Race, Public Health, and the Anti-Vaccination Movement


The anti-vaccination movement, driven by fallacious claims that routine vaccinations can cause autism in children, is under renewed fire as a new outbreak of measles¬†hits California, the epicenter of both the current outbreak and the “anti-vaxxer” movement.

Here, David Shih argues that the anti-vaccination movement should be read through the lens of race, white privilege, and the historical pathologization of blackness:

“Blackness has long been perceived as a public health threat, as the recent hysteria over Ebola has demonstrated. I believe that whiteness–not white people in and of themselves, to be clear–as defined by Harris, the settled expectations of white privilege as protected by law, is contributing to a new public health threat. A productive way to understand whiteness as property is to try to think of ways that black Americans’ settled expectations for life, liberty, and happiness are not codified in the law. Whose expectations are served by policies such as “broken windows” and “stop-and-frisk”? Or by the Bloomington city attorney bringing charges against Mall of America protesters? If the measles and whooping cough outbreaks get massive media attention partly because of their potential impact on white communities (compared to the Ebola virus before it crossed the Atlantic), then we might also investigate whiteness as part of the cause, a call to research that I hope this blog will sound. Whiteness as property is only one way to imagine the intersection of race with class when considering how power animates public health emergencies such as the measles outbreak.”

Read Shih’s piece in full here.



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