This guest post was contributed by River Valley Taekwondo instructor and partner, Carin Zinter.
After nearly 16 months, we are finally on the verge of reopening the dojang and once again offering classes. As someone who practiced with great regularity for nearly 11 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have deeply missed training with my Jidokwan friends and being in the physical presence of others who are also striving to follow the Way. And yet, I cannot help but to feel both anger and sadness when I contemplate the inherent privilege that is associated with my ability to return to the dojang.
My race, my education, my household income, my profession, my gender presentation, my able-bodiedness—all of these things (and more) afforded me the opportunity to access a COVID vaccine with relative ease. And because I am fully vaccinated, I now have the privilege of resuming my pre-pandemic activities unmasked and without the need to practice physical distancing. But what about those who do not enjoy this privilege? How do I justify resuming my pre-pandemic existence—including returning to the dojang—when other people have not been able to access a COVID vaccine? In this inherently unfair situation, how do I Practice Justice (the fifth of the Jidokwan tenets)?
As of the date of this blog post, more than 3.85M people in Massachusetts have been vaccinated. That’s more than 55% of the state’s population. Our state has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, which can make it easy to overlook the fact that there actually is a vaccine inequity. But vaccine eligibility and vaccine availability do not necessarily equate to vaccine accessibility. Practicing justice requires that we work to ensure that all people—and especially those from marginalized communities—have access to COVID vaccines.
There are many reasons why people in our state may be eligible to receive a vaccination but still unable to. Some of these include:
- Their work schedules don’t allow them to leave work at times when shots are being given.
- They can leave work to get shots but are concerned about the consequences of missing work if they have debilitating symptoms after receiving a shot.
- They don’t have a vehicle so can’t get to locations where vaccines are being given.
- They are eligible but don’t know they are, or they don’t know how to get a shot.
- They have vaccine resistance within their communities for historical reasons, e.g. abusive and unauthorized government-sanctioned medical experiments on African Americans throughout the 20th century.
- They have mobility issues, or are housebound, and can’t get to a vaccination center.
The above is not meant to be a complete list, just a few examples of reasons people may have not been vaccinated that may not occur to people who are members of a more privileged group.
Studying Jidokwan has always been about more than just physical training. Following a Way means that I must endeavor to embody the Five Tenets in all aspects of my life. Owning my vaccination privilege and naming the injustice of vaccine inequity are just some of the small ways in which I can Practice Justice. And even though wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing is no longer required, I intend to continue to do so for the time being as it creates additional safety for those who have not yet been vaccinated.
My vaccination privilege is a stark reminder of the fact that I do not need to experience an injustice personally to acknowledge the injustices that exist all around me. And that I must Practice Justice always.