Back in August, Dr. Uché Blackstock took to Twitter to ask fellow Black healthcare and public health professionals if they were down to be involved in a roundtable with hip-hop artists Busta Rhymes, Maseo, and Pete Rock to discuss their concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.
The inquiry is the result of these figures either expressing skepticism — as well as sharing misinformation — toward the vaccine (Maseo and Pete) or criticizing mandates meant to curtail the spread of COVID-19 (Busta). Since last December, Pete has been vocal of his skepticism toward the vaccine, while Maseo has recently shared posts that not only echo an anti-vaccine stance (which he refers to an anti-trust stance) but come with an air of conspiracy, too, as was the case with a post he shared of Bill Gates, presumably in relation to the debunked theories about him and his organization’s role in the spreading and treatment of the coronavirus. Unlike Maseo or Pete, Busta hasn’t shared any anti-vax posts that could be seen as him being anti-vax, but he recently came under fire for an anti-mask rant he gave at a concert.
But these instances speak to the ongoing distrust and skepticism toward covid vaccines — and mandates — in hip-hop, which are ingrained in the warranted mistrust Black people in America have against this country’s healthcare system, with the controversial Tuskegee Experiment constantly referenced during this time.
Dr. Blackstock hopes to quell some of that distrust and skepticism these hip-hop figures — as well as the Black community at large — have toward the vaccine. She’s the founder of Advancing Health Equity, which partners with healthcare institutions and organizations to address racial health inequities, as well as provide them with strategies and tools to provide racially equitable care.
She’s also a hip-hop fan: she grew up with the music of De La Soul, Busta, and Rock, from their music playing out of cars passing by in the Crown Heights, Brooklyn neighborhood she was raised in to college parties she attended. These artists were foundational to her upbringing and still mean a lot to her, which is why she wants to help them better understand how the vaccine works.
“Black men have the shortest life expectancy of any racial and ethnic demographic group in this country, right? And we’ve even seen other hip-hop artists die young, like DMX,” she said. “And so, it’s just all part of it — the systemic racism does this… I recognize the impact of systemic racism on Black folks’ decision to get vaccinated. We are asking our people to essentially take a vaccine that’s been produced by social institutions that have harmed our communities, that have proven very untrustworthy, so there’s that paradox.”
“So it’s like acknowledging, ‘Yes, systemic racism historically and currently has just harmed our communities profoundly,'” she continued. “But at the same time, these vaccines actually work. And while they’re not the panacea in terms of solving all of the ills of our communities, they are one really, I would say miracle of science that we need to really get behind, because if we don’t, we’re going to see those inequities widen further.”
For Blackstock, it’s not the suspicion that hip-hop has toward the vaccine that concerns her, but the misinformation they sometimes refer to, to justify their reasoning.
“I can understand having doubts and concerns about the vaccine, but I felt like they were all using their platform to almost spread what I saw as information that wasn’t necessarily accurate,” she said, adding that she’s reached out to Maseo, Busta, and Rock via DM, but none of the artists have responded. “…I really want to engage with them and not do it in a way where I’m talking down to them, but like, ‘Tell me a little bit about why you have these perspectives and where you’re getting your information from, and maybe we can have a conversation about what vaccines really do.'”
Blackstock has also noticed how some hip-hop figures have encouraged their fans to be proactive against COVID-19, but then don’t encourage them to get the vaccine. Granted, there have been some artists who’ve used their platform to encourage their fans to get the vaccine, and have even shared how they went from skeptic to supporter, too.
Amid transforming his classic twerk anthem “Back That Thang Up” into “Vax That Thang Up,” Juvenile shared in an interview with Politico that, despite taking covid seriously, his fear of needles and concerns about how fast the vaccine was created, stopped him from immediately getting the vaccine. However, that changed when his daughter was accepted into school for her doctorate and a vaccine was highly recommended. That, along with being informed about the vaccine by his wife (who’s a registered nurse) and seeing loved ones die from the virus, led to him getting the vaccine.
“I saw the effect that [COVID-19] can have on a person that’s in good health. It’s one of the scariest things I’ve seen, knowing that they were in great health before they got struck with Covid. They didn’t have that opportunity to get the vaccine,” Juvenile said.
Still, with the vaccine now a political issue, there may be some hesitancy from hip-hop artists to encourage getting the vaccine, even if they’ve gotten it themselves.
“…are there other hip-hop artists that have been vaccinated, but are not speaking up? Because I haven’t heard from them,” Blackstock said. “I don’t know if other hip-hop artists that are like, ‘Yeah, man, I got vaccinated and you should get vaccinate too, and this is why.’…I think they’re speaking out against it, but no one’s speaking out for it.”
But Blackstock isn’t giving up. Last month, she took to MSNBC (where she’s a medical contributor) to talk about how Nicki Minaj’s tweet storm suggesting the vaccine could cause swollen testicles only adds to the distrust some have toward the vaccine, as well as said she’s happy to sit down with the rapper to talk about vaccine disinformation.
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