Thursday, September 17, 2009

The body bag gaffe and racism

The Canadian of Health is preparing for an H1N1 epidemic: training their staff on how to handle an epidemic, testing vaccines, and so on. Which seems sensible enough. You wouldn't think that racism could possibly creep its way into the preparations. But if you thought such a process was above racism, you'd be wrong.

What my government-funded workplace did for me, my co-workers, and my students:
-They installed hand sanitizer in every hallway that I use to get to classroom that I teach in. Pretty thoughtful, really, since I have to open so many doors. Not wholly necessary, though.

What (until very recently) government-funded Aboriginal reserves received:
-Well, not hand sanitizers. Because, some bureaucrats suggested, they contain alcohol and the people might drink them instead.

What I, the white urbanite father, personally got by way of preparation:
-An somewhat informative pamphlet in the mail, telling me how to reduce my risk of infection, like by washing my hands frequently. A colorful and affable reminder to do more or less common-sense stuff.

What Aboriginal reserves in Alberta got by way of preparation:
-Body bags, reminding them implicitly to isolate the bodies of the people killed by the flu so as to prevent them from infecting others. Because we can't trust these people to separate the living from the dead, it would seem.

Mind you, they finally got those hand sanitizers in the same shipment. Something like 3 or 4 months (or more - I don't know when they were first requested, just when it was reported) after they asked for them, but they got them. Some victory.