If there's a reliable through-line that stretches across Joe Biden's long career in politics, it's his uncanny ability to stick his foot so far down his mouth that by the time he pulls it back out again his loafers are half digested. So it was while speaking Friday about his administration's efforts to combat the still very-present dangers of the coronavirus pandemic that Biden made a seemingly well-intentioned effort to use inclusive language to describe hesitations among minority communities about getting vaccinated.
'There’s a reason why it's been harder to get African Americans, initially, to get vaccinated," Biden explained. "Because they're used to being experimented on: Tuskegee Airmen and others. People have memories. People have long memories."
Indeed, earlier this year the Kaiser Family Foundation released a study showing that Black Americans were, in fact, getting vaccinated at lower rates than white communities, concluding that "access issues and mistrust rooted in structural racism appear to be the major factors" in the disparity.
It's awful hard, as well, to get Latinx vaccinated as well. Why? They're worried that they'll be vaccinated and deported.
... Ah. Hm.
It's not too hard to understand what it seems like Biden was attempting to say here: that people from Latin American communities (and presumably Hispanic communities as well, as "Latino" — and the more gender-inclusive "Latinx" — and "Hispanic" are frequently conflated) are understandably suspicious of any sort of interaction with authorities, after years of federal targeting under both the Trump and Obama administrations. (I'm not sure if Biden is actually saying that last part, but it's true!)
Nevertheless, by using a blanket term like "Latinx" — which has its own complex history of usage and criticism — in the context of (legitimate!) historical worries among undocumented members of Latinx and Hispanic communities, Biden inadvertently opened himself up to mockery from actual members of those communities who chafe at the phrase. He also opened himself up to some bad faith criticism from conservative commentators that he was, in fact, claiming that all Latinx and Hispanic people are also undocumented immigrants.
Clearly, that's bullshit.
Was it a clumsy attempt on Biden's part to explore the very real phenomenon of lower vaccination rates among Latinx and Hispanic communities? Sure. Is Biden a racist who thinks anyone from those communities is automatically undocumented? Please.
Anyway, the point is that everyone should go get vaccinated. The government isn't implanting tracking chips into your shoulder, and the vaccine won't make you magnetic. Most obviously of all, a clumsy turn of phrase by the president is not the extremely major story far-right outlets would have you believe it is — and it shouldn't dilute the actually-important public health message behind it.