I have a confession to make: I'm a little jealous of California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
I realized this as I watched him, scowling and pointing at no one in particular as he laid into the "right-wing echo chamber" and the millions of Americans who have yet to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
"... [W]ith the deadliness and efficiency of the delta variant," he said at a news conference, "you're putting other people's, innocent people's, lives at risk."
I wish I could summon such righteous rage — the same sort I've seen from so many vaccinated white people lately as infections and hospitalizations have increased, and as mask mandates have returned.
Alas, things are more complicated when you're Black.
As someone who got vaccinated as soon as I had the chance, I'm frustrated, too. But when talking to my unvaccinated relatives about COVID-19, I have no choice but to consider the systemic racism that has long pervaded this country, and how it has resulted in deep distrust of the health care system, government agencies and most institutions, including legit media organizations.
Newsom can simplistically blame conservative pundits for "profiteering off misinformation" and unvaccinated people for listening to them.
Likewise, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey can apparently wash her hands of the millions of unvaccinated people in her state because they lack "common sense" and "are letting us down" — a statement that earned praise from another white person, President Joe Biden.
But such judgment is a luxury I don't have. I can't point to Fox News as the reason that my relatives won't get vaccinated, as I've heard many white liberals say of their estranged relatives in red states. What Tucker Carlson lies about every weeknight has no bearing on why millions of mostly left-leaning Black Americans remain unvaccinated.
I also can't merely write off fearful Black people as lacking common sense when I know that their personal experience has taught them to be suspicious of authority. Not when I know that, decades after the Tuskegee syphilis study, Black Americans still don't receive medical care on par with white Americans. Disparities abound in everything from maternal death rates to the treatment of chronic pain.
All of this makes for an uncomfortable place to be as a vaccinated Black person at a time when Black people are both dying of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates and failing to get vaccinated at disproportionate rates, putting them at high risk for contracting the rapidly spreading delta variant.
Dr. Roberto Vargas, an assistant dean at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, put it this way.
"For those of us who are sensitive about blaming people who have suffered from oppression for their behavior or related outcomes, it's a really tough thing," he said. "Yes, there may be some behaviors that are going on in Black and brown communities that are putting us at greater risk. At the same time, there's a level of responsibility at a systemic or institutional level that's contributing to that disparity."
In other words, there's an inherent white privilege in white rage at the unvaccinated.
This is something Vargas has understood for months, working at vaccination clinics across South L.A. and having conversation after conversation with people of color uneasy about getting the jab.
I didn't truly understand it until last week, when I went to visit family and friends in Ohio. My time there was marked by vacillations of indignant rage and reluctant patience, but most of all, fear for the health of people I love very much.
It started the moment I walked in the door to my father's house. He was watching TV news and swearing at a Black man who was explaining why he hadn't been vaccinated and, despite the threat of the delta variant, had no intention of doing so.
But then we talked about all of the people we know who haven't been vaccinated, and how so many of them were scared, usually because of some personal experience. That includes an uncle. Best I can tell, he's afraid of white doctors and the medical establishment, something about how they were at fault for my grandfather's death.
"It's sad," my dad admitted, "that he probably won't ever change his mind."
I can understand the distrust of institutions that has driven my family and friends to seek out fringe information. But other than a vaccine mandate, I have no clue what to do about it before it's too late.
Let's just not fall into the narrative that all of those who haven't been vaccinated are conservative Trump supporters who have been brainwashed by Fox News.
It's a convenient talking point, but it won't solve our problem.