Why COVID-19 is Anything But “The Great Equalizer.”

How we’ve confused our shared vulnerability with a perceived sense of equity.

I’ve written this blog more times than I can count.

For whatever reason, I haven’t posted it. I write and I re-write. It has morphed many times.

I found myself too wordy, or feeling a little bit “soap-boxy”. I have all the drafts in my saved documents.

But I feel angst and I have to say something.

Hearing COVID-19 being referred to as the great equalizer is exhausting. Because it isn’t.

There. I said it (try to think of it as consciousness-raising and not judgement).

“Anyone can get it ~ even Hollywood is quarantining!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this or some version of this.

Don’t get me wrong… I love looking at the insides of peoples’ homes; the late night talk show hosts, the news anchors, the recording artists and the SNL cast.

But no one seems to be talking about those people for whom COVID-19 has made an already marginalized existence even more marginalized.

While the Governor emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing as best prevention, I know people who are looking at each other, wondering, “How?”

When you are living in an overcrowded home or are doubled up because you’ve lost your housing, social distancing is a privilege for other people. Keeping high risk folks distant from low risk folks isn’t an option. When three or four generations of people live together, COVID spreads like wildfire.

When suddenly schools went on-line, we forgot about those who might not have access to the levels of information that many of us have. When information is disseminated by email, people with no internet service don’t receive the information. If you are someone who attends community college and rely on the desktop computers made available to students at the school, you didn’t have the means to do your homework once the schools closed. Adding obstacles like that to an already complicated life is just what it takes to have students drop out. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that 10,000 students in the Boston Public School system have not logged on once to access their classes.

COVID-19 has prevented many immigrant students from being able to access the one thing they came to this country for: an education. They have lost their allies in the school system. They can’t access their education because of language or internet access, and are among those still working, at risk to their health, because there aren’t other options.

I recently spoke to a social worker who was helping a high school student create a budget. This student, whose hours had been reduced, had to pay their “coyote” ~ the term used to describe the brokers who bring folks to the United States at a very high price ~ under the threat of murder to their family back home. Coyotes don’t really care that COVID-19 has gotten in the way of their payments; they want to be paid. For these young, unaccompanied minors, keeping their families safe is a priority.

Sidebar: these first generation kids who miss out on the ceremony of graduation, be it from high school or college, are still plugging along, doing their thing. Because they have to. HAVE TO. They can’t afford to lament that rite of passage. I’d like to see us lament it for them.

And masks? I would have no idea how to get a mask if I didn’t have Facebook. I know. Embarrassing. And yet, we see people of color being harassed in some areas of our country for not wearing masks.

The rate of gun violence has increased in the City of Boston. People have lost their infrastructure. They are selling their phones, cutting off their WiFi, wondering how they’ll pay back rent. They have lost their social workers and case managers.

People are lonely.

People are scared.

Because people are focusing on survival ~ maintaining an income, keeping their family healthy, and staying fed ~ their brain chemistry is actually changing. This kind of trauma closes our neural pathways and contracts our thinking. Depression and anxiety cause our executive functioning to shut down.

Asking people to jump through hoops to get services or food or medical care can feel as simple as, “This is not for you. It’s for the ‘other’ people.”

And we wonder why people rage. We judge. We separate ourselves.

Or we tell ourselves the lie that the Coronavirus has made us all the same.

It has not. It has revealed an already existing chasm and made it much bigger.

So please, stop. I know you mean well. It makes us all feel better to know we are just like John Legend or Jimmy Kimmel or Margot Robbie.

Let’s not forget about those looking to us. Many of us are the privileged; those who can get on-line and see family via zoom. Who can socially distance, even in our homes. We aren’t wondering where our next roll of toilet paper will come from (although admittedly, I have wondered this) or our next gallon of milk.

When we look to our left and see a great equalizer, but let’s also look to our right. There is a chasm there that needs to be acknowledged. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t see it. Please see it.

How #JusticeforAhmaud Woke Me Up to Myself.

I think it was mid April when I first heard the story of Ahmaud.

I have been weepy for several days now…unable to place the reasons. It occurred to me yesterday, sitting in my stillness, what was going on. 

My outrage was meaningless.

I heard the story. I told my husband about it. I did nothing.

I am complicit in the perpetuation of racism for all sorts of reasons, but what strikes me is that this happened 8 weeks ago.  I don’t know exactly when I read about it, but it was not recent. It got filed along with the thousands of other things that I have filed away in my head about racial violence. Awareness without action isn’t enough. 

There have been other events since then that have enraged me; most notably, the impact of COVID on communities of color both in terms of access to care and enforcement of laws around social distancing and the wearing of masks. This also got filed away. Alas, knowledge, even rage, does not equal activism.

I actually had a thought last week that I was suffering burnout from reading about all the racial injustice in the world (I subscribe to a number of media outlets that track these events). 

Daily. This happens daily. 

Not only when white people hear about them. 

They. Happen. Daily.

This thought that I could suffer burnout from just knowing about these events is not surprising. It is what I feel. But to put my head in the sand or to shut off social media, for me, equated to abandoning people I love who cannot do the same.  Not only can’t my brothers and sisters of color “shut it off”, they actually have to heighten their awareness every single day. I can’t imagine wondering whether I’d get shot if I go out for a jog. Or wondering whether it was safe for my child to go to a prom or a school party. And yet, I know that people of color feel it when they come to my lovely, suburban neighborhood. They live in a state of trauma – a brain chemistry that is focused on staying alive – every day. So no, they cannot shut it off.

If I want to be in solidarity with people of color and learn from people of color, I have to listen to people of color and try to understand their experience, at whatever level my awareness allows for.

So I am here to say that I am exhausted but will never be as exhausted as a person of color. 

I can no longer claim to be an advocate for racial justice without taking action against racial injustice.

I am asking for guidance. I am putting out into the universe a need for direction on what action I can take. What is next for me? Please, call me into something. In the meantime, I will seek  opportunities on my own. I commit to this. 

I did nothing when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, others did.

image taken from http://www.time.com