A Saturday Night Live segment depicting a Black family refusing to take the Covid vaccine has been criticised as “irresponsible”.
Kaluuya stars as the host of a fictional game show titled Will You Take It?, in which his character, Dr Tevin Jones, “[tries] to convince [his] family to take the Covid vaccine”.
The segment then sees Kaluuya’s character asking four of his relatives whether they would be willing to get vaccinated against Covid-19, including against a $500 cash prize.
All four members of Jones’s family fail to provide the correct response: “Yes, I will take the vaccine.”
The skit goes on to reference the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, during which government medical workers let Black men in segregated Alabama go untreated for Syphilis for decades, unbeknownst to them. The programme began in 1932 and ended only in 1972, after The Associated Press revealed it to the public.
A lawsuit resulted in a $9m settlement. In 1997, then-President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology, stating: “I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist. That can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.”
Several viewers, including physicians, found that the Saturday Night Live segment failed to engage properly with the topic of vaccine skepticism.
Krys Foster, a family medicine doctor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, tweeted: “Although I‘ve enjoyed many @nbcsnl skits and these actors, this one got under my skin and I’m really disappointed. This skit is irresponsible as it further perpetuates vaccine disparities as being due to Black Americans being ignorant for a good laugh, and portrays Black healthcare providers as manipulative. The more I think about it, the more my stomach turns.”
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Activist and writer Wagatwe Wanjuki wrote of the skit: “I really hate it. Esp when our skepticism isn't rooted in conspiracy theories. It makes our medical trauma something to laugh at, framing our hesitation as ignorance instead of a trauma response.”
“A lot of Black people who have hesitancy around the vaccine is because of medical racism and not sheer ignorance,” social justice advocate and writer Shanita Hubbard tweeted. “There are also structural barriers that are causing Black people to be vaccinated at a slower rate.”
Uché Blackstock, a former associate professor of emergency medicine and founder of Advancing Health Equity, an organisation that works to end racial health inequities, wrote: “No. No. No. @nbcsnl, how did this skit even make it on air?
“It’s deeply problematic – making fun of Black folks declining the vaccine, esp without any context - past and ongoing racism within and outside healthcare institutions. You all should know better by now.”
The Independent has contacted representatives for NBC, which airs SNL, for comment.
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