Trump-appointed Surgeon General Jerome Adams has a message for Blacks and Latinos, two populations who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During a White House press briefing on Friday, he warned the communities to stop drinking, smoking and doing drugs, adding that Black people need to “step up.”
Adams’s comments came off as pandering to a number of people, while others were concerned that his language laid blame on a population that has been largely ignored and/or mistreated by the health care system. “We need you to do this if not for yourself than for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy, do it for your big mama, do it for your pop-pop,” the nation’s top doctor said.
When pressed on his remarks by PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, he defended them by saying he used language that was familiar to him. “I have a Puerto Rican brother-in-law. I call my grand-daddy, ‘Grand-daddy.’ I have relatives who call their grandparents ‘Big Mama.’ So that was not meant to be offensive. That’s the language that we use and that I use, and we need to continue to target our outreach to those communities.”
Though Adams’s concern for Black and Brown communities is warranted, his “targeted approach” lit up Twitter. One user wrote, “Surgeon General asked African Americans to “step up”. All Americans should do so – except many African Americans live in food deserts, live in communities without sidewalks or parks, do not have access to health care and live under constant stress. All make it hard to step up.”
A number of other users were bothered by the narrative it created about minority communities while ignoring the persisting inequities in governmental structures.
Journalist Soledad O’Brien wondered where the blame was, for an administration that has been heavily criticized for its handling of the global pandemic and its late efforts to stop the spread of the virus that is now taking Black and Brown lives at higher rates.
Political blogger Bill Palmer suggested that Adams’s comments were offensive enough to warrant a resignation.
Adams noted during the White House briefing that there is no evidence that people of color are biologically or genetically predisposed to get COVID-19 but said they are “socially predisposed to coronavirus exposure.”