What am I even thinking of? I feel very conflicted about conversations surrounding vaccines in the United States. Now that those of us who sought the vaccine are vaccinated or are on our way to being so, now we can critique the hoarding of the vaccine, make demands of the government to redistribute its supply. But what about how we came to get these vaccines, how we came to be vaccinated, thrilled and delighted and – for once – even happy to be living in the United States. The United States purchased the brunt of the global vaccine supply. It enabled our vaccine selfies, our hair appointments, to resume our outstanding lunches, to daydream about sex and parties and forged intimacies to come in the summer. I'm no moral authority: as soon as appointments were available for my criteria, I took the first available slot mere hours after they'd been made public. Now that I'm fully vaccinated, I feel empowered to make demands. However to reflect on how I came to be so is uncomfortable, a guilt-ridden reminder of how I am complicit in a system that has caused such immense chaos.
What is happening in India is devastating. What is more heartbreaking is that the very country responsible for producing the majority of the global vaccine supply is teeming with horrifying rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths because of a shortage of vaccines in addition to other essential medical supplies. An embargo on the export of vaccine raw materials to India, implemented by the United States in order to speed up its own vaccinations left India with very limited resources to inoculate its population, coupled with an Indian premier who – in line with Western colonial thought – continues to serve his own interests over that of the people. As vaccination rates drop in the United States, when there is no longer a pressing need, the ban has been lifted and the United States makes a headline-dominating pledge to send vaccines to India. This needs to be said to situate ourselves in understanding yet another formulation of modern colonialism and the white savior capitalist machine, an unwillingness to diversify resources (while hoarding most) so that all may benefit, and instead to first satisfy the needs of the West at the cost of others, those from whom the West extracts since time immemorial, and only then to extend a weak hand.
This isn't to say that we shouldn't get vaccinated, but rather that we should be in a perpetual state of self-reflection of the privilege it merits, and for our reflections to translate into action. The second wave of COVID-19 infections in India have given way to a sudden, almost urgent call to action, a movement to extend assistance, provide help, to check ourselves and to hold ourselves accountable. Yet I worry about its longevity, how long will this movement sustain. Our movements are born in a blur, or rather seemingly so, but the inequities and injustices have been gestating for weeks, months, hundreds of years. Like the movements to raise awareness around the oppression of the Uighur Muslims, Rohingyas, Syrians, Black Lives Matter, I worry that we are one black square away from moving on from the horrors those in India are facing, that those whom we rally around in these movements with great fervor, those at the center whom we decenter, are ultimately left alone to fight for their lives on their own as we find another cause to take up. How do we sustain a movement to become a way of life or a commitment to which we live our lives? To reflect, to empathize, to give, to subvert our egos and amplify the voices of those who need it most, to see ourselves within a colonial system and what role we may play and to untangle, to decolonize our minds because there is no true progress unless we are all able to progress, and that is just the beginning.