The looming imposition of vaccine mandates in order to live a normal life in America will create a showdown between anti-racist activists and a Democratic Party that gets 90% of the black vote.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced his "Key to NYC Plan" that will require New York City residents to provide proof of vaccination to eat in restaurants, buy groceries, and participate in dozens of other indoor activities. His mandate, which launched on Aug. 17 and will be enforced starting on Sept. 13, is meant to increase the city's vaccination rates and curb the uptick in COVID-19 cases throughout the five boroughs. Civil libertarians and anti-mandate conservatives had predictably strong reactions to the new policy, but two people in particular have been eerily silent.
Earlier this year, President Joe Biden claimed that a proposed Georgia law that required a valid driver's license or state identification card to vote by mail made Jim Crow look like "Jim Eagle." Apparently he thinks black people have difficulties obtaining ID. By that logic, blocking certain citizens from going to movie theaters and sporting events based on whether they have received a vaccine is going to usher in the era of "Jab Crow." What makes this even more ironic is that New York City residents need to provide identification to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and to ensure vaccine passport integrity.
Ibram X. Kendi also believes any policy that creates differences in outcomes between ethnic groups is racist. America's chief advocate for racial equity believes racist policies must be actively opposed in the name of anti-racism, not passively tolerated by people who claim to be "not racist." I wonder what he would make of New York City's vaccine mandate, given the fact that only 39% of all black adults in New York City have been fully vaccinated, compared to 54% of white, 55% of Hispanic, and 82% of Asian New Yorkers. Put simply, Bill de Blasio's new policy will prevent 60% of black residents from accessing essential goods and services based solely on their vaccination status. The situation in New York City is no anomaly. Black Americans also have the lowest rates of vaccination nationally, despite media attempts to paint "vaccine hesitancy" as a phenomenon of white evangelicals and Trump voters.
Do Democratic mayors and governors really want to deal with the optics of white Americans being let into restaurants while black Americans are turned away, forced to enter through a separate entrance, or seated in a different section?
At this point, Kendi disciples who feel stuck between their commitments to anti-racism and their support of COVID mandates may say, "Mandates are not racist because everyone is held to the same standard. Why don't black people just take the jab?" They may cite the fact that all vaccines are free or point to the significant efforts being put into making them accessible in low-income black and Hispanic neighborhoods. There have also been large public awareness campaigns featuring celebrities, artists, and influencers trying to convince black people to take the shot. Yet with all those resource commitments, disparities still exist for reasons that demonstrate what Kendi, Biden, and racial justice activists fail to understand in other policy areas.
I'll attempt to explain their dilemma using the Squires Principle – also known as the law of individual agency. The premise is simple: The effectiveness of any public policy will depend on the interaction of government responsibility and individual decision-making. Government control and desired outcomes have a direct relationship, while individual agency and desired outcomes have an inverse relationship.
For example, a city may decide to build all its new recreation centers and athletic fields in neighborhoods with the highest rates of chronic diseases. The elected officials there have the authority, funding, and political capital to successfully execute that plan because all the major decisions about budget and location are squarely in their control. What they can't do is guarantee a 75% reduction in the rates of hypertension and diabetes in the neighborhoods with brand-new facilities. Those outcomes are largely dependent on decisions about diet, exercise, and rest that individuals must make.
The national discussion about COVID is a perfect example of the Squires Principle at work. Unfortunately, most politicians believe that their control over public resources gives them power over private decisions. They refuse to believe – or accept – the fact that rational adults make choices that don't always reflect the desires of the ruling class. That's when they move from influence and persuasion to force and coercion.