A Call for Trauma Informed Compassion: Consciousness Raising in Communities of Color in the fight against COVID-19

I tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, August 9th, 2021 and as of Sunday, August 23rd I’m now negative for the virus. After weeks of being at home isolating, I’ve had a lot of time to process my experience. I feel a responsibility to speak up as someone who has contracted the virus recently especially with the surge of the Delta variant.

I was fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech by mid-May 2021. Like many people in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities, I wasn’t quick to get the vaccine. Many of us come from communities who have a deep mistrust of most systems due to the trauma of brutalizing our bodies, diminishing our pain, and experimenting on us throughout history. 

My family is from Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States since 1898 and home to 3.2 million American citizens. Between the 1930s and the 1970s, one-third of the female population of Puerto Rico were sterilized, the highest rate of sterilization in the world. In the 1950s, Puerto Rican women were used as experimental subjects during the first large scale human trials of the birth control pill. The trials were launched in a public housing project on the island targeting those most vulnerable with the highest rates of unemployment and poverty. The pill had only been tested on rats and rabbits beforehand, and the women didn’t know they were participating in a clinical trial. The dosage given to them was several times higher than modern-day birth control pills. After a few years of testing the pill on Puerto Rican women, trials were conducted on Haitian and Mexican women as well. 

As a Puerto Rican American woman born in Bronx, New York and mostly raised in Miami, Florida, I recognize how the trauma of our small Caribbean island nation intersects with the current health outcomes in communities of color across the United States. When I reflect upon the history of my ancestors, it’s impossible not to think of the collective medical trauma of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people such as the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis” in Alabama where the U.S. government conducted non-consensual research on African American men from 1932-1972. 

Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities carry the shadow of deep pain passed on from generation to generation due to all types of trauma. Rightfully so, we will be defensive over our lives and our health. Naturally, we will have concerns and fears about what is being put into our bodies. This is what makes the spread of COVID-19 so particularly devastating for us and nothing is more pressing in this moment than to take care of each other through education, trust building, and lots of compassion. 

COVID is scary. 

Until it impacts you personally– until you contract the virus or someone close to you does, it is challenging to keep the perspective of how dangerous and isolating this disease is.

I was lucky to be able to let the virus run its course in my body from home. I was not hospitalized with severe shortness of breath. The virus wasn’t able to attack my lungs. I did not have to experience medical professionals telling me that it was too late to get the vaccine from a hospital bed. I was not put on oxygen or intubated. 

The vaccine saved my life and made sure that I didn’t experience this illness in a way that was life threatening.

Vaccinated people are still responsible for reducing the spread of COVID-19 too. As a vaccinated person I let my guard down to the virus and I feel like it was an error in judgement. I wanted to be out like most people do after months of isolation during this pandemic. No matter vaccination status, we still should be taking precautions and protecting the most vulnerable amongst us from getting sick. 

Unvaccinated people will have to decide how they want to protect themselves and their loved ones. Just like you, I’m worried about the weeks and months to come. I’m worried that more people I care about will contract the virus. I’m worried about how the virus may manifest in the bodies of those that are unvaccinated. I was vaccinated and I truly believe it is in your best interest to do the same, but I know that the decision is not a light one to make. My message to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people during this time is that your frustration is valid. Your concerns are valid. Your fear is valid. Your demand for autonomy over your body and health is valid. 

Please be proactive in protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Please continue to take this virus seriously. 

Please stay safe. 

Read more on COVID-19…

FDA Vaccine Approval Is A Critical Moment to Advocate for Vaccinations among Communities of Color, the Undecided

Field Report: Challenges & Lessons Learned in Direct Outreach about the COVID-19 Vaccines

About the CDC’s July 27, 2021 Mask Recommendations