COVID denialism is racism

Front view of a punching hand

At first it seems confusing and out of place; they weren’t celebrating their heritage, real or imagined. So why did protesters in Michigan — as far north from the Deep South as you can possibly be and still be in the US — wear Confederate garb and carry Confederate flags?

Because COVID denialism is primarily an expression of white identity. It is partly wishful thinking that white, rural people are immune, but it also includes a willingness to die to conserve a superior “place” in a purported racial hierarchy.

Many poor white people are willing to die to conserve their “place” in a purported racial hierarchy.

When these protestors die, and too many of them will, they will be dying of whiteness.

How did we get here?

It’s just an extension of the politics of racial resentment that have been roiling the country for a generation.

COVID-19 started in China and brought massive suffering to Italy, literally shutting the country down. But the first major flares in the US occurred in cities known for liberalism, tolerance and population density. And because it disproportionately kills people of color, many white people erroneously believe that they are immune.

But even as they find they are not immune — consider the stories circulating about COVID deniers who dropped their denialism when they became desperately ill — denialism is growing as a political force.

Homemade placards reading ‘give me liberty or give me covid’, and ‘live free or die’, feel frighteningly close to the truth, as protestors defy crucial social distancing guidelines, and demand the lifting of necessary measures which would see a sharp spike in fatalities…

As physician Jonathan Metzl explained in Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, poor, rural white people often favor beliefs and policies that literally kill them.

As Metzl noted in an interview last year:

…What I was trying to do was first explore how racial tensions shaped policies in particular states. And I found very clear evidence of the ways that fears of immigrants, fears that minority people were usurping resources, were shaping policy agendas in these regions.

In Kansas [where voters have supported massive cuts to public services], for example, a number of very far-right people told me that they felt like minority school districts were taking all the state taxpayer money and buying party buses and having parties. And those tensions shaped policies that defunded schools or blocked immigration or cut health care services. So were the individual people racist? I don’t know. But the policy itself was shaped by racial tensions, and that, ultimately, dictated health outcomes across the board.

This isn’t merely people failing to understand how the policies they support will hurt them. It’s people willing to be hurt in order to preserve racial hierarchies. When COVID deniers declare they want to live free or die, they mean that they don’t want to live if they have to live in a world where people of color are accepted as equal.

But what about COVID deniers on the Left, the anti-vaxxers and purveyors of the nonsense “documentary” Plandemic? Although they will deny it vigorously, their views rest on racism, too.

Anti-vax has long been an expression of white privilege. As sociologist Jennifer Reich writes in the paper Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal: Imagined Gated Communities and the Privilege of Choice:

[Anti-vax mothers] … envision disease risk to lie in “foreign” bodies outside their networks, and, therefore, individually manageable …

Anti-vaxxers claim to be empowered by their decisions:

Yet, they do so by claiming their power through dominant feminine tropes of maternal expertise over the family and by mobilizing their privilege in the symbolic gated communities in which they live and parent…

At its heart — both on the Right and the Left — COVID denialism is an expression of racism. It is the belief that white people, by virtue of being superior, are immune to the scourge. And if it doesn’t actually make them immune, they will settle for displaying their supposed superiority by campaigning against measures they view as benefiting poor people of color.

  • The blog’s been quiet of late; will you be updating it soon? We enjoy our Skeptical OB!

    • rational thinker

      I was about to ask the same thing. This is the only blog I read regularly and the only one I comment on.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I’ve been sharing old posts on The Skeptical OB Facebook page. I haven’t written anything new in awhile because my usual topics seem insignificant compared to the pain currently roiling our country.

      • StephanieJR

        It might be worthwhile reposting or writing something here about how black and other ethnic minority women have a higher maternal mortality than white women; it would be relevant and interesting.

  • Poster Girl

    I will say……everyone I saw promoting “Plandemic” on social media was a right-winger. I have also noticed, a good decade out from my crunchy-mama years, that a lot of us caught up in all the woo went one of two ways: those who persisted in anti-science views grew increasingly right-wing/libertarian and dropped their liberal views; those who stayed moderately liberal or grew more liberal dropped their anti-science views.

  • Who?

    Off topic, but this is a neonatal death in 2017, and recent coroner’s report into the circumstances.

    https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/miracle-baby-dies-after-lotus-birth-at-melbourne-hospital-20200605-p54zvl.html

    Stay well and safe people.

    • rational thinker

      I read that one. That woman has some serious mental issues. Poor baby did not have to die. The narcissist actually blames the hospital smh.

  • Jeff F. MD PhD

    I am always incredulous when someone ascribes an overarching motivation like a population having a zealous fervor to be hurt to preserve some demographical hierachy; as if poor, rural, white peope make up some superorganism careening to its demise as a grand jesture of racial dominence. How denying Covid by a certain group evoking a live free or die mantra is subterfuge for racism has poor causality at best and deals dangerously in condescension and stereotyping. Metzl’s book is rife with thesis’ based on thin causality and anecdotal references that do not always hold up to scrutiny.

  • demodocus

    A cousin of my mother’s went driving and everyone he asked said they didn’t know anyone with Covid. Like that was proof that people were over reacting. Big northern cities and foreign countries are the only ones who catch these kind of things, apparently. /sarcasm. It’d be there already if the big urban centers that got it first (because they have the big airports) hadn’t shut everything down. But sure, dude, it’s all a hoax the whole world is perpetuating.

  • Azuran

    It’s incredible how much people will fight to prevent other people they view as inferior (even when race isn’t a factor) from having the same privilege. Even when it does not negate any of their own. Or even reducing their own privilege just to reduce those of others even more

    Like, we don’t charge our staff for taking X-rays of their pets when they are sick. That’s the same for all employees. Then our techs actually started complaining that it wasn’t fair to them that the non-tech support staff also got free x-rays because as techs, they were ‘higher’, and therefore needed to have better privilege.

    And then they even went one step further and invented their own rule (seriously, they didn’t even check in with us owners, they made it up and implemented it on their own) that the hospitalization was only free IF you did the medical care and treatments of your own pet yourself. Making it so the non-tech staff always had to pay, since they couldn’t do treatment on their own. And then the Techs started coming over 3 times per day to do their own treatments to have it for free.
    Seriously. On their own, They lowered their own privilege and gave themselves more work and even made themselves pay more money if they couldn’t do the additional work, just to make it so they had more privilege than those lower then them.

  • PeggySue

    No question that racism/white supremacy/white nationalism is fueling a lot of the protests. However the ideas did not simply spring up in the last generation. I commend to you Dr. Carol Anderson’s book White Rage published in 2016, which is an accessible, well-sourced account of how US history is marked by violent resistance from white people to any real or perceived gain in status by persons of color. Not new, but given extraordinary permission by our current Administration. A disgrace and a source of deep pain to many.