Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General, has been on a mission to curb COVID-19 deaths in Black and Latino communities, where infections and deaths are occurring at alarming rates. He even spoke to BET.com exclusively about the specific struggles Black people face when it comes to dealing with the virus. On Friday (April 10), however, he used an unfortunate choice of words to get his points across, and is facing backlash from the public as a result.
During a press conference in which he spoke about how coronavirus is disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities, he urged members of those communities to refrain from alcohol, drug and tobacco use, and to adhere to federal shelter-in-place guidelines. "We need you to do this, if not for yourself, then for your abuela. Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your big mama. Do it for your pop pop," Adams said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams urges minorities who are at higher risk for coronavirus to avoid drugs and alcohol. If they don't want to do it for themselves, do it "for your abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop pop" https://t.co/vSwcu9K40f pic.twitter.com/93BoBVm7oB— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 10, 2020
PBS correspondent Yamiche Alcindor later questioned Adams about his choice of words. "There are some people online who are already offended by that language and the idea that behaviors may be leading to these high death rates. Could you, I guess, have a response to those who might be offended by the language you used?" Alcindor asked.
Adams replied by saying he used language he uses with his own family.
"We need targeted outreach to the African American community and I use the language that is used in my family," he said. "I have a Puerto Rican brother-in-law. I call my granddaddy, 'granddaddy'. I have relatives who call their grandparents 'big mama'. So, that was not meant to be offensive."
He continued, "That is the language we use, and that I use, and we need to continue to target our outreach to those communities. It is critically important that they understand it's not just about them. We need to do our part at the federal level, we need people to do their parts at the state level. And we need everyone, black, brown, white, whatever color you are, to follow the president's coronavirus guidelines."
Alcindor then asked if Adams would recommend that all Americans — not just Blacks and Latinos — avoid behaviors such as smoking and drinking that would put them at risk for infection.
Adams responded, "Absolutely."
Indeed, many on social media took offense to Adams' use of colloquialisms when referring to Black and Latino people, and others didn't appreciate his comment that people of color need to "step up" their response to coronavirus:
Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, tells black people, Latinos and other ppl of color to avoid alcohol and drugs and adds: "Do it for your abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop pop."— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) April 10, 2020
Context: Many found this language highly offensive.
I asked U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams about asking black people, Latinos & other ppl of color to avoid drinking & drugs & saying do it for "Big Mama" & "abuela."— Yamiche Alcindor (@Yamiche) April 10, 2020
Adams said he meant no offense, used his family's language & that all Americans should be avoiding substances.
Photo: James Byard / EyeEm
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