In 1946, Albert Einstein paid a visit to Lincoln University, a historically Black university. Like many scholars who fled Nazi Germany, he found his place among Black people. That’s because, after escaping harm, many Jews found they weren’t embraced in the U.S., either. Both groups found common ground as they experienced bigotry and discrimination great enough to cause their deaths.
Three-quarters of a century later, certain Americans who are neither Jewish nor Black believe they, too, are experiencing a similar oppression. Apparently, being told to wear a mask and get a vaccination to stop the spread of a deadly virus means they now know what it’s like to live in Nazi Germany.
After months of ludicrous comparisons between fascism and public health measures during a pandemic, this false equivalence reached its natural conclusion when the owner of a Nashville, Tennessee, hat store decided to sell yellow stars like those Jews were forced to wear under the Third Reich embroidered with the words “Not Vaccinated.”
It’s no coincidence that this hyperbolic outrage is coming from people who’ve always had rights and never known what true oppression is. They think their children are suffering and missing out on childhood because of mask mandates. That the government overstepped its boundaries in forcing people to wear them in Target. That being vaccinated is the equivalent of facing genocide.
Indeed, the commonality among the people crying fascism over the mask mandates and vaccine guidelines is that they come from the groups that are the most secure in American society. There’s one answer to how someone could draw a comparison between getting vaccinated and one of the worst atrocities of modern history: privilege.
Republicans — an overwhelmingly white voting bloc — are the most likely not to plan to get vaccinations. One recent study found that while 67 percent of Democrats say they have been vaccinated or definitely plan to be, only 41 percent of Republicans say the same. Evangelicals are also extremely high on the list of those refusing masks and the vaccine, which isn’t surprising considering the messaging coming out of much of the evangelical church, with some even hosting anti-vaccine speakers and actively spreading misinformation. At the same time, long-time anti-vaxxers on the left have more education and higher incomes than those outside the movement.
On behalf of the rest of us, I’d like to know, why are you so determined to be oppressed? It seems clear that this population wants to claim a status of victimhood even when that means distorting history and the present. In one telling statistic, 68 percent of white evangelicals believe that discrimination against white Americans has become as big a problem as discrimination against nonwhites. Republicans, meanwhile, are much less likely than all Americans to say that Asian people (37 percent), Hispanic people (45 percent) or Black people (52 percent) face a lot of discrimination, and more likely to say that white people (57 percent) and Christians (62 percent) do.
If the most traumatic thing society has done to you is make you wear a mask or urge you to get a vaccination, yet your victimization radar has you at the extremely persecuted end of the spectrum, you may want to actually read the contents of the "1619 Project" that you’re trying to keep out of your child’s school before you once again play the victim card. While critics claim this project placing slavery in the center of the U.S. narrative rewrites history, it actually gives an in-depth look at what America’s subjugation of Black folks consisted of and the contributions African Americans have made to this country.
Even further, you should reflect on the modern-day adversity that your neighbors currently face, like the fact that Black and brown people have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans are 2.4 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white Americans, Latinos are 2.3 times as likely and Black people nearly twice as likely. Jewish Americans are facing conspiracy theories and physical threats for allegedly having spread Covid-19, and Asian Americans have seen a spike in slurs and vicious attacks as they, too, have been blamed for the virus. In fact, some of the same people making false equivalencies between the vaccine and genocide are the ones actively spreading this bigotry.
While there are certainly marginalized people who don’t want masks or support vaccine mandates, I highly doubt they’d be brazen enough to compare them to other battles they’ve had to wage.
When anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers try to assert their own oppression, they’re minimizing — or worse, denying — the historic trauma faced by others in this country. Instead of creating imaginary adversity, they should look to find solutions for those less privileged, like people experiencing homelessness. I suggest you donate time or money to those who are not as fortunate; or step outside your microcosm to see how others are suffering; or visit museums to educate yourself during heritage months instead of saying it’s racist not to have White History Month.
At the very least, consider the plight of the Nashville hat store. It lost important suppliers, including millinery leaders Stetson and Goorin Bros. The owner has since apologized, but the damage has been done. If empathizing with others is too much, at least keep silent so that you won’t hurt your bottom line. Then maybe you won’t feel like a victim.