Photo of the state of West Virginia outline with counties shaded red where confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified. Counties without diagnoses are colored in grey.

So, I’ve Been Thinking…Defending Science

I’ve been thinking about science versus politics, especially since clashes between the White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are in the news so much these days.

It’s important that we defend science. After all, whether we are trying to solve COVID-19, HIV, Substance Use Disorder, or even racial and class inequality, it’s science that will undergird successful strategies. But we also have to defend science because science is how we explore, understand, and unpack what we believe to be true. It’s right there in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” The United States was born as a hypothesis: Everybody deserves equal rights, to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and here’s how we give it to them.

How do you test a hypothesis? Perform an experiment. George Washington called the new American government a “great experiment.” And this country is an experiment in many ways. The whole history of the United States has been our ongoing attempt, as a people, to “form a more perfect Union.” To figure it out. To get it right.

The experiment has revealed some important truths. Like you can’t have equality and liberty and democracy if you take away land from Native people, enslave Black people, deny a voice to women and poor people. And when you finally stop doing those things? You can’t just pretend they never happened and magically have a system that will be fair and equitable for everybody. Not after generations of restricting, for instance, where Black people could live, go to school, and work, making it nearly impossible for many to emerge from poverty, purchase homes, or pass along wealth.

You can see people out there right now, absorbing that data. Look at the diversity in age, race, and class among people who are in support of Black Lives Matter. More people than ever before now understand that systems in this country are biased, and need reform. Not just the police and the criminal justice system, but most of our systems and institutions. That’s why we’re in the midst of social unrest, leading to social realignment. Because people are paying attention. They are looking at the data. They are seeing Black people getting profiled, stopped, arrested, beaten, shot, imprisoned, and executed at disproportionate rates compared with other people. They are recognizing the bias within systems and institutions, spoken or unspoken, and they’re saying, “Okay, it’s not working. Let’s try things a different way.”

Some people feel threatened by calls for change. They believe trying things a different way means admitting the experiment was a failure. What they don’t understand is: America is not the product of an experiment. America is the experiment. And that experiment is still playing itself out. It is still going on, every day. That’s how science works. If the data proves your hypothesis wrong, you admit

that you still haven’t found the best way to guarantee people equal rights—and then you keep experimenting until you figure it out. Until you get it right.

Calling for change is not rejecting America. Rejecting science is rejecting America. Because America is science. That’s why it’s so bizarre and inappropriate when people criticize Dr. Fauci for changing his positions over time. That’s what a good scientist does! Hypothesis: Here’s how we protect people from COVID-19. Then you look at the data and adjust the hypothesis as the experiment reveals the truth.

Here’re some more data: You can’t stop a pandemic like COVID-19 if you’re only worrying about yourself—if only half the people in the country are practicing social distancing and wearing a mask. You have to think about family members, neighbors, strangers. You might think everything’s fine because you’re asymptomatic, but science tells us that wearing a mask and social distancing is how you work on behalf of the greater good, your country, the world. Science tells us to take care of each other.

Politics does the opposite. Modern politics is all about dividing people up into Us and Them, and no need to care about Them. In politics, no truths are self-evident and the only important data is whatever confirms what we want to believe. But simply insisting “Everything’s fine” about COVID works no better than simply insisting everything’s fine about race, justice, and equality. The data says otherwise.

So what I’ve been thinking about is how America is the greatest scientific experiment in history. Being loyal to that experiment means asking: Did things go the way we expected? If not, what did we learn and how can we apply that information to making things better?

America is science. We can’t let politics get in the way of that. That’s why I support Dr. Anthony Fauci. All Americans should.

So, I’ve Been Thinking… Special Video Edition – June 2020

A. Toni Young
Founder & Executive Director
Community Education Group

(Below is a transcription of this month’s special video edition of Toni’s, “So, I’ve Been Thinking…” segment in CEG’s monthly newsletter)

So, I’ve been thinking…

I’ve been thinking that systemic change is not going to be easy.

I was talking to a friend of mine, the other day – and my mentor – and he asked if I could’ve imagined this, six months ago. And, I frankly said, “No.”

I mean, who could’ve imagined a global pandemic, more than 40 million Americans unemployed, and the death – the murder – of a black man captured by a teenage girl on the street corner to be the start of a revolution? And I call it a revolution – and I say it’s a revolution – because, it’s revolutionary thought.

You know, there’s a lot of social media out there about what’s going on with the protests – what people are asking for – but, there was one young woman who both summed up what I was thinking, as well as articulated what I believe in my heart. And what she said was, at the end of her talk – at the end of her education to us – what she said is, “What people ought to be grateful for is that black people want equity; not revenge.”

And it stopped me in my tracks, when she said it, because that’s what I think we want:

We want equity;

We want to be treated equal to anyone else;

We want opportunity;

We want to not be shot, because of the color of our skin;

We want to have access to healthcare, and not die at a great proportion to other populations from a global pandemic;

We want access to education that is right and equal;

We want access to anything;

We want the right to vote, and not in gerrymandered districts.

And I think what it also got me thinking about is the fact that I’ve work in southeast D.C., I’ve work in Appalachia, I’ve worked across the world, in some cases, but I want us to always come back to this:

Systemic change is not just the elimination of police brutality and black people getting shot in the streets. That seems to basic…so basic of a right:

To not be shot;

To not worry that the police are going to follow me across the Oakland Bridge;

To not worry that, if I’m in D.C. in my car, that I’m going to get pulled over, and then, when they realize that I’m female, not male, I get let go.

So, what I’ve been thinking about is, are we ready for systemic change, and are we ready for systemic change for the corporations that we deal with, the institutions that we deal with – those can be HIV corporations, LGBT, regular commercial organizations and institutions – but, are we ready to continue this fight all the way?

I believe we are.

I believe that some people may believe that this is just a fight to end police brutality, but that’s not what the streets are saying.

So, I’ve been thinking that it’s also important that we do more to be supportive and kind to one another.

And the “one another” is to black people:

To hold fragile the blackness that we share;

To see it as a fragile thing;

To understand that privilege is not just a thing of white people; that privilege – race, class, and privilege – privilege is something that some of us black people have, too, and what do we do with it? How do we use it? Do we use it to lift up our brothers and sisters? And that all – not a select group; not just “those.”

That we’ve made a commitment to help all black people.

That we’ve made a commitment – in my case – to help all black people, all poor people. The suffering.

That I can no longer be in a position where I put people down. Throw shade, if you will.

Those things that we often do to one another can be more harmful.

So, I’ve really been thinking it’s also an important time for me to stand up and say, “No!” Because, I think all of us have probably had experiences, had traumas, experienced racism, or classism, and had little place to turn.

But, I think now is the time where we, and I, have to stand up and say, “No! It’s not okay. It’s not okay to treat me, mine, us, we, that way,” whoever that us and we may be.


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