, for example, that a healthy 30-year-old African American might be vaccinated before an “at risk” 70 year old, despite the fact that those age 65 to 74 (excluded from the current round of vaccinations) are 90 times more likely to die than younger people.
The long-standing struggle against racism has, throughout U.S. history, also been a drive to guarantee equal protection of the law to all Americans. On this, skin color doesn’t matter.
Black people suffer more from COVID-19 because of the prevalence of such risk factors as diabetes, hypertension and asthma. This is the medical issue, not their skin color; so prioritizing people with these risk factors would help them — and all others with those conditions. That’s a colorblind solution we all should applaud.
The racial equity vision is based on a mistaken belief that wherever a disparity exists, it must be the result of either discrimination or the “structure” of society. Men are dying of COVID-19 in much greater numbers than women. In deciding who gets the vaccine, should we prioritize men over women? Asians live longer than white people. Should they too be moved down the line?
The racial engineering of public health will worsen race relations, undermine respect for both medical science and the law, and unnecessarily kill many more Americans. The idea of sacrificing lives at the altar of racial equity should shock the conscience of our nation.
Jonathan J. Bean, research fellow at the Independent Institute, is professor of history at Southern Illinois University and editor of “Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.” He wrote this for InsideSources.com.