For months, journalists, politicians and health officials – from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Dr. Anthony Fauci – have invoked the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study to explain why Black Americans are more hesitant than white Americans to get the coronavirus vaccine.
“It’s ‘Oh, Tuskegee, Tuskegee, Tuskegee,’ and it’s mentioned every single time,” says Karen Lincoln, a professor of social work at USC and founder of Advocates for African American Elders. “We make these assumptions that it’s Tuskegee. We don’t ask people.”
When she asks Black seniors in Los Angeles about the vaccine, Tuskegee rarely comes up. People in the community talk about contemporary racism and barriers to health care, she says, while it seems to be mainly academics and officials who are preoccupied with the history of Tuskegee.