Black Folks & The COVID-19 Vaccine (w/ Dr. Brian Williams)

Zach welcomes Dr. Brian Williams back to the podcast to discuss systemic historical inequitable healthcare for Black Americans and the current challenges regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Connect with Dr. Williams via LinkedIn or Twitter, and check out his personal website by clicking here.

Interested in his podcast Race, Violence & Medicine? Follow this link to listen on a variety of platforms.

TRANSCRIPT

Zach
What’s going on, y’all? This is Zach with Living Corporate. I hope that your MLK Day weekend was restful and restorative and reflective. I know for me I spent most of the weekend really just hanging out with Emory and Candis, and then thinking a lot about the legacy of Dr. King and the work that he did and, frankly, how hated he was in his time. You know, it’s easy to forget that Gallup polls had him trending at almost, like, 75% disapproval from the majority of white Americans because of his stances on the economy, on race, and on the Vietnam War. And when you think about the fact that the FBI deemed him a terrorist, that he was being, you know, monitored and watched at all parts and points of the day, that he was being slandered and maligned in the media–frankly, the same type of graphics and things that we see about Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick and things of that nature were very, very similar to Dr. King and the way that he was treated and spoken about, you know? You think about the fact that, frankly, all of the Black civil rights heroes–there’s not one Black civil rights leader that you can name that was not seen as a terrorist in their day, as an enemy of the state. All of them all of them were. And it makes you then question, okay, so then if you’re in a role of diversity, equity and inclusion, you’re really trying to fight for those same ideals and principles. If you’re not making the majority uncomfortable, you’re probably not doing the work that you think you’re doing, or that you at least claim that you’re doing. Now, I’m seeing more and more folks make posts about the fact that “the Capitol should have been a wake up call, we have a long ways to go.” Let me tell you something. If the Capitol insurrection is your only signal or your main signal that we have, quote-unquote, a long ways to go, you have disqualified yourself from being in this DEI space. Okay. We’ve had several instances of points of evidence over the last several decades, but certainly over the last four years, that we continue to come towards a very, very, very harsh collision. And I’m frankly anxious about that, because I don’t see these things letting up. And frankly, I don’t see these things leading up because I’ve yet to see a collective understanding and call to true education on the depths and challenges of white supremacy, right? We’re really, really good and adept at creating a lot of noise when the big things happen, quote-unquote the big things, but not necessarily at recognizing patterns and behaviors that create these big things, right? Like, there’s an environment that had to fester for this to happen. And I need some of you to do your learning in private. It’s insulting to the Black and brown folks that you claim your work is for to right this content. And I don’t know if you’re really righting it for the Black and brown people you’re trying to serve or if you’re just trying to right it for your other like white constituents so they can patch on the back and y’all are, like, kind of having like your own little groupthink situation. But for the Black professionals in general, and certainly the Black and brown professionals in the DEI space, your words are insulting and your lack of growth and maturity and awareness in this season is exhausting. So just a point of advice and feedback from one DEI professional to you listening to this. Do your learning in private. If this was a wake up call for you, then you have a long way to go–to use your language back to you–and you need to do that. You need to learn those things outside of posting on LinkedIn and on Twitter and using it to, like, make yourself look better. It’s really gross, so stop. With all that being said, I’m really excited about the guest that we’re gonna have today, Dr. Brian Williams. Dr. Brian Williams is a friend of the show. I’m thankful that he was able to make the time to come on. We actually had this conversation yesterday on MLK Day. He talked a little bit about, like, you know, just how he’s been doing, how busy he’s been with his podcast, his book that’s coming out, and then we really circled back as a veteran and we talked about his perspective on the insurrection at the Capitol, and we talked a good bit about COVID-19. So look, I don’t want to give all the sauce away. I’m giving you kind of, like, an overview, but I don’t want to give no more. Okay, before we get into that interview with Dr. Brian Williams, we’re going to TAP In with Tristan. See you soon.

Tristan
What’s going on, Living Corporate? It’s Tristan, and I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals. This week, let’s discuss the top 5 jobs in demand for 2021. Over the last year, we’ve seen the pandemic decimate whole industries and spark the need for candidates in new and expanding ones. This can be a confusing time for many job seekers trying to figure out where to focus their energy. LinkedIn News’ Senior Editor, Andrew Seaman, did some research and analysis to find out which jobs are currently in demand, and I wanted to take some time to discuss the top 5. First, are professionals on the frontline of e-commerce. During quarantine, there was an increased need for people who help get products to the stores and into the customer’s hands. According to LinkedIn, hiring for roles like Driver, Supply Chain Associate, Package Handler, and Personal Shopper grew 73% year-over-year. The second is loan and mortgage experts. Interest rates have been historically low. In combination with the Paycheck Protection Program, this has led to a 59% increase in hiring for roles like Underwriter, Mortgage Loan Officer, Escrow Officer, and Loan Closer. The third is health care support staff. Not only did the pandemic increase the need for doctors and nurses, but it also increased the need for people who support those health care professionals, such as Health Care Assistants, Pharmacy Technicians, Dental Assistants, and Home Health Aides. Hiring for these types of roles has increased by 34% since 2019. The fourth is business development and sales professionals. While some jobs were lost due to the uncertain economy, others were added that could help the bottom line, including roles like sales consultant, sales operations assistant, inbound sales specialist, and strategic advisors. Hiring for these types of positions increased by 45% from 2019 to 2020. The fifth is experts in workplace diversity. We know the uprising last spring caused companies – large and small – to reassess their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This has lead to a 90% increase in hiring for roles such as Diversity Manager, Diversity Officer, Head of Diversity, and Diversity Coordinator. LinkedIn’s list includes a total of the top 15 jobs on the rise right now. Make sure to check out the link in the show notes to see the other 10 they listed! Whether you are looking to get back into the workforce or want to invest your talents in a new area, hopefully, this data helps you find an available path in confusing times. Thanks for tapping back in with me today! Don’t forget; I’m now taking submissions from you all on career questions, issues, concerns, or advice you think may help others! So make sure to submit yours at bit.ly/tapintristan. This tip is brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @layfieldresume or connect with me, Tristan Layfield, on LinkedIn.

Zach
Dr. Williams, welcome to the show. Glad to have you back. It’s good to hear from you.

Dr. Williams
Zach, I appreciate the invitation to come back. I really enjoy your show, and I’ve been following it, and I want to commend you on the work that you’re doing to keep this discussion moving on so many different fronts. So keep it up, brother.

Zach
Well, I appreciate it, and also happy MLK Day to you.

Dr. Williams
Same to you. It’s quite a time we are in, right? His messages still resonating decades after his assassination, and it’s more important nowadays than ever, it seems.

Zach
You know, and to that end, like, let’s get right into it. How did you feel as you were, you know, getting the news and you’re seeing all this stuff going on in the media about the insurrection at the Capitol?

Dr. Williams
Yes, January 6, I had a complexity of emotions about that entire event. And it was [?] because I was actually working that day, when this was going on. So I didn’t get a chance to stop and sit in front of the television and watch this unfold in real time. I got bits and pieces as it occurred. But anger was part of that, embarrassment for our country that this is happening, disgust with our leadership that allowed this to happen, and concerned knowing that that doesn’t just end right then, right? That could have been much worse, and we know that this will probably continue, at least for the foreseeable future. We don’t know what is going to happen next. So I couldn’t pin down just one emotion. It’s just looking at that going, “Wow.” Disbelief, anger, sadness, embarrassment. Like, how did you come to this in America? And I know how, but still, the reality we saw unfold with that sort of violence in our nation’s capital is still somewhat difficult to grasp.

Zach
Yeah, you know, and I know that when you’ve come on in the past, we’ve talked a little bit about your journey, and your work, your community work to create safer communities by building coalitions with the police. I’m curious about, when you talk about the complexity of emotions, considering your story and the work that you’ve done and the work that you continue to lead is, how did you feel when you saw reports and video of police coordinating with the insurrectionists, and retired police and active duty police and military folks being engaged in the actual insurrection acts themselves?

Dr. Williams
I was not surprised by that. But also to add to that, you know, I’m a military veteran myself. My dad is a career military veteran, 23 years. So I grew up watching my father put on his uniform every day and go to work in service of this country. I myself chose to follow in his footsteps and do the same thing. So I had this respect for what it means to to make sacrifices, to serve a greater good and a greater cause. especially knowing that in this country, those aren’t always reciprocated to Black folks, right? We know that. There’s no doubt about that. So it is not a binary thing for me. There’s a lot of nuance in all of this for me. And with my work that I’ve done with police over the past four or five years, there’s no doubt that that sort of white supremacist element exists within law enforcement. We understand the history of law enforcement in this country. We cannot ignore that, and the problem is a lot of people still don’t talk truthfully about that history. So to see those images, and to know the reports are coming out, no surprise at all, and what I hope is that people that continue to deny that or ignore it step up, like, “We need to really do some work to eliminate hate, intolerance, white supremacy in all of our institutions.” And when Black people benefit in this country, everyone benefits. It’s not a zero sum game, as if you have to give up something that benefits someone else. And those are the ideals, those are the professed ideals of this country. That’s the oath which I swore to serve, and I believe that’s possible, but we have a ways to go. It’s not gonna be an easy road.

Zach
And, you know, as we think about, like, a long way to go, and we talk about just, like, different treatment, right? So you’re looking on the news, and you’re seeing, you know, people continue to make the statement that–and it’s true, right? So I’m not trying to be impatient about it, but it’s like, “Okay, yes, we know.” Like, if Black Lives Matter were to have stormed the Capitol in that way, we know it would have been like a massacre. We see. Even in, like, you know–there’s been now videos coming out about, you know, the FBI arresting the folks who are participating in the insurrection and then saying, “Hey, look, you’ll be out by lunch. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. We got you.” We see the judges letting folks go. Like, not, you know, let them go on bail, right? Giving them a lot of leeway and grace to roam the streets, even though they are actively looking to overthrow the government. That inequality and difference and inequity in treatment, I think it continues as we think about this COVID vaccine. First of all, before we get into, like, the distribution of the vaccine and some of the reports that are coming out around that, but as you compare populations in terms of who’s receiving the vaccine, I want to talk a little bit about, like, Black Americans’ reluctance to actually take the vaccine in general. You know, do you think that we, in our public discourse, are talking enough about the reasons why black Americans are so reluctant to take the vaccine in terms of, like, the history of health inequities and mistreatment, malpractice and abuse? Do you think we’re effectively discussing the topic?

Dr. Williams
As far as the reluctance among Black Americans and the inequalities that we’re seeing with COVID-19, there is an abysmal lack of education about the history that led us to the point we are now. It’s a lack of education in our public schools, lack of education within the medical community, where I work. So no, we’re not talking about it, and I’ve actually put together a course I’ll be teaching at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago starting this spring that will walk us through this, right? And I’m also writing a book right now that’s going to talk about this. I want to add something to this educational discussion. And before we get back on that, Zach, I’m gonna go back to this issue about the police and the insurrection and what you mentioned about people being released early. We can use soft terms about how that’s unequal treatment and the inequalities, but [?]–like, that is act that is the manifestation of white supremacy, systemic racism, the hypocrisy of the criminal justice system, right? But it’s not that it’s something we cannot fix if we are honest about what that is. Like, we know that if that was a Black Lives Matter protest, that would have ended up much differently. There’d have been more dead bodies. We know that people would not be getting out of jail so easily right now. We know that the way [?] in the press, the video would have been much harsher. And, you know, I’m actually surprised to hear that we talked about them as being treasonous and traitors and insurrectionists and using a lot of tougher terms about what they did and what they represented than has been done in the past. So from a criminal justice standpoint, that’s being laid bare, as well as in how we treat these people who went armed to the teeth with plans to kill and kidnap our elected officials in the nation’s capital with an attempt to overthrow the government. Like, we cannot minimize what that means. Now, pivoting back to healthcare. I had to get that off my chest, Zach. I’m sorry. [laughs]

Zach
No, no, it’s fair, and this is the thing. To your point around you being a military veteran, there’s something to be said about that. I have a couple of friends, and of course I have family members, like most Black folks do, who are military veterans, and many of them, it strikes a different chord for them, like, the actions on that day. It just strikes a very unique, uniquely infuriating and just, like, painful chord, so I know I appreciate that.

Dr. Williams
Right. Now, as far as the COVID disparities and total reluctance within the Black community to get the vaccine, there is a long history of exploitation of Black people by the medical establishment for experimentation. We may know about Tuskegee. It’s one of the most famous examples of that sort of exploitation. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg of what else has gone on. But just one example is the doctor that’s known as the father of modern gynecology. He developed some of the most widely-used surgical procedures for women with vaginal cervical issues, but he did this on enslaved women without anesthetic against their will. So we’re talking about women that are being held down to have their genitals mutilated. So this individual [?] perfect this technique which he would later do on white women with anesthesia, right? And there were statues around the country of him until recently. They were taken down. That’s one example. Recently, up until the 18th century, they were still forcefully sterilizing young Black women to prevent them from having children. It’s been known as the Mississippi appendectomy. That’s a colloquial term for it. But women were being sterilized without their knowledge or against their will up until the 80s, so that’s in my lifetime, and these are just two examples beyond Tuskegee about Blacks who have been exploited or Blacks exploited for medical exploitation. So we come out and say, “Okay, there’s this disease that has been killing Black people at a rate that’s higher than their population percentage.” Now we have this vaccine that was seemingly developed overnight in order to get to everybody. Is it too much to believe that, “You know what, I’m not so sure that what you’re doing is in my best interest, because we’ve heard this story before”? So it is completely understandable that there’s reluctance, and what that means is that the messaging and the education has to be specific to the patient populations that we’re trying to save. And if you look at this through the lens of health equity and racial equity, then we recognize that how we message, who we message, when we message must be unique, and we must put a focus on vulnerable patient populations who do not have ready access to health care, who make up the bulk of our essential workers force, who are put in harm’s way every single day. They may not have the money or the transportation to get to the vaccination sites. There’s a whole spectrum of issues that we need to consider, and it takes leadership at the very top to make that happen.

Zach
You know, I want to shout out the Blackstocks, because they’ve been tweeting a lot and talking a lot about, you know, inequities in health care and the impact of COVID-19 on communities and race, you know? And I’m trying to get your perspective on why these reports continue out around the fact that, despite the fact that COVID-19 continues to kill Black and brown communities disproportionate to white communities, there still seems to be a delay or, like, they still seem to be receiving the vaccine at lower rates. Is that–that can’t be all because of reluctance from Black and brown communities. Like, what are the other factors that are causing the communities hit hardest by COVID-19 to have the vaccine distributed least to them?

Dr. Williams
Oh, yeah, that’s absolutely true. I’m glad you said that. It’d be a mistake to blame Black and brown communities for their own demise, right, for their own lack of vaccination. There’s reports coming out right now across the country of communities where you look at the maps of who has the highest infection rates, who has the highest death rates from COVID, and then look at the maps of who’s getting the vaccinations. First, the wealthy neighborhoods are getting vaccinated first, while the less wealthy neighborhoods, which are primarily Black and brown communities, are the ones who are not getting vaccinated and the ones who are still dying. So right there is a graphic representation of how wealth equals health, right? If you live in a wealthy zip code, you have the access. You probably have a primary care physician, you probably have a car and can drive to a site. If there’s not a site, you can drive somewhere further away where there are other–what people call social determinants of health, but I call structural determinants of health, because this is a manifestation of structural racism, that make it more challenging to get the vaccine. So it’s not just a reluctance to get the vaccine, that’s just one part of it. There are also always other issues that make it more difficult to get the vaccine, whether it’s a lack of [?], lack of ready access to a facility, lack of a vaccine site being put somewhere near where you live. All these things add up, which is why leadership must look at this through the lens of health equity, racial equity, and recognize that we have these historically marginalized and segregated neighborhoods that are also suffering the greatest infections and deaths from COVID. Therefore, we must make an effort to get the medication off the shelves and into their arms, but also we–and I include myself in that as a medical professional–have to prove that “Look, not only can you choose to trust us, but we are trustworthy. We are here to ensure that you get healthy, but also if you do get sick, we will not abandon you. So it’s a matter of being trustworthy as well.

Zach
Dr. Williams, I know that [?], and I appreciate you being on the show. Before we let you go, would you like to talk a little bit about the book that you’re working on? And any other projects that you’re excited about in 2021?

Dr. Williams
Yeah, there’s two projects that I’m very excited about. First is this course I’ve developed to teach at the Harris School of Public Policy at University of Chicago, which will essentially look at race, violence, and medicine, which is what I talk a lot about, but it will be a course from the lens of a trauma surgeon, myself, using my experience at some of the busiest trauma centers in the country. And I specifically designed it to speak to non-healthcare students. So these are grad students that are pursuing public policy degrees. And I did this because these issues that we discussed today, they are huge issues that have a lot of intersecting parts, and it is beyond the realm of us in healthcare to solve those. So I want to inspire a generation of non-healthcare professionals to think about how can they be a part of the solutions for health inequality, gun violence, racial inequity in health care, what can they do with their expertise. So that starts in the spring. Yeah, looking forward to that. My second big project is I’ve been working on this book, which is a memoir called Race, Violence and Medicine. I’m polishing my proposal right now. My literary agent has been–she has pretty high standards, which I enjoy and respect, so we’re working on that, and soon we’ll be sending it out to editors and publishing houses to see if someone wants to work with me to get the manuscript in its final polished form. So hopefully it’ll be published next year sometime, but the publishing timeline is not fast. I don’t know if you’ve published a book ever, Zach, but it’s not a fast process.

Zach
I haven’t, but I did field some offers last year, and yeah, it’s a while, right? So they were like, “Look, you know, if you submit it by the spring, it’ll be ready by next fall.” I was like, “Oof, okay.”

Dr. Williams
[laughs] But people can go to my website, brianwilliamsmd.com. I’m gonna keep people updated there about how things are progressing with the process. And I’ll keep my podcast going as I can. It’s been a little bit sporadic now because of work and other things. But I’m delayed, I’m not off the air for good.

Zach
I hear you. Well, I mean, between all the work that you’re doing in your community as well as, you know, having conversations and driving education around the COVID-19 vaccine. I mean, yeah, your hands are super full. Look, Dr. Williams, I can’t thank you enough for being on the show. I definitely consider you a friend–you’re a friend of mine, but you’re also a friend of Living Corporate. I look forward to having you back. As that book gets closer to publish, hit us up, you know? You know where to find us. We’re gonna make sure we got you, we take care of you. Okay?

Dr. Williams
All right, Zach. I’m happy to come back anytime. You stay safe. Stay healthy, my friend.

Zach

All right, y’all. Look, that’s Living Corporate. I’m so thankful, so glad that you’re still rocking with us. I pray that your 2021 is off to a good start. I know we’ve had plenty of distractions, chaos, heartbreak and loss already. But ,you know, I’m hopeful that this year will be better than our last. And listen, there’s plenty of ways to support us, right? The first way you can support is just by telling a friend about us, telling a co-worker, telling a supervisor, telling a family member, letting people know that we’re out here, right? Take the little Share button on whatever player you’re using. Press the little Share button, and then it’s gonna be like, you know, Share options. And then just, you know, press Text or share to your social medias. You know what I mean? Share it to your Blackplanet, you know? Your [?], your Xanga, you know, whatever you got going on. Share it over to your TikTok. TikTok–I don’t know. Listen, I know I’m feeling old, ’cause I can’t even–I’m not a big TikToker. I know what TikTok is, but I’m not–you know what I mean? But share whereyou share is my point. Another way you can help us is by giving us five stars on Apple Podcasts. Give us five stars and give us a review. It’s a great way to let people know that we’re out here, that we exist. And look, I’m telling you, you are helping the podcast and helping Living Corporate as an entire network in more ways than you know by just giving us those five stars and review. Until next time, y’all. This has been Zach. Catch y’all later. Love y’all. Peace.

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