Conversations With Anti-Vaxxers
Nobody is voiceless. There are only people whose voices are not heard.
-Margaret Reukel, "Late Migrations"
I suppose it is a progressive writer's prerogative to assume she has the right, even the mandate, to tell the stories of the voiceless under-educated, semi-literate populace. Of course, in this assumption there is unacknowledged condescension and judgment. A friend of mine on a diet regimen said to me the other day, "I no longer judge anyone who obviously needs to lose weight. I need to lose weight." There is a lot of wisdom in that decision. And if we apply this wisdom to the anti-vaxxers, we may get to a place in our body politic we have not as yet imagined.
So, with this approach in mind, I decided to do some anecdotal reporting in my small town. I began at one of my local laundromats, owned by Yusef, an entrepreneurial Palestinian-American. All through the height of Covid, he provided pick-up, delivery and curbside. There are benches and chairs outside, a working bathroom, and helpful attendants during the weekdays who I started to talk to after I was vaccinated. One is vaccinated, two are not vaccinated. One has an autoimmune disease and her doctor is worried she might have an adverse reaction, the other is pregnant, working flat out, because she has to, until delivery day. "I don't want to take any chances," she said. Therefore, we can't exactly say that these two hard-working women, who haven't had the luxury of not working despite their exposure to Covid during the height of the pandemic, are "anti" anything. They have both made personal, informed decisions. And they both are still wearing their masks, as am I in certain situations.
A laundromat is a shared communal space, a level playing field; you need to be here, and I need to be here. And though I usually read one of my door-stop books —this month, Louis Menand's, "The Free World"—or answer some emails, I also like to chat to people I wouldn't meet in my everyday professorial life. Most customers are not reading books—they are watching the TV, or talking on their cell phones, or folding their laundry with care. One day I noticed a very large woman with lots of tattoos. She'd been outside smoking, and then she was next to me as I was loading a machine and she was unloading a machine.
"So how are you doing?" I asked.
"Fine, nearly done with this machine if you'd like it."
"Great, that size is the one I need. This one is too small. Family good?"
"Yeah, we are okay."
"No, scared of needles."
"Oh, sorry to hear that. I have a friend who is scared of needles. They put him on a gurney, and before he knew it, he'd had a shot."
"Oh, so in case he fainted, he was already lying down."
"Exactly. And they turned his head away."
"I guess I should get a shot. I've got a weak chest."
"That sounds like a good idea."
Anti-vaxxers. They may well be friends, family, colleagues, or neighbors. They are not monolithic, and hard as it may be for those of us who have been vaccinated, they deserve our consideration, compassion and respect.
That said, no one in my immediate circle has hesitated to get a vaccine, or refused to get a vaccine, or doesn't "believe," in a vaccine, or thinks there is a chip that will be injected into their bodies. So I am fortunate, privileged in fact, to have a body of knowledge that allows me to think clearly about my choices. The confusion and conspiracy theories that abound are a consequence of an educational system that has never accommodated the egregious divides in the United States between class and caste.