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Being Black and the COVID Vaccine

By: Samantha Silveira, Mental Health Technician, Supportive Housing

I cry COVID tears a lot. Yesterday was no exception. My day started out as usual, coffee and checking social media to see what took place while I was asleep. It is my normal morning ritual. I should also mention that I am…African American. But,
I prefer to be called…Black. I am a cis-gender female. I have a chronic medical condition. And, I have experienced, first hand, the health disparities and subsequent medical trauma that many African Americans experience. But, when I was first offered an opportunity to get the COVID vaccine, I immediately knew my answer. YES, YES, and YES.

That is not to say that coming to this decision was an easy one. When it was first announced that COVID was impacting the Black community’s gravely, I became very worried. Maybe freaked out is a more appropriate description. I worried about my brothers, one of whom has a heart condition. I worried about my elderly mother who is immunocompromised. I worried about myself and wondered if I could survive another medical crisis. I also worried about my community. The history of medical trauma inflicted on Black bodies has made it difficult to trust the medical community. I immediately had thoughts of the enslaved Black women who were used as gynecological guinea pigs (look it up), Henrietta Lacks, and the Black men who were medically and culturally abused in the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.

Our history was not lost on me.

My own medical trauma lingers in my body and mind. The White dentist who laughed to my mother while
commenting, “What a great little patient she is,” because he could use his drill on me without Novocain. I
remember being terrified, but he just perpetuated the stereotype that Black people don’t feel pain as much as other races. The White physician who made a sexual comment about me, to me, as I was being placed under anesthesia; his creepy words were the last thing I heard before falling asleep. He saw a sexualized brown body, not a scared 17 year old.

So why was I crying COVID tears yesterday? I found out about two more members of my community who are now battling COVID. But, I also cried for Dr. Susan Moore, the doctor from Indianapolis who, while in the hospital fighting COVID, complained of being treated unfairly due to the racial biases of some hospital personnel. She died shortly after being transported to another hospital. For me, saying yes to this vaccine is my way of facing the memories of my own medical trauma. I am making up for the times that I was not given a voice about what was being done to my brown body. I am doing this for my elders, so I can keep them safe. I love you, mama. But, I am also doing this for the ancestors who fought so hard for me to be here, brown body and all. I AM RECLAIMING THEIR TIME. My ancestors saved a spot for me in line, and my saying yes to the vaccine was my way of saying that I will never be afraid to take ownership for what I do to and with my body.