We are in the middle of a global crisis. A pandemic. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus Pandemic.
People are finding themselves adapting quickly to changes, perhaps on a daily basis as they attempt to survive- unfortunately for some, both literally and figuratively. Social media platforms are being flooded with memes that say “We are in this together” and “Global Unity”. But, are we really in this together?
This is my reflection on the topic, and why I have come to believe the answer to that question is NO. We most certainly are NOT “in this together”. Sorry all you optimistic Instagram WASP’s.
For my family, the city shut down and quarantine directives took a few days to get used to, but we quickly fell into a new routine of calm and relaxation at home. Sure, there are days when we get antsy or the kids miss their friends and complain about being bored, but for the most part we are doing okay and we have plenty of stuff within the walls of our home and the fence of our yard to keep us busy.
My wife lost her job when the schools closed, but I am fortunate to be considered an “essential” employee at a local hospital and have no concern that my job, or paycheck, is at risk. The couple days a week that I am not working at the hospital, I am a therapist. The only difference is I now do virtual therapy sessions from my bedroom instead of my office, allowing me to wear pajama bottoms and run downstairs and kiss my kids in between sessions (sweet bonus!).
As we continued this transition into our “new normal” I found myself often feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. I was thankful that I still had a job, that we were basically being forced to stay home, slow down, work on house projects, hold space for each other, and simply focus on quality time and connection.
My kids are even rocking the home school thing and actually learning a thing or two. Hell, even the dog appreciates all of the extra walks and attention he’s been getting.
Overall, it’s been great. But, one evening as I was snuggling with my kids, probably watching a movie or reading Harry Potter to them, I caught myself complaining about having to get up early and go into work the next day. Almost as soon as I had the thought, I began to think about just how much privilege I have in the midst of this crisis that is literally tearing through the world and completely devastating people’s lives.
I am a person with some privilege. I know that. I experience the world from that perspective, and I regularly reflect on the juxtaposition of my privilege (or lack thereof) with the privilege (or lack thereof) of others around me.
THIS privilege feels different though. We have been hearing about exponential growth rates of Covid-19 positives and deaths, but I keep thinking about the exponential growth in privilege, or conversely, the exponential negative growth of privilege. How can we imagine all of these compounding factors of oppression, marginalization, maltreatment, inequity, injustice, abuse, and dismissiveness to be anything other than additional variables in the negative growth equation during a crisis like this?
Let me paint a picture for you.
The image that keeps coming to mind is the “privilege walk”. You know, the exercise where you have a group of people line up in a horizontal line and the facilitator asks a bunch of questions like “take one step forward if the person who raised you graduated from college” or “take one step back if English is not your first language”. Well, that is the image that I keep coming back to, except it’s more like “Privilege Walk, Corona Edition”. For the record, the first time I participated in a privilege walk exercise was during my undergrad, as I was learning to become a little baby social worker. I sort of digged it back then, however, I don’t anymore and if you want to read a great article about why….check out this really thoughtful and well written explanation here. Although, for the sake of my point, we will run with it here.
*The following is NOT an exhaustive list*
Privilege Walk, Corona Edition:
If you or the person taking care of you has health insurance, take one step forward.
If you or the person taking care of you is considered an essential worker, take one step forward.
If you have a primary care physician and you generally trust the healthcare that you receive, take one step forward.
If you or the person taking care of you has a pre-existing or chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, take one step back.
If you or the person taking care of you has lost hours, been laid off, or furloughed due to Coronavirus precautions, take one step back.
If you are considered an essential employee with children and have family or other supports to help with childcare, take one step forward.
If you are able to be home with your children while also maintaining employment by working from home, take one step forward.
If you resonate with a meme that says something along the lines of “Change your perspective: be thankful for time with your family, time to relax, and the gift of having time”, take one step forward.
If you feel guilty because although you are home with your children during the day because you have been laid off, you are too stressed out trying to find a new source of income and figure out how to pay your bills this month and feel unable to give them the attention that you wish you could because of that, take one step back.
If you are a healthcare worker, first responder, or working on the frontlines with the general public and have increased anxiety and worry about your pre existing condition or bringing the virus home to your family, take one step back.
If you don’t make enough money to pay taxes, therefore didn’t file previous year taxes, therefore will likely not receive your stimulus check money until possibly well into the summer, but won’t have money to pay your rent THIS month because you already lost your job, take one step back.
If you are planning to save or invest your stimulus check money, take one step forward.
If you or your child has access to the internet and a computer at home to complete the “not required or graded” online schoolwork being given, take one step forward. If you are or have a caregiver who helps you, take another step forward.
If you worry about having enough food to eat, take one step back.
If you have a learning or developmental disability and benefit from in-school supports and resources, take one step back.
If you are a college student who has the financial means to fly home to live with your family when in person classes are cancelled, take one step forward. Take another step forward if it is safe for you to do so.
If you are more safe at school or work than at home, take one step back.
Take a deep breathe. Give yourself a moment to think about what it was like reading that. If you are someone who would have been able to take more steps forward than backwards, I am not saying you should feel badly or guilty about it. You shouldn’t. I am not saying that you haven’t worked hard to get where you are, or that you haven’t overcome really hard things.
What I am saying is, I want you to think about what systemic policies, government, and political infrastructures are in place that play a role in why others may not be experiencing this pandemic in the same ways as you.
Think about what you can do to be an advocate, ways that you can fight for equality. Talk about it with people like you, and encourage them to spend time thinking about it as well.
Consider the ways in which you not only benefit from your privilege, but the ways in which your privilege reinforces and solidifies those same policies and structures that make it harder for others to move up on the privilege ladder.
And, for those of you who would have taken more steps backwards than forwards; I am sorry. I am sorry that we aren’t there yet. I am sorry that although this particular time in history may feel like an acute exacerbation of your struggles and lack of privilege, it is likely an all too familiar reality for you from well before this pandemic started. I am sorry we haven’t done better.
As I wrap this up, I want to acknowledge there are MANY scenarios and deep issues with severe consequences that I have left off this list.
Like, the fact that black people are dying from Coronavirus at almost double the rate than white people, despite representing a far lower percentage of the overall population. Trust me, it is not because it doesn’t matter. It matters. It matters a lot. But, to write about this, I want to give it the space and word count it deserves all on its own.
Additionally, I am not saying that the above scenarios all fall along racial lines; I understand this is more complicated than that. However, black people have historically been hit the hardest in every health, economic, education, employment, housing, food, and criminal justice crisis. They continue to be hit the hardest today. This deserves further conversation and a deeper dive into the various systems operating in this country and around the globe to uphold this devastating status quo. Let’s continue that conversation.
You are not a bad person if you have privilege. Accept your privilege and use it wisely, with good intentions. Consider ways that you can do something helpful for the community and those that are having a tougher time than you are. Have compassion. Have empathy. Educate yourself. Quit posting memes that say “We are in this together.”
Be well. Peace.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Am Bradford